You may find during pregnancy that you need to change your eating and drinking habits. To meet the extra demands of pregnancy you may need to consume more nutritious foods and drinks. The key is to start small and be consistent.
Try to think of one or two dietary habits that you can improve. Think about what may contribute to you repeating these habits. Next, make a plan to overcome these issues and put the plan into action and involve your partner or support person.
It is important to continue your new healthy eating habits once you have given birth to help restore your body’s nutrients. Maintaining a healthy weight and being a good role model for your partner and children becomes important.
Tips for healthy eating during pregnancy
Healthy eating during pregnancy means having more than just the type of foods you eat. You should:
- Eat regularly
- Eat a balanced diet
- Choose carbohydrates with a low Glycaemic Index (GI)
- Choose reduced-fat options
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Be aware of food safety and foods to avoid.
Eating three smaller meals and two or three healthy snacks boosts your metabolism and stops you from getting too hungry. It also ensures both you and your baby get enough energy throughout the day.
Eat a balanced diet during pregnancy
A balanced diet means eating the right amounts of each of the food groups every day. For a guide to daily serves of fruit, vegetables, cereals, meat and dairy, see the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating During Pregnancy.
Keep a diary of what you usually eat and check this against the recommended serves. Refer to the diary section in the Women and Newborn Health Service BLOOM.
“I never took much notice of what I ate but once I was pregnant I knew I should be more careful. I tried to be really honest and wrote down what I usually eat and drink over a day. I soon saw that I didn’t eat a proper lunch and I was eating a lot of unhealthy biscuits and chocolates before and after dinner. I realised that because I was rushing to get things done during the day and not eating or just grabbing a takeaway or a diet coke from the deli, I was hungry and craving carbohydrates in the evening. I decided to pack a lunch to keep in the fridge at work. I stopped buying biscuits and chocolates and stocked up on foods that were easy to pack and safe and healthy for me to eat during pregnancy, like canned tuna and chick peas. I packed fresh vegetables and bread to go with them and fruit and yoghurt to eat later in the afternoon. It took a bit of planning at first and my husband missed his evening snacks but I wanted a healthy pregnancy. Now it’s an easy habit and we both feel better for it.”
Choose carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index
The glycaemic index (GI) refers to a way of ranking carbohydrates according to the time it takes to raise your blood sugar levels after eating. Carbohydrates with a low GI should be eaten with every meal and snack.
Those foods with a lower GI are better for you as they provide a slower, sustained release of energy into your blood. The benefits include feeling less hungry, more energetic and a lower risk of developing diabetes.
Choose reduced-fat options
- Healthy unsaturated fats, are those such as those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil
- Unhealthy fats (trans and saturated fats) are found in full cream dairy, fat or skin on meat and chicken, coconut and palm oil
- Both healthy and unhealthy fats are strong sources of energy. When they are consumed in excess, it will result in weight gain
- It is best to minimise your saturated fat and control your unsaturated fat intake to reduce your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, and maintain a healthy weight.
To reduce saturated fat intake:
- Trim fat off meat before cooking.
- Bake, stir-fry or grill instead of frying, and use minimal added fat Vegetable oil sprays are a good option for browning.
- Eat reduced-fat dairy foods (cheese, milk, margarine, yoghurt) Reduced-fat milk has more calcium and less saturated fat than full cream milk.
Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats by:
- Using margarine, avocado, pesto or tahini instead of butter.
- Eating nuts as a snack (almonds, Brazil nuts or walnuts are best).
- Using vegetable cooking oils such as canola, sunflower or olive oils.
- Including three serves of fish per week (e.g. salmon, sardines).
The Heart Foundation has more information about fats in food.
Drink plenty of water
- Water is required for all body functions. Even mild dehydration can reduce physical and mental performance.
- Water requirements are slightly increased in pregnancy. Low fluid intake can contribute to fatigue and constipation.
- Your body needs extra fluid with more weight and activity. Climatic conditions such as high temperature, high altitude, and low humidity also increase your need for fluids.
Tips to keep your water intake up
- Aim to drink seven to nine cups (1.75-2.25 litres) of fluids per day. This amount is considered enough for the average pregnant woman in Australia (NHMRC). Choose water over other beverages such as soft drinks and fruit juice. These are concentrated sources of sugar.
- Boost your fluid and calcium intake with two cups of low fat milk per day.
- Limit tea, coffee and cola drinks due to the caffeine content and diuretic effect (increase urine output). Tea with meals also reduces iron absorption.
- To reduce toilet trips at night, drink throughout the day and less closer to bed-time. Also avoid evening drinks containing caffeine. They will have a diuretic effect (i.e. increases urine output) and may worsen heart burn. “How diet can make a difference”
Avoid drinking alcohol
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can impair your baby’s brain development. This can have life-long consequences for your child.
Low-level drinking (such as one or two drinks per week) is likely to be of low-risk; however, evidence cannot ensure there is no risk. More about alcohol – effects on unborn children.
Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is no known safe intake.
Be aware of food safety and foods to avoid
- Food poisoning can affect anyone who consumes contaminated foods. Be aware that the symptoms may be more severe and prolonged in pregnant women due to reduced immunity.
- Some foods and drinks that are common in the Australian diet may not be safe to consume during pregnancy.
Tips for food safety
- Always have good personal hygiene and food handling practices to avoid common forms of food poisoning.
- During pregnancy, avoid foods that are at risk of carrying harmful bacteria (such as listeria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella). Safe Food Guide for Pregnancy
- Follow the guidelines for caffeine, alcohol and fish consumption during pregnancy.
Want to know more?
The Royal Women’s Hospital – Food and nutrition in pregnancy
Eat for health – Healthy Eating for Pregnancy.
Frequently asked questions
What’s a healthy weight gain in pregnancy?
It’s normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. The baby is growing and the mother’s body getting ready to support pregnancy and lactation
However putting on too many kilos is not recommended, as it will affect your health and your baby’s. Excess weight gain during pregnancy has a number of risks for you and your baby and can have a lasting effect after pregnancy. For more information read healthy pregnancy for women who are overweight.
Balance food intake and activity for healthy weight gain
Make sure you balance your energy intake (food and drinks) with energy output. Check the articles on physical activity here. To get an idea of how much activity is needed to burn off the energy from certain foods, see healthier food choices and recipes use the food and activity calculator. For example, it takes 88 minutes of brisk walking to burn off the energy from one serve of takeaway fries!