Top 12 Foods to Eat During Pregnancy to Promote a Healthy Birth
Worried about what foods to eat during pregnancy to make sure you and the baby remain healthy and happy? Discover more, here…
What an adventure pregnancy is. While this is certainly an exciting time, you’re also likely feeling a bit anxious about ensuring that your baby is the healthiest it can be. So, how can you do this, even before the birth?
As you’re ‘eating for two’, making sure your baby gets the nutrients they need through your diet is essential. So, getting into good food habits during pregnancy can really set you up for success.
A nutritious diet is linked to good brain development and a healthy birth weight. And whilst it is acknowledged that the UK is one of the safest places in the world to give birth, a small percentage of women do experience complications during delivery. A healthy birth weight is essential not only as a good starting point for baby’s development but also in helping to ensure you and/or your baby aren’t injured during childbirth.
In this post, we reveal the top 12 foods to eat during pregnancy to support you through this time. We’ll also list some of the foods not to eat to reduce the risks of labour complications and birth defects.
So, for all your pregnancy food queries, read on…
The importance of maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy
It’s important to have a healthy diet at any point in your life, but particularly important when you are pregnant.
Good nutrition during pregnancy has been scientifically linked to a lower risk of birth injuries and defects. For example, ensuring you get 400mg of folic acid per day can reduce the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly. Therefore, it is important to plan carefully and talk to your midwife, doctor and maternity team for expert advice and to address any concerns you have.
12 Foods to Eat During Pregnancy to Promote a Healthy Birth
The important thing to remember is that there’s no magic pregnancy diet that you need to go on. It’s all about getting a good balance of all the best types of nutrients, including:
- Minerals and vitamins
- High-quality proteins
- Healthy fats
- Complex carbohydrates
Many of these will likely already be found in foods you already love and enjoy. Some of the classic foods that’ll help you through during pregnancy include:
In fact, a Mediterranean Diet which is recommended for all-round good health can ensure a good balance of all the above nutrients.
1. Vegetables, especially dark leafy greens
It may seem obvious, but vegetables are essential to a healthy diet during pregnancy. The NHS recommends that you eat at least 5 portions of different fruit and veg every day to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. In fact, many nutritionists recommend you eat double that amount!
In particular, dark, leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach and brocolli, are great during pregnancy because they pack high levels of valuable nutrients into your system. These include vitamins C, K, and A, calcium, iron, folate, and potassium. They also include fibre.
If you can’t stand spinach or kale, you can always blend them into a green smoothie along with some fruit to sweeten the taste. However, be careful because fruit smoothies can contain a lot of sugar; the NHS recommends that you limit fruit smoothie consumption to around 150ml per day.
This food group includes beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peas and peanuts. Legumes are packed with fibre, protein, folate, and calcium. Folate in particular is an essential pregnancy vitamin, especially during your first trimester. Some legumes are also high in iron, magnesium and potassium.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, including legumes in your diet can help you get many of the nutrients you would otherwise get from meat and dairy. However, it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor to ensure you and your baby are getting enough.
3. Dried fruit
Dried fruit is highly nutritious and packed with just as much essential fibre, vitamins and minerals as fresh fruit but in a smaller form. For example, prunes are rich in vitamin K, potassium and fibre, as well as being natural laxatives so great at alleviating pregnancy constipation.
However, dried fruit is also high in natural sugars, so it’s best to stick to one serving at a time. Try a fruit and nut ‘trail mix’ for a healthy and delicious, protein and fibre packed snack. These healthy vegan energy balls are easy to make, are a perfect snack, and so much better for you than shop-bought sugar dense snack bars
Fresh fruit is also naturally high in valuable nutrients as well as containing lots of water, so eat fresh for extra hydration.
Berries have all sorts of nutritional benefits; they are high in antioxidants, minerals and fibre. They also contain lots of water to keep you hydrated.
For example, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are extremely high in vitamin C as well as potassium, folate and fibre.
Here’s a tip worth remembering – eat berries after a meal high in protein and iron to help you absorb these nutrients better.
Avocados have a high natural fat content as well as being rich in B vitamins (particularly folate), vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin C, potassium and copper. Because of all this, avocadoes are particularly good for you during pregnancy. Avocados actually contain more potassium than bananas (and have less sugar).
The healthy fats, especially, can help with your baby’s development and can even prevent developmental conditions, such as spina bifida.
6. Sweet potatoes
Many starchy foods are low in nutrients but high in calories. Not sweet potatoes! This delicious root vegetable is high in fibre and beta carotene which your body turns into vitamin A.
Vitamin A derived from animal products can be harmful to your baby when consumed in high amounts. However, the plant-based vitamin A in sweet potatoes won’t cause this issue and is great for your baby’s development.
7. Lean meats and proteins
Lean meats, such as beef, chicken and pork are great sources of protein. Some red meats also contain significant levels of iron, choline and B vitamins which you need more of during pregnancy. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is great for vitamins B3 and B6, choline, and selenium.
Eating lean meat reduces the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet while still being an excellent source of protein and other nutrients. If you can’t find meat labelled ‘lean’ in the supermarket, cut as much fat off as you can before cooking.
Always purchase the best quality meat you can afford, preferably high welfare and organic if you can. Research shows that organic meat contains about 50% more beneficial omega 3 fatty acids. Additionally, organic meat will not contain chemicals from feed and grazing that may be inherent in poorer quality, mass-produced products.
Iron, in particular, is important to be included in the foods you eat during pregnancy as lower levels of iron and anaemia have even been linked to certain birth complications. Pairing iron-rich food with foods rich in vitamin C, such as bell peppers, can help your body absorb these nutrients.
Many people are now reducing meat consumption for environmental, ethical, and/or health reasons. If you wish to avoid meat, particularly red meat, it is important you ensure your more plant-based diet includes sufficient amounts of protein.
Eggs contain nearly all the nutrients you need during pregnancy while also not being too high in calories. They’re packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and are an incredible source of choline. This is essential for your baby’s brain development and can reduce the risk of developmental issues with the brain and spine.
Dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, all contain high quality proteins, casein and whey. Dairy is also a great source of calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.
When choosing yoghurt, consider Greek yoghurt as it has a very high calcium content while also containing probiotics which promote digestive health. It is also often lower in sugar than other yoghurt varieties.
With milk, consider going for a lower fat variety, but be careful with other low-fat dairy products such as yoghurt – the sugar content is likely to be higher. Always check the labels carefully and consult your doctor if you’re not sure.
If you don’t eat dairy, there are many alternatives available now. However, do check ingredients carefully to ensure they don’t include unwanted additives but do include an appropriate amount of protein, vitamins and minerals.
10. Whole grains
Many natural nutrients go missing in refined grains, like white rice and bread. This is why it’s advised that you stick with whole grains throughout your diet.
Whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice, are high in fibre, antioxidants, essential vitamins, healthy fats, and plant compounds. Some whole grains, such as quinoa and oats, are also high in protein, B vitamins and magnesium; all essential in pregnancy.
You may also be surprised to learn that eating whole grains and legumes together will provide a complete protein which means your meal includes all the essential amino acids that would be provided by meat.
11. Fish oil
The NHS recommends that pregnant women should not take fish liver oil supplements such as cod liver oil because it contains high levels of vitamin A which could be harmful to unborn babies (this also applies to other supplements containing high doses of vitamin A.)
But oily fish is also packed with omega-3 and vitamin D, which many people in the UK and other northern hemisphere countries do not get enough of. The NHS recommends limiting the intake of oily fish to two portions per week to avoid excess vitamin A. Fish oil with omega-3 supplements is considered safe in pregnancy
Low mercury fish, such as sardines, light tuna, pollock or salmon can also help you get your omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your baby’s brain and eye development, whilst avoiding certain pollutants which are harmful to unborn babies. Again, always speak to your healthcare team for advice.
Okay, not technically a ‘food’ but staying hydrated is vital, especially during pregnancy when your blood volume is at much higher levels.
The water you drink will be channelled to your baby, so it is easy to become dehydrated. Increased hydration can help reduce pregnancy constipation and avoid urinary tract infections.
The NHS recommends that you should drink around six to eight glasses of fluid a day. This could include water, milk (go for a low fat variety), sugar-free drinks or fruit and veg smoothies. Be careful about your caffeine intake during pregnancy; always seek advice from your doctor if you enjoy tea or coffee, and check any soft drinks as they often have high levels of caffeine.
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
We’ve talked about some of the best foods to eat during pregnancy to promote a healthy birth, but what about foods to avoid?
There is conflicting medical and scientific opinion about whether pregnant people can drink any alcohol or whether a little bit should be allowed.
However, what we do know is that alcohol travels through the bloodstream to the baby and can cause a range of problems, including:
- Physical, behavioural and intellectual disabilities (often known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders)
Therefore, the best advice is usually to try to stop drinking completely during pregnancy to remove any risk.
Certain Cheeses and Unpasteurised Milk
Mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as brie and camembert, as well as blue cheeses should be avoided because of the risk of bacteria which can make you ill and harm your baby.
Unpasteurised milk may contain listeria, which can cause infections, sometimes leading to miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness after birth.
Try to avoid:
- Raw or undercooked meat, as there are risks of toxoplasmosis.
- Liver and liver products to prevent getting an excess of vitamin A which can be harmful to your baby.
- Pâté, including vegetarian pâté
- All processed meats including sausages and bacon as they are deemed to be carcinogenic
Raw or undercooked eggs
These carry a risk of salmonella which could give you food poisoning.
Raw shellfish and mercury-rich fish
Avoid fish, such as swordfish, marlin, and shellfish, which sometimes contains harmful bacteria, viruses or toxins.
Also, be sure to limit your tuna intake, as too much mercury could be harmful to your baby.
Finally, be careful with your oily fish, as previously discussed.
Our Final Top Tip for Foods to Eat During Pregnancy – Enjoy Yourself!
It’s easy to get anxious and overwhelmed about pregnancy diet and nutrition. But, as long as you are following the advice of your healthcare team, and ensuring you get a balanced mix of food groups, you don’t have to worry.
You can’t control everything about pregnancy and childbirth but you can make sure that you stay as healthy and happy as possible. This way, you can give your baby the best possible start, regardless of what life throws at you, and you develop a standard of healthy eating that will help set good habits for you and for feeding your baby in the future.
Pregnant woman photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash
Kale bowl photo by Cole Patrick on Unsplash
Berries photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash
Quinoa and avocado photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash
Mother feeding baby photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash