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Women's Health: Eating Right for Two

Women's Health
Eating Right for Two
by Kenneth L. Noller, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

During pregnancy, you are your baby's sole source of nutrition, and a well-balanced diet is essential to giving your baby the best start. Fortunately, it's never too late to start eating right.
You will need more calories and nutrients to support your developing fetus. While you should expect to gain weight, be careful not to overeat. Most women only need a moderate increase of 100-300 calories per day. Early in pregnancy, nausea may make it difficult to increase your food intake. Eating smaller nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day can help you add the calories you need.
Your weight gain should also be moderate and based on your pre-pregnancy weight. ACOG recommends that normal weight women gain 25-35 pounds; underweight women gain 40 pounds; overweight women gain 15-25 pounds and obese women gain at least 15 pounds.
You can get a wide variety of nutrients by consuming a diverse diet that contains whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, dairy, lean meats and fish, and beans. Your doctor may also pre-scribe prenatal vitamins to provide extra folic acid and other nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.
Fish is a good source of high-quality protein. Pregnant women can consume up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Because albacore tuna is higher in mercury, light tuna is recommended instead. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish should be avoided because they are high in mercury.
Calcium is a vital nutrient for a growing fetus. Most women who follow a healthy, balanced diet consume an adequate amount of calcium. However, lactose-intolerant women should increase their consumption of calcium from non-dairy sources such as sardines, canned salmon, dark leafy green vegetables, and fortified orange juice. Your doctor can prescribe calcium supplements if you have problems getting enough from the foods you eat.
Vegetarian women can continue to abstain from meat during pregnancy, but they must be sure to get enough of the right types of protein. Vegetarians may need to take a supplement to ensure that they get the right amount of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and vitamins B12 and D.
If you are pregnant, avoid alcohol entirely. Do not eat unpasteurized milk or soft cheese; raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or fish; or prepared meats such as hot dogs or deli meat (unless cooked until steaming hot). These foods can harbor listeriosis bacteria, which can cause a serious illness that may sicken both mother and baby.
Finally, be sure to tell your doctor about any non-prescription vitamins, herbs, or other supplements that you take because they could be harmful to your fetus.
For more information, the Patient Education Pamphlet "Nutrition During Pregnancy" is available at

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