When you’re pregnant, you have a lot to think about. While your diet should be one of them (there are key changes you need to make), eating healthy when you’re expecting shouldn’t feel overwhelming. Here our nutrition experts provide easy tips for maximizing your health while you’re pregnant.
During pregnancy, women’s iron needs nearly double. Get more iron out of plant sources, such as green beans, artichokes and kidney beans, by consuming them with vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries or bell peppers. Why? Iron from plant sources is not absorbed as efficiently as iron from meat, fish and poultry—but vitamin C helps your body absorb this mineral. One easy combo to try: iron-fortified cereal topped with strawberries.
Some foods—including tea, egg yolks, milk and soy—contain compounds that limit absorption of iron. To maximize your iron absorption, try to avoid eating these foods at the same time as iron-rich sources like meat, poultry and fish. Pregnant women especially need to take note, as iron needs increase substantially (from 18 mg to 27 mg per day) when you’ve got a baby on board.
Women who may become pregnant—and especially those who are trying—should get 400 micrograms of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods in addition to consuming folate from foods like green leafy vegetables, citrus and whole grains. (Folate/folic acid is a B vitamin that’s linked with reduced risk of neural-tube defects.) Keep in mind that most multivitamins contain folic acid, but not all of them have enough to meet the nutritional needs of a woman who is, or is trying to become, pregnant. Check labels carefully before choosing one.
Skimping on fluids can make you feel tired and weak, so it’s important to stay well hydrated. This is especially true for women during pregnancy, when a woman's blood volume increases dramatically and plenty of liquids are needed to maintain this. Keeping adequately hydrated can also help aid digestion and ease constipation. Try to drink water with every meal and in between to ensure your hydration. Drink in juices and milk every once in a while for some added nutrients and calories.
Most pregnant women get constipated at some point because pregnancy hormones may slow digestion, causing constipation. Eating plenty of high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, beans, whole grains and bran cereal, and drinking plenty of fluids (aim for eight to 10 cups per day) can help relieve it.
Recent studies show that the risk of listeriosis—a foodborne illness that can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies—drops significantly when foods are chilled to a safe temperature. The temperature inside your refrigerator should get no higher than 40°F—and only a fridge thermometer can help you ensure that you’re storing foods at a safe temperature. You can do an Internet search to find a thermometer just right for your fridge or put a regular instant-read thermometer in there.
To reduce your risk of foodborne illness (which becomes even more dangerous when you’re pregnant), wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before using them, and make sure all meat is cooked to the proper internal temperature. Wash your hands frequently and be sure to clean thoroughly with warm soapy water all utensils, countertops or cutting boards that have been in contact with uncooked meats.