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Healthy eating during pregnancy

What to eat to get the nutrients you need when pregnant, and portion sizes and amounts to eat for a balanced diet.

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. You should not eat twice as much during pregnancy. Eat a normal amount and a balanced range of nutrients.

Related topic

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Nutrients you need in pregnancy

Folic acid

You should take a folic acid supplement with 400mg of folic acid per day for the first 12 weeks of 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, fortified breakfast cereals 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 supplement for you to take.

Tea, coffee and iron

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

Calcium

Try to eat 3 servings of milk, cheese or yoghurt a day. These are rich in calcium and this is important for healthy bones. 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
  • a 125g pot of yoghurt

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

If you're not getting enough vitamin D, you should take a supplement.

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

Special diets

If you can't 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 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 six shelves. Healthy eating is all about choosing the right amounts from each shelf. You don't need to achieve this balance with every meal, but aim 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.

You should only drink unsweetened fruit juice once 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
  • 150mls pure unsweetened fruit juice
  • pieces of fruit like bananas, apples and oranges
  • fruit salad

1 serving is:

  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetables

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:

  • 1 slice of wholemeal or wholegrain bread
  • 1 medium potato
  • 30g wholemeal cereal
  • 2 tablespoons of brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons of whole wheat pasta

Milk, yogurt and cheese

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

1 serving is:

  • 125g yoghurt
  • a matchbox-sized piece of hard cheese
  • 200ml milk

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

Related topic

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts

You should have 1 or 2 servings of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts each day.

1 serving is:

  • 50g to 75g cooked meat
  • 100g cooked fish
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons of beans

Do not eat 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 150g cooked weight fresh tuna steak or two 240g cans - 140g drained weight per week. Do not eat more than 2 portions of oily fish each week.

Related topics

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Morning sickness

Fats, spreads and oils

You should have less than 2 servings a day of fats, spreads and oils. This includes butter, margarine, mayonnaise and cooking oils.

1 serving is:

  • 1 teaspoon of spread
  • 1 teaspoon of cooking oil per person

In very small amounts

Food or drinks high in fat, sugar or salt are not recommended for good health. This includes sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits, muffins or cakes.

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

Page last reviewed: 17/09/2018
Next review due: 17/09/2021