What to eat during pregnancy

Organic food

What you eat during pregnancy will affect how you feel and how your baby develops, so it's important that you're clued-up about the best food for the two of you, as well as the food you should avoid. You'll hear plenty about iron, fibre and vitamins, but there are lots of tasty meals you can enjoy eating during the nine months. It doesn't all have to be brown couscous, although a bit of that might be wise…

When you’re pregnant it’s more important than ever that you have a healthy diet. It’s not quite true to say that you’re eating for two – but you do need to think more about what you’re eating and how it will benefit you and your baby.

Will I feel hungrier than usual while pregnant?

In general, you will probably feel hungrier but there will almost certainly be fluctuations. As with many aspects of pregnancy, appetite varies between individuals. There are those who feel an insatiable hunger from the off but there are also many women who, during the first trimester, feel nauseous and sick. If so, your appetite is likely to be smaller than usual and, until the nausea passes, that’s fine.

The second trimester is when your appetite tends to even out. By then, you should no longer be feeling sick but it’s possible that you still won’t feel any hungrier than usual. It’s in the final trimester, as the baby nears her birth size and makes preparations for popping out, that you will probably find you want to eat more.

I started off being really healthy but as my pregnancy progressed the smell of hot food made me nauseous, so I could only face dry foods, like crisps and bread.

So will I need to eat extra calories in the third trimester?

In the final three months of pregnancy, you should add an extra 200 calories per day (about one pitta bread with a generous dollop of hummus, or a bagel with cream cheese, or two rashers of bacon, or half an avocado).

This page is all about the food you should eat while pregnant but it’s also wise to take vitamins supplements – the NHS recommend you take a minimum of two per day – to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D and folic acid.

What foods must I eat during pregnancy?

There are some staples of the pregnant woman’s diet that cannot be missed out, as they give you the nutrition you and your baby need. You should have at least one food from each of the following four groups in each meal:

  • Fruit and vegetables. You’ll probably get tired of hearing it but you need your five-a-day now more than ever. For the fibre, minerals and vitamins they contain, fruit and vegetables are essential parts of your diet always but especially now.
  • Carbohydrates. This includes everything from bread and breakfast cereals to potatoes, pasta and rice. Carbs give you energy, as well as vitamins and fibre, especially the whole wheat alternatives (brown rice and whole wheat pasta etc). These can take a bit of getting used to but you might find that, after a few weeks of finding the wheatiness a little stodgy and flavourless, you don’t notice the difference. On the other hand, you might always hate it and return to white carbs as soon as you’ve given birth, which is fair enough.
  • Protein. You should eat several protein foods per day. These include lean meat, which must be cooked thoroughly, fish, beans and pulses, and eggs. A good dose of iodine is also recommended, as it will help your baby’s brain to grow. You can get iodine from seafood (read the guidelines), sea salt and…
  • Dairy. Cheese, milk, yoghurt and other dairy products contain iodine but their main benefit is that they’re packed with calcium which helps your baby’s bones and teeth to develop.
I’m 37 weeks pregnant and trying to eat loads of protein (omelette with ham for brekkie today) and snack on fruit in between meals.

What should I eat for breakfast while I’m pregnant?

The most important meal of the day? That’s debatable but it’s often the most commonly missed and, when you're pregnant, that's not an option. You should have a nutritious breakfast every day. If you’re experiencing hunger pangs later on in the day then have a breakfast that will get you all the way to lunchtime, so you’re not tempted to snack on sugary or fatty foods. None of this need be a chore, as these recipes demonstrate:

Pregnant woman cooking

What should vegetarians and vegans eat during pregnancy?

Some vegetarians and vegans say they wanted to eat meat when they were pregnant. On the other hand, some meat eaters feel sick at the sight of the stuff during pregnancy. If you're a vegetarian, you need to find alternative sources of iron and vitamin B12 which are contained in meat and fish. But don’t worry as there are plenty of foods you can eat that contain iron:

  • Dark green vegetables (cabbage, spinach, kale)
  • Pulses (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans )
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Eggs (if you eat them)
  • Dried fruit
  • Healthy breakfast cereals (muesli)

Foods which contain lots of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and broccoli will help you absorb iron. If you eat dairy products they will help you get your vitamin B12, as will soya milks and yoghurts, as well as veggie burgers and yeast extract. You can get your vitamin D from egg yolks, some cereals and dietary supplements.

For veggies, lentils, pulses and chickpeas are good sources of protein. I ate a lot of carbs at first but found eating things like dahl helped too. Full fat organic yogurt fills you up but isn't full of sugar.

What can vegans and lactose intolerant women eat for calcium when pregnant?

Dairy products are full of calcium which help your baby’s bones and teeth develop. It’s essential that vegans can find alternative sources of calcium and it’s worth discussing with your doctor or midwife. In the meantime, here are some suggestions:

  • Dark green and leafy vegetables
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Pulses
  • Bread (white and brown)
  • Soya, rice and oat drinks
  • Dried fruits

What Mumsnetters say about eating during pregnancy

“You will regret eating junk food when you realise how long it takes to shift the weight afterwards! I used to drink hot chocolate with cream during my first pregnancy. This time, I am sticking to a healthy diet with my usual occasional treats.”

“I've been eating sensibly-ish throughout (I’m 34 weeks) but have developed a sweet tooth. Yesterday, for example: toast for breakfast, mozzarella and sundried tomato sandwich for lunch, Yorkie bar, jacket potato with ham and cheese, broccoli and spinach, and a caramel magnum for pudding. Have balanced this a little bit by staying reasonably fit, cycling to and from work.”

“Morning sickness during first 18 weeks meant all I ate was crisps, cereal, doughnuts, chocolate, yoghurt and chocolate milk! I still can't face much meat or veg, especially the smell of preparing it. I just had my 20-week scan and all looks ok, so perhaps the vitamin pills are balancing my diet a bit!”

“I keep lots of fruit in the house and make myself eat 1/2 pieces every day. I also try and eat a bowl of cereal (Rice Crispies normally) or drink a glass of milk daily. My appetite sometimes goes completely for days and I have to make myself eat for the baby's sake."

“I have two toast with Marmite first thing, and sometimes second breakfast of a small bowl of cereal. Lunch is usually healthy, baked potato, salad or soup.”