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Special Nutrient Needs

During pregnancy your needs for specific nutrients changes both for the healthy development of your baby and for your own health.  The most important nutrients are:

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Energy

Facts

    • Your energy requirements (Calories/kilojoules) from food do not increase during the first trimester.
    • During the second and third trimester your energy needs will increase by a small amount depending on your body mass index (BMI)
    • For someone with a normal BMI this would be an increase of approximately 200-300 Calories (or 830-840 kJ) and those with a higher BMI it would be closer to 100-150 Calories (400-630 kJ)
    • Other dietary changes are needed to meet your increased requirements for other nutrients. Read on for more information on how to meet these.

Tips

    • Focus on eating twice as healthy rather than twice as much.
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Folate

Facts

    • Folate (folic acid) is essential for healthy growth and development. It is especially important around the time of conception and early pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects/ spina bifida (external).
    • Folate is found in many foods in variable amounts (See rich and good sources). A dietary intake of 600 µg/day is recommended during pregnancy.
    • For extra protection against neural tube defects, it is recommended that you complement a healthy diet with a 400µg/day folic acid supplement for at least one month before pregnancy and during the first three months of pregnancy.
    • If you have had your children close together, taken the oral contraceptive pill for a long time or have a family history of spina bifida, diabetes or haemolytic anaemia you might need to take a higher dose of folic acid supplement.

Best folate sources

Asparagus, folate-fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chick peas, dried beans, lentils and spinach.

Good folate sources

Nuts, vegemite (and other yeast extracts), oranges, avocado, wholegrain bread, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, peas and salad greens.

Tips

    • For each meal and snack try to include best or good sources of dietary folate to get your required 600 µg/day.
    • Try not to over-cook your vegetables and use fresh salad otherwise the folate content will be reduced.
    • Take a 400µg/day folic acid supplement for at least one month before pregnancy and during the first three months of pregnancy.
    • Discuss folic acid with your doctor or dietitian to make sure you are getting enough folate.
    • For more information go to: folic acid and pregnancy (external) or watch the video Folic acid and pregnancy VIDEO (external)
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Vitamin B12

Facts

    • Adequate vitamin B12 is essential during pregnancy and breastfeeding for healthy development of your baby’s nervous system.
    • Good sources of vitamin B12 are red meat, fish/seafood, fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products.
    • Unfortified plant foods contain no vitamin B12, so if you are a vegetarian or vegan you are likely to be low in vitamin B12.

Tips

    • If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you should take a vitamin B12 supplement during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Discuss the dose with your doctor or dietitian.
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Iron

Facts

    • During pregnancy your iron requirements are higher to support your growing baby.
    • If you do not consume sufficient iron your stores may be reduced, which can cause low birth weight and premature birth of your baby.

Best iron sources

Lean red meat, chicken and fish

Good iron sources

Grains, leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts and iron-enriched breakfast cereals
*Consume these foods with a high vitamin C food (e.g. capsicum, tomato, broccoli, a piece of fruit or juice) to increase absorption of plant-based iron

Tips

  •  
    • Consuming a balanced diet including both best and good sources of iron should meet your requirements.
    • Avoid tea or coffee with or directly after your meal as it reduces the absorption of iron
    • If you are at risk of low iron, such as being vegetarian, pregnant with multiples (e.g. twins) or have a history of low iron, an iron supplement may be needed. Make sure you speak to your doctor about the dosage. Supplementation can cause stomach upset and constipation so guidance is recommended.
    • Other useful websites: vegetarian pregnancy (external) as well as vegetarian nutrition when pregnant and breastfeeding or vegan nutrition when pregnant and breastfeeding (external link).
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Calcium

Facts

    • Calcium is an important mineral during pregnancy to ensure normal development of your baby’s bones and skeleton.
    • Your efficiency to absorb calcium is increased during pregnancy. However, it is still important to consume sufficient calcium to avoid your calcium levels from being reduced whilst ensuring your baby’s needs are met.
    • Vitamin D helps the calcium you do consume to be absorbed into your blood stream. The primary source of this vitamin is sunlight.

Best calcium sources

Dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese), calcium-fortified soy milk, figs (fresh or dry).

Good calcium sources

Fish with edible bones (e.g. salmon and sardines), nuts and seeds
Small amount in fruit and vegetables.

Tips

    • To ensure you have enough calcium in your diet (1100 mg/day), you will need three to four serves of dairy foods per day. For example:
2 cups of reduced fat milk + 1 cube of cheese + 1/2 tub of yoghurt
    • If you do not eat dairy foods and do not replace these with calcium fortified soy milk you will need calcium supplements.  Please see your doctor for advice.

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Iodine

Facts

    • Iodine is a mineral that is needed in small amounts but is very important during pregnancy. Inadequate maternal iodine intake can lead to learning difficulties and impaired motor skills development and hearing in your baby.
    • Iodine is found in a limited range of foods including dairy products, seafood, kelp, eggs, bread, vegetables grown in iodine rich soil and iodised salt. In Australia, iodine requirements are hard to meet by diet alone so bread (except organic bread) is fortified with iodine.
    • All women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy are recommended to take an iodine supplement of 220 micrograms (μg) per day to ensure their needs are met.

Tips

    • Eat good sources of iodine every day -  fortified bread, fortified dairy, iodised salt, fish (low mercury types – see other foods to be cautious of during pregnancy), seaweed.
    • If you are not consuming fortified bread then you should consider also taking a pregnancy multivitamin that contains iodine. Ask your doctor for advice.
    • Iodine affects thyroid function, and women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their doctor before taking a supplement.
    • Please note that kelp/seaweed tablets are not recommended as they contain varying amounts of iodine, often too much, which can be harmful.
    • For more information watch the video: Eating well for pregnancy: getting enough iodine VIDEO (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand)
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Zinc

Facts

    • Zinc is important for rapid cell growth during pregnancy
    • Pregnant women are recommended to take 9mg/day

Tips

    • Zinc can be found in lean meat, wholegrain cereals, milk, seafood, legumes and nuts.
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Vitamin D

Facts

    • Vitamin D is important to maintain bone and muscle strength.
    • Evidence is increasing that vitamin D may also play a role in protecting you from other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers.
    • During pregnancy vitamin D is needed for the healthy development of your baby’s bones. If you are deficient in vitamin D it can cause your baby to have softened, deformed bones (called rickets)
    • Food provides a very small amount of vitamin D (oily fish such as mackerel and sardines, egg yolks, margarine and fortified milk) but you are unlikely to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D from food.
    • The primary source of vitamin D is through exposure of your skin to sunlight.

Tips

  •  
    • Check your risk of low vitamin D and discuss with your doctor. You are at risk if you:
      • Spend little time outdoors each week; or 
      • Cover most of your skin with clothing; or 
      • Wear sun-cream on all exposed areas every time you are in the sun in any season; and / or
      • If you have dark skin you need more sun exposure to get adequate amounts of vitamin D.
    • A blood test will show if you are low in vitamin D, and supplements might be prescribed to normalise levels during pregnancy.
    • Sun exposure is the best way to maintain adequate vitamin D levels but may also increase the risk of skin cancer. The Cancer Council Australia has provided guidelines to help balance the risk of low vitamin D and the risk of skin cancer. See Vitamin D and being Sunsmart (external link)
    • for more information please see: Vitamin D and pregnancy (external link) and King Edward Memorial Hospital's Nutritional Fitness in pregnancy pamphlet (external link) which provides a break-down of your needs at different stages of pregnancy.
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Vitamin C

Facts

    • Vitamin C plays a role in the formation of collagen which is important in blood vessels.
    • During pregnancy mothers have higher volumes of blood for their baby’s growth and so Vitamin C is important.

Tips

    • Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin C

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>>Pregnancy Healthy Eating Guide>>

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