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Essential Pregnancy Nutrition

Making sure you’re getting some key nutrients sets your baby on the path to wellness
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
January 21, 2014

Congratulations! Expecting a baby is an extraordinary experience filled with incredible changes and developments—and lots of questions, especially about good nutrition during pregnancy. While your baby’s caloric needs are relatively low right now, his need for the nutrients that encourage growth and development is tremendous. With this in mind, we prefer to focus on the importance of nourishing rather than eating for two, shifting the emphasis off quantity and placing it firmly on quality nutrition—a philosophy we encourage throughout your life, not just pregnancy.

Though everyone’s needs may differ, and you should speak more about yours with your obstetrician, here are some key recommended daily nutrient goals pregnant women should meet through a combination of diet and prenatal supplements to support a healthy baby, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Paying attention to hitting your nutrition marks while you’re pregnant is a great way to get into the habit of doing the same thing once you become a mom—a true gift of awareness that can benefit you now and for years to come.

Calcium
Both you and your baby need strong, healthy bones, which is why getting a substantial daily dose of calcium is a nutrition must during pregnancy. Aim for 1,000–1,200 milligrams per day, which you can get from milk, dark leafy greens, almonds, calcium-fortified juices, yogurt, cheese and cooked salmon. (For safety reasons, avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, like Brie and feta. Limit you seafood consumption to no more than 12 ounces, about two meals, per week.

Pregnant women should avoid containing fish that contain high mercury levels, such as king mackerel, swordfish, shark and tilefish and limit albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week)

Folate and Folic acid
These are usually the first nutrients mentioned when talking about pregnancy nutrition. A synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, folic acid helps prevent brain and spinal cord abnormalities and decreases the risk of low birth weight. It is recommended that women begin consuming 400–800 micrograms daily before conception and continue with this amount throughout pregnancy. Orange juice, dark leafy greens, beans and peas are all good sources of natural folate, and folic acid is a star ingredient in your prenatal supplement.
 
Iron
Your blood volume rises during pregnancy—enough to create a whole new life! Getting enough iron, which the body uses to create hemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen), is essential. A sufficient amount of iron also ensures that you energy levels stay high while your risk of infections remains low. Try eating fortified cereals and lean red meat or turkey in order to get the recommended 30 milligrams each day. (Make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly.)
 
Magnesium
Helpful in building and repairing your body’s tissues, getting 320 milligrams of daily magnesium can also help prevent early contractions and low birth weight. Wheat germ, wheat bran, soybeans, quinoa, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are all good sources of magnesium.
 
Protein
Crucial for your baby’s growth, protein is a particularly important part of good nutrition in the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. You should aim to consume 71 grams of protein each day, which can be found in things like lean meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds. (Avoid cold cuts and undercooked eggs.)
 
Vitamin D
Another bone-strengthening nutrient, vitamin D also fortifies teeth, so getting enough of it during pregnancy helps to make sure your baby has a healthy smile down the road. Aim for 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day, which can be found in enriched or fortified juices, cereals and dairy products and fatty fish, such as cooked salmon or canned light tuna. You can also get a healthy helping of vitamin D from brief exposure to sunlight, so consider your daily walk an effort that helps you meet both your activity and nutrition goals during pregnancy.
 
Zinc
Zinc supports growth and development during pregnancy, and can also help to keep your immune system strong. Get your recommended 11 milligrams a day from sources like almonds, pumpkin seeds, cooked shellfish, lean meats and oatmeal.
Reference(s) 
Mayo Clinic
Cleveland Clinic
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Food and Drug Administration