Eating and Nutrition

March of Dimes—Working together for stronger, healthier babies

Your Healthy Diet During Pregnancy

It's important to eat smart and make healthy food choices to support your baby's growth during pregnancy. Try to eat foods from each of the five food groups every day. They provide important nutrients that you and your baby need.

In general, most women need around 300 extra calories per day during pregnancy. (One extra healthy snack, such as four fig bars and a glass of skim milk, will provide these calories.) However, the exact amount of extra calories you need depends on your weight before pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about a healthy eating plan that's right for you. Be sure to watch the serving sizes; you may be eating more than you need to.

Remember: Fatty foods (like doughnuts and chips) and sweets (like sodas, cookies and candy) don't give your baby enough of what he/she needs to grow.

Take Folic Acid

Folic Acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). All women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before pregnancy and during early pregnancy as part of a healthy diet. Your healthy diet should include foods that are good sources of folic acid and folate (the form of folic acid that occurs naturally in food). Examples are: fortified breakfast cereals, enriched grain products, beans, leafy green vegetables, orange juice.

Healthy eating hints:

Meals: Eat four to six smaller meals a day instead of three bigger ones to help relieve the heartburn and discomfort you feel as your baby grows bigger.

Snacks: Cheese, yogurt, fruit and vegetables are good, healthy snacks. Peanut butter and nuts are also good if you aren't allergic to them.

Liquid: Drink at least six to eight glasses of water, juice or milk every day.

Vitamins: Take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin every day. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to take an iron or calcium supplement, too.

Caffeine: Limit the caffeine you get each day to 200 milligrams. That's about the amount in one 12-ounce cup of coffee. Caffeine amounts in coffee depend on the brand you drink and how it's made. So check the label on the package or ask at your coffee shop. Instead of drinking regular coffee, try coffee that's decaffeinated (has a smaller amount of caffeine). Caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, soda and some over-the-counter medicine.

Follow these guidelines:

Grains: 6 ounces per day
1 ounce of grain is equal to:
1 slice bread
1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
1/4 cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal
1 small pancake (4 1/2 inch in diameter)
1 small tortilla (6 inch diameter)

Vegetables: 2 1/2 cups per day
1 cup of vegetables is equal to:
1 cup raw or cooked vegetables
1 cup vegetable juice
2 cups raw, leafy greens
1 medium baked potato (2 1/2 inch to 3 inch in diameter, go easy on the butter, bacon bits and sour cream)

Fruits: 1 1/2 to 2 cups per day
1/2 cup of fruit is equal to:
1/2 cup 100% fruit juice
1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit
1/2 fruit (small orange, apple or banana)
1/4 cup dried fruit

Milk Products: 3 cups per day
1 cup of milk products equal to:
1 cup milk
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 ounces natural cheese (examples cheddar, parmesan)
2 ounces processed cheese (example: American)

Proteins: 5 to 5 1/2 ounces per day
1 ounce of protein is equal to:
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/4 cup cooked dried beans
1 ounce lean meat, poultry or fish
1 egg
1/2 cup nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios)

Foods to Avoid

Some foods can make you and your baby sick. Avoid these foods that can cause food poisoning or contain harmful chemicals:

  • Raw fish, especially shellfish
  • Soft-scrambled eggs and food made with raw or lightly cooked eggs
  • Unpasteurized juices
  • Raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts
  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco and Panela
  • Unpasteurized milk and any foods made from it
  • Herbal supplements and teas
  • Fish that can be high in mercury, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. It's OK for pregnant women to eat a limited amount of fish that have small amounts of mercury. You can eat up to 12 ounces of these fish a week. The 12 ounces can include shrimp, salmon, Pollock, catfish and canned light tuna. Don't eat more than six ounces of albacore (white tuna) in one week. Always check with your local health department before you eat any fish you catch yourself.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood and hot dogs. Deli meats (such as ham and bologna) can cause food poisoning. Avoid them or reheat them before eating.
  • Refrigerated pates, meat spreads or smoked seafood. Canned and shelfstable versions are safe.


Never eat nonfood items like clay, starch, paraffin or coffee grounds. Eating these things can cause problems for you and your baby.

For more information, visit the Food Pyramid for Pregnancy from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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