Diet Tips for Pregnant Women

The focus is on three nutrients: vitamin D, omega 3 fats and folate.

Melissa Dobbins MS, RD

WGN News

March 10, 2010


Clearly there are special nutrition needs before, during and after pregnancy. According to the American Dietetic Association, pregnant and breastfeeding women may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies due to increased nutrient requirements. Therefore, many women who are pregnant and breastfeeding pay closer attention to what they are eating and most doctors recommend prenatal supplements.

Melissa Dobbins is a registered dietitian and a mom, and she knows there can be a lot of concern and confusion about nutrition for both mom and baby during this important time. She joined us in-studio today to share some tips for some especially tricky nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The focus is on three nutrients: vitamin D, omega 3 fats and folate. These nutrients are not naturally occurring in a wide selection of foods. In addition, there are certain foods that should be limited or avoided due to risks of foodborne illness such as salmonella, listeriosis, or toxins such as mercury in fish. It's helpful to know the best food sources and the recommended amounts during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Here's what you should know:

Vitamin D

Why do you need it? Vitamin D deficiency is the most common medical condition in the world. Low vitamin D levels in pregnancy leads to low serum calcium in the infant and affects neonatal bone metabolism in some cases.
Where do you get it? From sunlight, a few food sources such as fortified milk, salmon, fortified cereals, egg yolks.
How much do you need? The suggested amount during pregnancy and breastfeeding is 200 IU per day, but for infants and children the American Academy of Pediatrics recently increased their recommendation to 400 IU. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults get 400-800 or 800-1000 IU per day, depending on your age. Much research is underway regarding recommended amounts of vitamin D for optimal health.
Foods to avoid: Raw or unpasteurized milk, cheese, eggs, meat and poultry.

Omega 3 Fats: DHA

Why do you need it? DHA is a key omega-3 fatty acid for visual and mental development of the fetus and newborn infant. In addition, research shows it may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Where do you get it? The best food sources are salmon and tuna.

How much do you need? Experts recommend at least 200 mg of DHA daily. The American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association recommend two servings of fish per week providing about 500 mg EPA and DHA (about 8 ounces total). The Environmental Protection Agency, the US Food and Drug Administration and MyPyramid (for pregnancy and breastfeeding) advise up to 12 ounces a week of fish or shellfish lower in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, catfish.

Foods to avoid: Shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish; limit albacore "white" tuna to 6 ounces or less a week (contains more mercury that canned light tuna).

Folate (or Folic Acid)

Why do you need it? Folate is a B vitamin that is essential in early pregnancy. It significantly decreases the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida (brain and spine defects).

Where do you get it? Good food sources include fortified cereals and breads, leafy green vegetables, dried peas and beans (i.e. navy and kidney beans), citrus fruits/juices, bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes. Since these foods are often lacking in the average diet, this important vitamin has been added to grains such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta.

How much do you need? The recommended amount during pregnancy is 600 micrograms a day.

All pregnant and breastfeeding women should discuss their diet and supplement options with their registered dietitian and physician.

Other Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy to prevent foodborne illness:

Cold deli salads

Deli meats/hot dogs - must be heated to steaming (or 160 degrees F)

For more information on nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding visit:

For more information on food safety and prevention of food-borne illnesses you can contact:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Foodborne Illness Line
(24 hr recorded information)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition