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10 Prenatal Nutrition Tips

Written by: Cindi Lockhart, RD, LD, Weight Loss Coaching Program Manager

Pregnancy — what an exciting time in a woman’s life! To think of all the intricate biochemical and physiological changes occurring in a woman’s body to allow for proper growth and development of a baby is truly miraculous. This is a critical stage that requires proper nutrition of both mother and baby. 

Often, women feel pregnancy is an excuse to “eat for two” or to cave into indulgences.  Optimal weight gain during pregnancy is 22-26 pounds, accomplished with an additional 300 calories per day. Women entering pregnancy overweight or gaining too much weight while pregnant have been associated with children at increased risk of being overweight/obese later in life.[i] This was thought to be related primarily to mothers’ consuming too many calories and carbohydrates. 

A 2004 manuscript, Maternal Nutrition and Fetal Development, discussed the health implications of improper nutrition during pregnancy in the long-term health of the child. [ii]  It confirmed nutrition to be the “primary intrauterine environmental factor impacting the fetus’ growth and development as well as ultimately the risk of metabolic, endocrine, and cardiovascular diseases in adulthood”. 

Let’s dive into 10 of the healthiest nutrition practices you can implement during pregnancy to optimize your baby’s development and health now and long term:

1. Drink adequate water

On average, water makes up 60 percent of your body weight and, when pregnant, your blood volume increases 30-50 percent. Proper water intake is needed to deliver nutrients to your baby, form protective aminiotic fluid, and detoxify/flush wastes out of your body. You should try to consume half your body weight in oz of filtered water daily. 

2. Take a high-quality prenatal multivitamin/mineral

Although we like to think we can get all our nutrients via diet alone, modern lifestyles don’t usually allow for it. Nausea and morning sickness can also play roles in not getting your nutritional needs met, especially in the early months of pregnancy.

To assure you are consuming adequate micronutrients for your baby’s growth and development, a high-quality prenatal multivitamin is essential. Choose a supplement without herbs as research hasn’t yet confirmed the safety of herbal products during pregnancy or lactation. Life Time Fitness recently launched a comprehensive prenatal multivitamin/mineral called Basic Prenatal by Thorne Research, which also has no herbs or additives. 

3. Increase intake of folate

Folate is required for production of new DNA, which forms all the baby’s cells, and has been shown to decrease the risk of neural tube defects. Folic acid, found in standard over-the-counter multivitamins is not the same thing. It is a synthetic form of folate that can actually increase the risk for certain cancers, decrease immunity and mask B12 deficiency. 

A pregnant woman’s folate need is at least 600 micrograms per day, so be sure to check the label of your prenatal multivitamin/mineral. Your supplement should provide “5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate” or “metafolin” versions of folate vs. folic acid. The Life Time Fitness Basic Prenatal supplement contains 1000 milligrams of natural folate. Dietary sources that are naturally high in folate include orange and tomato juices, dried beans/peas, avocado, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.   

4. Increase intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

DHA is an omega 3 essential fatty acid found in every cell of our body, and is critical for brain, eye, and central nervous system development and functioning.  Omega 3 food sources include: mackerel, herring, sardines, wild salmon, eggs, and grass-fed beef, bison, or buffalo. To ensure adequate DHA intake, fish oil supplements should be included in a mom-to-be’s regimen for optimal brain development. 

Do a little research to be sure your supplement is made from small fish species and contains no mercury, such as Life Time Fitness Omega-3 with fish oil. Take 2-4 capsules daily, depending on how many omega-3 food sources you consume weekly.

5. Be wary of mercury in fish

Mercury is a neurotoxin, and detrimental to your baby’s brain and nervous system development.  Many large fish species are high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish and marlin.  While many other fish species contain mercury, they also contain selenium, a mineral that binds to mercury and negates its risks to either the baby’s or mother’s health. 

6. Avoid trans fatty acids

Trans fats are synthetic fats found in processed/convenience and fried foods.  When consumed, they increase inflammation in our body and can disrupt the early stages of fetal development.  Therefore, avoid eating margarine (organic butter or coconut oil is better), shortening, fried foods, doughnuts, cookies, pastries or any foods listing hydrogenated oil among their ingredients.

7. Consume enough protein

Protein is a building block for life itself.  It helps develop the placenta (the delivery system of baby’s nutrients), blood cells, antibodies for immune support, enzymes for activation of all biochemical functions in the body, hormones, and muscle growth and development. A pregnant woman should try to consume at least 80-100 grams of protein each day through whole, natural sources such as grass-fed beef, bison, poultry, wild fish (Alaska/Pacific salmon, flounder, haddock, shrimp, scallops, and catfish), cage-free eggs, full-fat dairy (if you tolerate), and protein powders as needed.

8. Limit intake of processed/refined sugars and carbohydrates

Sugars and starchy foods may taste great, but they are void of critical nutrients for baby’s development.  They are also considered “empty calories” that lend to greater weight gain during pregnancy, which isn’t good for either of mother or child.  The excess carbohydrates produce higher blood glucose levels, secreting more insulin, which stores extra fat on our body and delivers more glucose and insulin to the baby. This, alone, can cause permanent changes in the baby’s pancreatic cells, brain, and fat tissues to increase long-term risks of obesity and/or diabetes. You should limit your intake of sodas, juices, desserts, cereal, crackers, pasta, etc. Better options are whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits (in moderation), quinoa, wild rice, millet, and teel cut oats.

9. Increase intake of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits

These nutrient-packed foods supply an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that help optimize mother and baby’s immune system, weight, and overall health.  Try to “eat a rainbow” of colors when selecting produce so you get a variety of nutrients.  The more vivid the colors, the more nutrients are in them.  Consume three (3) times as many vegetables as fruits for less impact on your glucose/insulin levels.  And while it may seem like drinking fruit juice is a good idea, most of the nutrients and fiber are missing, so it’s not a good substitute.

10. Choose organic when possible

Unfortunately, we live in a world full of toxins. With your baby’s first breath, close to 300 chemicals are detected in the baby’s umbilical blood supply. [iii]  These chemicals/pesticides have been found to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, to cause cancer and abnormal development / birth defects in children. If you are financially able, opt for organic meat, dairy products and “the dirty dozen:” fruits/vegetables: apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, bell peppers, celery, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


[i]  Lawlor, DA, et al.  “ Does maternal weight gain in pregnancy have long-term effects on offspring adiposity?”  Am J Clin Nutr 2011 July 94 (1): 142-8.

[ii]  Guoyao, Wu, et al.  “Maternal Nutrition and Fetal Development”. J Nutr 2004 Sept 134: 2169-2172.

[iii] “Body Burden – the Pollution in Newborns”. The Environmental Working Group. July 14, 2005.

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Reader Comments (4)

Good information. We usually recommend a little higher weight gain. If the mother is normal weight going in to the pregnancy 25-35 pounds is not excessive

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVickie Hill

I know water is important, but as a pregnany woman, try drinking 158 ounces of water. That just wont work. You have to take into consideration how much the person weighs. 90-120oz is suffecient enough. Despite going to the restroom every hour on that amount alone, I could imagine if I was to drink more than a gallon a day.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSAE

@ Vickie - thank you for your input.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart

@ SAE: I have certainly had 300# clients drinking 150 oz of water a day without problems, but agree that we need to first assess what you are currently drinking and progress slowly. The quality of the water also impacts the bodies ability to absorb it - tap water is highly contaminated and therefore the body will try to eliminate it more than if you have a filtered water with minerals, which the body can and wants to absorb more. The health of our cell walls also dictate the ability to retain water in our cells for hydration vs. keeping it out in the interstitial spaces between cells, which will cause one to pee more. So bottom line, we can aim for the recommended 1/2 our body wt. in oz of water per day to optimize hydration, energy, and detoxification however also need to assess the current situation. Thanks for your insight.

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart

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