Pregnancy is often a time when you stop and consider a number of lifestyle factors to try and ensure you’re doing the best for yourself and your unborn baby. Good nutrition choices in pregnancy are important for the development of your baby.

The choices you make will determine how well your body copes with your pregnancy.

The following information should answer most of your nutrition questions. However if you have special nutritional needs then it may be beneficial to have your diet reviewed by a registered dietitian – see below.

Nutritional needs which may need specialist advice during pregnancy include:

  • a very restricted diet such as a vegan diet
  • being significantly underweight at the start of your pregnancy
  • teenagers who are still growing themselves

Weight gain in pregnancy

A healthy weight gain is best for you and your baby. There is a wide variation in expected healthy weight gain from person to person. If you are underweight at the start of your pregnancy you may need to gain extra weight, whereas if you are overweight a smaller amount of weight gain over your pregnancy is advisable.

For people who are within their healthy weight range at the start of the pregnancy the recommended total weight gain over the 9 months is 11.5 -16 kg.

Although weight gain is desirable for pregnancy it is not a license to ‘eat for two’ or to eat more in the way of high fat or high sugar choices. Ensuring you have a balanced and nutritious eating pattern is very important.

Good nutrition choices in pregnancy

One of the first things to do is to ensure that your baseline eating pattern is good. This involves eating regularly and also having a good balance of foods over the day. To do this you need to choose a range of foods from each of the four food groups.

The guide below tells you how much you should eat from each of the four food groups, to ensure your nutrient needs are met. It also shows you what each food group provides to you and your baby.

Bread and Cereal group

  • Dietary fibre
  • Carbohydrate
  • Vitamins: all B group (except B12), E (rich in wheat germ)
  • Minerals: magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc & selenium (especially wholegrain breads & cereals)
Eat at least 6 servings per day (choose wholegrain breads and cereals)
  • 1 small bread roll
  • 1 small muffin
  • 2 large or 4 small crackers
  • 2 plain sweet biscuit
  • 1 cup cornflakes
  • ½ cup muesli
  • ½ cup cooked porridge
  • 1 cup cooked pasta or rice

Fruit and Vegetables group

  • Carbohydrate
  • Dietary fibre
  • Vitamins especially folate, vitamin A (yellow and green vegetables) and vitamin C (dark green vegetables, most fruits & potatoes)
  • Minerals (magnesium & potassium)

Eat at least 6 servings per day – 4 servings of vegetables & 2 servings fruit. Only 1 serving juice or 1 serve dried fruit counts towards total number of servings for the day.


  • size: the palm of your hand
  • 1 medium potato, kumara or other root vegetable
  • ½ cup cooked vegetables or salad


  • size = the palm of your hand
  • 1 apple, 2 apricots,
  • ½ cup stewed fruit,
  • 1 cup fruit juice,
  • 2 tablespoons dried fruit

Lean Meat, Fish, Eggs, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds group

  • Protein
  • Fats (Saturated in meats, unsaturated in seafood, nuts & seeds)
  • Carbohydrate (mainly legumes – dried beans & peas)
  • Vitamins (B12, niacin, thiamin)
  • Minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorous, selenium & iodine (iodine source: seafood & eggs)
Eat at least 2 servings every day.
  • 2 drumsticks or 1 chicken leg (110g)
  • 3/4 cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • ½ cup of nuts* or seeds2 slices cooked meat (approx 100 g)
  • 3/4 cup mince or casserole
  • 1 egg
  • 1 medium fillet of fish (approx 100g)

Milk and Dairy group

  • Protein
  • Fats (higher proportion of saturated than poly or monounsaturated fats, especially in full fat products)
  • Vitamins: riboflavin, B12, A, D
  • Minerals especially calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iodine
Eat at least 3 servings each day (choose low fat or reduced fat options)
  • 250 ml milk
  • 1 pottle yoghurt (150g)
  • 2 slices cheese (40g)200 g cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
  • 2 scoops of ice cream
  • 250 ml calcium-fortified soy milk

To get adequate nutrition you need to eat 3 main meals a day as well as regular snacks.

When planning each of your main meals try to include a protein based choice and also a carbohydrate based choice which will ensure you get a good source of long-lasting energy over the day and will help to control your appetite. Ensure that you also add some fruit and vegetables to provide fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Good protein choices for pregnancy include –

  • trim milk, yoghurt, low fat cheese
  • eggs
  • lean meat, chicken (no skin), fish (tinned or fresh)
  • nuts*, dried beans and lentils (tinned beans, chickpeas or soup mix)

Good carbohydrate choices for pregnancy include –

  • breakfast cereals – choose high fibre options such as natural mueslis, bran based cereals, weetbix, porridge
  • breads – wholegrain or wholemeal is preferable; for variety you could use pita pockets, wraps, English muffins, bagels, fruit bread
  • fruit and root vegetables
  • crackers: where possible choose high fibre / low fat options – rye based, wholemeal, soy & linseed
  • rice, pasta, dried beans and lentils
  • yoghurt and milk

Nutritious snacks in pregnancy

You may find that you get quite hungry at different stages of your pregnancy and that you need to eat in between main meals. At other times, especially towards the end of your pregnancy you may find that you can only eat small meals due to heartburn or the growth of your baby. To ensure that you get the good nutrition you need during your pregnancy remember to include well planned and balanced snacks over the day.

When you are choosing snacks avoid high fat or high sugar options, although occasional treats are quite acceptable. Choosing snacks based around the four food groups (see above) will help ensure nutritious choices.

Some suggestions for snacks

  • Fruit – fresh or pottles of fruit
  • Yoghurt
  • Milk based drinks, smoothies
  • Crackers with a topping – cheese, tomato, vegemite, avocado etc
  • Vegetable sticks
  • Fruit cake, fruit muffins, bran muffins
  • Toast
  • Sandwiches, cheese on toast, mouse traps
  • Nuts and dried fruit

Fluids as part of nutrition in pregnancy

When you are pregnant you need to take in more fluids.

As a guide, you should aim to include a drink with each main meal as well as a drink in-between. This will ensure a minimum of at least 6 cups of fluid a day (it is recommended you have around 9 cups of fluid a day). The best guide to whether you have had sufficient fluids is to look at the colour of your urine – if it is clear to light yellow this indicates you are well hydrated.

You may need more fluid if you are struggling with morning sickness and vomiting. Adequate fluid intake is also important for preventing / treating constipation.

The best fluids to choose are water, reduced or low fat milk and diluted fruit juice.

Drinks such as soft drinks or cordial are high in sugar and offer little in the way of nutrients.

It is recommended that during pregnancy caffeine is limited to 300mg caffeine per day. Caffeine does travel through the placenta to the baby and high doses are not good for your baby.  Also discuss any herbal tea intake with your LMC.

Caffeine content of some drinks

Average caffeine content

Serving size

Caffeine – mg

Long black – café*  160 ml 211
Decaf Long black coffee  130 ml 19
Cappuccino – café*  260 ml 105
Instant coffee*  250 ml 51
Plunger coffee*  250 ml 66
Tea made with tea bag*  250 ml 47
Brewed tea leaves*  250 ml 57
Drinking Chocolate  250 ml 5
Smart or Energy drinks  250 ml 80
Cola type drinks  355 ml 35
Chocolate bar  100 g 65
*Figures may alter depending on strength and method of making

Food safety and listeria in pregnancy

Food safety and hygiene is very important when you are pregnant. The food bacteria Listeria monocytgenes can cause listeria, which can be a serious threat to the fetus.

Listeria can survive and multiply in the fridge – so careful food hygiene is imperative. Pregnant women should avoid the following foods as they have a high risk of contamination:

  • Uncooked, smoked or pre-cooked fish or seafood products that are chilled or frozen (unless reheated thoroughly to steaming hot – test the thickest part of the food to ensure the middle is steaming hot, and eat immediately)
  • Pate
  • Cold, pre-cooked chicken, ham and other chilled, pre-cooked meat products
  • Stored salads and coleslaws
  • Raw (unpasteurised) milk
  • Surface ripened cheese (for example brie and camembert).

The above-named foods are safe to eat if heated thoroughly to steaming hot (test the thickest part of the food to ensure the middle is steaming hot).

Always check sell-by dates, keep your fridge clean and check the temperature of your fridge by getting a fridge thermometer from a hard ware store (fridge temperature should be 1ºC to 5ºC).

For more detailed information on this topic, read our article on Food Safety.

Alcohol during pregnancy

Just a few years ago women were advised to reduce their alcohol intake during  pregnancy – with the amount varying from country to country.

Now the widespread message is to cut out alcohol altogether to prevent a worrying condition – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), whereby the child has a level of intellectual impairment.

This can happen due to excessive alcohol consumption in pregnancy, but what is “excessive” is hard to define and some babies have displayed symptoms after relatively small amounts of alcohol consumption by the mother in pregnancy.

The advice is therefore to take no alcohol when pregnant.

Nuts and food allergies

Regardless of family history, there is no evidence to suggest that you need to avoid nuts or other common food allergens during pregnancy unless they will affect you directly.

The most effective protection against food allergies for your baby is to exclusively breast feed for 6 months.

Now you know why good nutrition choices in pregnancy are important for the development of your baby. You should also find out more about Iron in Pregnancy as well as Folate in Pregnancy. And you may want to learn more about taking a pregnancy multivitamin.

Preconception Care covers healthy eating and exercise in pregnancy and advises you on what to avoid prior to conception. We also have some great nutritional tips on how to manage Nausea.

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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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