A healthy eating guide to pregnancy

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Folic Acid (Folate)

Choose foods high in folate and take a multivitamin with folic acid in it to help prevent neural tube defects (e.g., spina bifida—in which the spine doesn’t form as it should) in your baby. Choose a multivitamin that has 0.4–1.0 mg of folic acid.

Some women may need higher levels of folic acid. Talk to your health care provider about your folic acid needs before you get pregnant if:

  • you’ve had an earlier pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • you have a close relative with a neural tube defect
  • you have diabetes, epilepsy or are obese
  • you take medicine on a regular basis

Talk to your health care provider before taking more than 1 mg of folic acid a day.

Foods high in folate or fortified with folic acid:

  • whole grain breads, leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils, citrus fruits and juices and most cereals.

    Multivitamins with folic acid

    Healthy eating and taking a daily multivitamin with folic acid helps you prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Make sure your multivitamin with folic acid (0.4–1.0 mg) also contains iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Talk to your health care provider about the supplement that is right for you.

  • If you are not already taking a multivitamin, begin now and take it throughout your pregnancy.

Iron

Your iron needs are very high during pregnancy. Your body makes about an extra 2 kg (4 lbs.) of blood during pregnancy. You need higher amounts of iron to make this extra blood.

Choose foods high in iron and take a multivitamin containing folic acid and iron. Your body absorbs the iron from meat, poultry and fish better than iron from other foods. In your third trimester, your baby is storing up iron to use for the first 6 months after birth.

For your body to absorb more iron, eat a food containing vitamin C (e.g., oranges or strawberries) and a food containing iron at the same time. For example, have vegetables with meat, or an orange with a bowl of cereal and milk. Tea and coffee can interfere with iron absorption, so limit these drinks and have them between meals rather than at meals. Some women may need more supplemental iron than others. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out how much is right for you.

Best sources of iron:

  • beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, sardines, shrimp, oysters and mussels

Other foods with iron:

  • legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas), tofu, whole grain and enriched cereals

    Anemia

    When you’re pregnant, it’s hard to get the amount of iron you need just from the foods you eat. Health care providers recommend all pregnant women take a multivitamin with folic acid and iron (16–20 mg) during pregnancy. Anemia during pregnancy has been linked to decreased weight gain, preterm birth, and babies with a low birth weight.

  • A common sign of anemia is feeling tired. However, since most women feel tired during their pregnancy anyway, blood tests are an important way your health care provider can make sure you’re getting enough iron.
  • If you follow the nutrition recommendations provided and take your multivitamin with folic acid and iron every day, you should get the amount of iron you need. Only take an extra iron supplement if your healthcare provider tells you to. Iron supplements can make you constipated, so be sure to increase your intake of fiber and fluids.

Calcium

Calcium helps keep your bones strong. It also helps your muscles and nerves work properly. During pregnancy, calcium helps your baby build strong bones and teeth too.

Drink at least 500 ml (2 cups) of milk or fortified soy beverage each day.

Foods high in calcium:

  • milk and yogurt
  • calcium-fortified beverages, such as soy, rice or orange juice—the label must say calcium fortified

Other sources of calcium:

  • cheese, canned salmon or sardines with bones, and tofu made with calcium

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important during pregnancy. It helps keep your bones strong and builds strong bones in your baby. It also helps your baby store up her own vitamin D to use during her first few months.

Many Canadians don’t get enough vitamin D. Be sure to follow Canada’s Food Guide: drink at least 500 ml (2 cups) of milk or fortified soy beverage daily and eat at least 2 servings of fish per week. You also need to take a supplement with vitamin D (400 IU) every day. Check your multivitamin to see how much vitamin D you’re getting from it. You may need to add an extra vitamin D supplement if the multivitamin has less than 400 IU.

Foods high in vitamin D:

  • milk, fortified soy beverages, fish (e.g., salmon, trout, herring, Atlantic mackerel and sardines) and vitamin D-fortified orange juice

Note: Not all milk products are high in vitamin D. In Canada, milk, margarine and some yogurts have vitamin D added to them.

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