Healthy eating during pregnancy

It is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet when you are pregnant.

Healthy eating during pregnancy will give your body the nutrients it needs. It will also help your baby to develop and grow.

You can eat a balanced diet by following the food pyramid. It gives guidance on how much food in each group you should eat for a healthy and balanced diet.

Eating regular meals with a variety of foods will help keep you healthy and strong.

'Eating for 2' is not true

You may hear advice about 'eating for 2' when you are pregnant. But you should not eat twice as much during pregnancy.

On average, you will need an extra:

  • 260 to 340 calories during the second trimester
  • 450 to 500 calories during the third trimester

Eat a normal amount and a balanced range of nutrients.

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Nutrients you need in pregnancy

Folic acid

You should take a folic acid supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid each day throughout your pregnancy. If you have certain medical conditions, you may need to take more.

You should also eat foods high in folic acid. These include green leafy vegetables, breakfast cereals with added folic acid, and milk.

Iron

You should eat foods rich in iron at least twice a day while pregnant.

Haem iron is a type of iron that is more easily absorbed by the body. Haem iron is in red meats like beef, lamb, mutton and pork.

Non-haem iron is less-well absorbed by the body. It is in eggs, green leafy vegetables, pulses and fortified breakfast cereals.

Try and eat a variety of haem and non-haem sources of iron.

Vitamin C and iron

Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Try to eat foods rich in vitamin C at the same time as your non-haem iron sources. Vitamin C is in oranges, kiwis, strawberries and red peppers.

If your blood tests show that you have low iron levels, your GP may prescribe a vitamin C or iron supplement for you to take.

Tea, coffee and iron

Avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals. They contain tannins which could reduce the amount of iron your body absorbs.

Calcium

Try to eat 3 servings of milk, cheese or yogurt a day. These are rich in calcium. This is important for healthy bones and managing your blood pressure during pregnancy. Low-fat dairy products contain the same amounts of calcium as full fat versions.

1 serving is:

  • 200ml glass of milk
  • 2 thumbs of cheese
  • 125g pot of yogurt

Omega 3

You should take 1 to 2 portions of oily fish a week such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout or sardines.

Other sources of Omega 3 include linseed, rapeseed oil and walnuts. But these are not as easily absorbed as oily fish.

You may need a supplement if you are vegetarian or vegan, or do not like oily fish.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is 'the sunshine vitamin' because your body makes it when strong sunlight falls on your skin. People living in Ireland often have low vitamin D levels.

You can get vitamin D from oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Eggs contain small amounts of vitamin D. Many foods such as milk now have vitamin D added to them.

If you're not getting enough vitamin D, it is recommended you take a supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D. You can get this from a pregnancy multivitamin.

If you need a multivitamin or a supplement, make sure you take one designed for pregnant women.

Special diets

If you cannot eat dairy products or are vegan, try fortified non-dairy alternatives. You can also take a calcium and vitamin D supplement.

The food pyramid

The food pyramid (PDF, 1 page, 4.3MB) is a guide to a healthy, balanced diet. It puts food into different groups or shelves. It shows how much of what you eat should come from each shelf to make a healthy diet.

There are 6 shelves. Healthy eating is all about choosing the right amounts from each shelf. You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over the day. Small changes can make a big difference.

Vegetables, salad and fruit

You should base your meals on plenty of vegetables, salad and fruit. You need 6 servings a day.

Foods you could regularly eat include:

  • raw vegetables like salad or sliced carrots
  • boiled or steamed vegetables like peas and broccoli
  • vegetable soup
  • pure unsweetened fruit juice
  • pieces of fruit like bananas, apples and oranges
  • fruit salad

1 serving is:

  • 2 small pieces of fruit
  • half a cup of cooked vegetables
  • 1 bowl of salad
  • 1 bowl of homemade vegetable soup
  • 150ml of pure unsweetened fruit juice

It is best to eat fruit in its whole form rather than having juice or smoothies. If having fruit juice, try to have just 1 small glass per day.

Wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice

You should eat 3 to 5 servings a day of wholemeal cereals, breads, potatoes, pasta and rice. Wholemeal cereals include porridge or wholegrain breakfast cereals.

1 serving is:

  • 2 thin slices of wholemeal or wholegrain bread
  • 1 pitta pocket
  • half a cup of dried porridge oats or unsweetened muesli
  • 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles or couscous
  • 2 medium or 4 small potatoes

Milk, yogurt and cheese

You should have 3 servings of dairy products a day like milk, yogurt and cheese.

1 serving is:

  • 200ml milk
  • 125g carton of yogurt
  • 2 thumbs (25g) of cheese

You should not eat unpasteurised milk and cheese while pregnant. These can make you ill or harm your baby. Avoid cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Danish blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts

You should have 2 servings of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts per day during the first and second trimesters. This should increase to 3 servings per day during the third trimester.

1 serving is:

  • 50g to 75g cooked lean meat or poultry
  • 100g cooked fish, soya or tofu
  • 6 tablespoons of beans
  • 2 eggs
  • 40g unsalted nuts or seeds

Do not eat undercooked eggs and raw, under-cooked or cold cured meats while you are pregnant. These include salami, parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni. Avoid liver, including liver sausage, haggis and pâté containing liver.

Raw fish, shark, swordfish and marlin are also dangerous. Limit the amount of tuna you eat to one fresh tuna steak (150g cooked weight) or two 240g cans (140g drained weight) per week. Do not eat more than 2 portions of oily fish each week.

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Fats, spreads and oils

You should limit the amount of fats, spreads and oils you eat. This includes butter, margarine, mayonnaise and cooking oils.

In very small amounts

Food or drinks high in fat, sugar or salt are not recommended for good health.

This includes:

  • sweets
  • chocolate
  • sugary fizzy drinks
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • muffins
  • cakes

If you do eat these types of foods, limit it to once or twice a week.

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Page last reviewed: 30 September 2022
Next review due: 30 September 2022