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Healthy Eating for New and Expecting Mothers

Healthy eating when you are planning for pregnancy, during pregnancy and when baby has arrived is essential for both mother and baby. This is an important time period for mothers-to-be and new moms to ensure a healthy diet as this time period can influence your future baby’s health.


Planning for Pregnancy

Your eating habits can influence your future baby's health even before you are pregnant. That is why it is important to eat well when you are planning for pregnancy.

For information about healthy eating when planning for pregnancy, visit Preconception Health and read the Folic acid fact sheet.


During Pregnancy

Healthy eating during pregnancy is very important. What you eat directly affects your baby as the nutrients your baby needs come from the food you eat. That is why pregnant women need to know about essential nutrients, food safety and healthy weight gain.

Following Canada’s Food Guide is one of the easiest ways to make sure you include the nutrients that help create a healthy baby. Following your appetite by listening to your hunger and fullness cues is your best guide for calorie intake during pregnancy.

Most Important Nutrients

Iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fat are important nutrients for your baby's growth and development.

Iron

  • Develops your baby's blood
  • Sources include beef, lamb, pork, dark meat chicken, iron-fortified tofu, spinach, beans, lentils, apricots, bran flakes with raisins, pumpkin seeds, cream of wheat and egg yolk
  • Women should take a multivitamin supplement that contains 16-20 mg of iron during pregnancy. If your iron stores were low before getting pregnant, talk to your health care professional as you might need more iron
  • Women should include food and drinks with vitamin C (most fruits and vegetables) when eating non-meat sources of iron or taking a supplement that contains iron
  • For more information on iron, see our Iron and your health fact sheet

Folic Acid

  • Is key before, during and after pregnancy for the growth and development of cells
  • Sources include spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, beans, lentils, soybeans and brussels sprouts
  • In Canada folic acid is added to white bread products, cereals and pastas

Calcium and Vitamin D

  • Builds bones and teeth
  • Sources of calcium include milk, fortified soy beverages, yogurt, cheese and other non-milk sources such as spinach, broccoli and kale
  • Food sources of vitamin D include salmon, milk, margarine and egg yolk. Your body also makes vitamin D from sunlight

Note: Canned salmon contains both calcium and vitamin D if you eat the bones.

Omega-3 Fat (DHA and EPA)

  • Helps to develop the brain and eyes of the fetus and may play a role in supporting language skills and coordination in babies and children
  • Sources include salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and rainbow trout
  • DHA is added to some milk, yogurts, bread and crackers. Buyers beware as some products have only small amounts of DHA and some aren't used very well by the body. Read the label to find out how much omega-3 fats are in the food you are buying

Food Safety During Pregnancy

To ensure you do not get sick from the foods you eat while you are pregnant, it is important to wash your hands well and often, follow safe food handling at home and avoid certain high risk foods.

For more information about eating safe foods during pregnancy and for a list of high risk foods to avoid during pregnancy, read the Food safety during pregnancy fact sheet.

Fish is a great source of omega – 3 fats. Find out more about fish and mercury. Get a copy of the Guide to eating fish for women, children and families

Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy

The weight you gain during pregnancy provides a healthy environment for your baby. It is important to discuss your personal weight gain needs with your doctor or midwife.  Generally, the amount of weight you need to gain depends on how much you weighed before pregnancy, or your Body Mass Index (BMI).

See the chart below as a guide to how much weight gain is healthy during pregnancy.

Pre-Pregnancy Body Mass Index Category Recommended Range of Total Weight Gain in Kilograms Recommended Range of Total Weight Gain in Pounds
BMI 18.5 (Underweight) 12.5 kg - 18 kg 28 lbs - 40 lbs
BMI 18.5 - 24.9 (Normal weight) 11.5 kg - 16 kg 25 lbs - 35 lbs
BMI 25.0 - 29.9 (Overweight) 7 kg - 11.5 kg 15 lbs - 25 lbs
BMI ≥ 30 (Obese) 5 kg - 9 kg 11 lbs - 20 lbs

Note: Calculations assume a total of 0.5 - 2 kilograms weight gain in the first trimester. Women with a Body Mass Index over 35 and women pregnant with twins or higher order multiples should also discuss their individual weight gain needs with their health care provider.


When Baby has Arrived

Healthy eating after your baby is born will give you the energy to care for your baby and help you to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight in a safe and healthy manner. To learn more, read our Taking care of YOU after baby arrives fact sheet.

Healthy Eating While Breastfeeding

There is no special diet that you need to follow while breastfeeding. You should eat a variety of foods based on Canada’s Food Guide and drink to your thirst.




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