Optimal Diet and Nutrition for Healthy Pregnancy

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Diet and Nutrition for Healthy Pregnancy
Wellness Mama » Blog » Motherhood » Optimal Diet and Nutrition for Healthy Pregnancy

Oh, pregnancy…. that wonderful time when everyone offers unwanted advice and your body changes in ways you didn’t know possible. Since I’m now in the third trimester of pregnancy myself, and starting to really “feel” pregnant, I thought I would offer my own completely unsolicited advice for a healthy pregnancy. (If you’re pregnant, you are probably getting advice from the grocery store cashier, relatives, and complete strangers, so why not?). I am not a doctor, midwife, or medical professional, just another mom who has been there too!

This is only the fifth time I’ve been through all the joys of pregnancy (read about my previous pregnancies here), so I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but thought I’d share what I’ve learned along the way!

Healthy Pregnancy Begins Before Conception

From experience, I know that the best time to begin a healthy pregnancy regimen is before you conceive. Having a strong nutritional system in place not only increases your odds of healthy conception, but will also help your body handle the transitions of early pregnancy without all the discomfort.

For those struggling with achieving a pregnancy, optimizing diet and lifestyle factors can make a tremendous difference in successfully conceiving naturally.

Having positive dietary and lifestyle habits in place will also help minimize the discomforts of pregnancy and make sure baby is getting optimal nutrition as well.

Pregnancy Nutrition

Ensuring optimal nutrition during pregnancy is one of the best gifts you can give your baby. Doctors warn of the foods to avoid (cold cuts, excess caffeine, soft cheeses, alcohol, etc.) but few give detailed advice on what optimal pregnancy nutrition should look like.

I certainly had to navigate these waters myself during my first few pregnancies, and I’ve noticed that as my diet and health have improved, my pregnancies have gotten much easier.

Unfortunately, for many women, eating the best diet for baby during pregnancy requires forgetting all the conventional wisdom they’ve ever been told on health eating.

Low fat diet- not good!

“Healthy whole grains” – not so good either!

Keeping blood sugar stable with little carb snacks all day- not really!

A woman’s body is quite literally building an entire human being during pregnancy, and as such, she needs a lot of quality sources of all the things needed to support the human body- mainly proteins, fats, vegetables and fruits, and certain supplements she can’t adequately get from food. Eating right during pregnancy benefits not only baby, but mom as well… from balancing hormones to preventing stretch marks.

Foods to focus on during pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding:

  • Protein: Most women need 80+ grams of protein every day for healthy pregnancy. Some research shows lower risk of preclampsia and other complications with adequate protein, and some women report less morning sickness when they consume this much protein.
  • Fats: This is often the biggest hurdle for many women, but consuming adequate fats is absolutely vital to baby’s organ and brain development. Women should focus on healthy sources like meat (including red meat), butter, eggs, olive/oil, coconut/oil, nuts, limited dairy, etc.
  • Vegetables and Fruits: Vegetables and fruits have a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber that are helpful during pregnancy. Eating a varied diet including a lot of green leafy vegetables can also help raise Vitamin K levels.
  • Water: A woman’s blood volume actually increases during pregnancy and her body has to supply fluid to replenish the amniotic fluid the baby is in. Drinking enough water (usually around a gallon a day) can help fight off morning sickness and also helps prevent constipation and make sure mom and baby are properly hydrated.

Foods to avoid during pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding

Supplements For Healthy Pregnancy

Supplement needs can vary by woman, and all supplements should be approved by a doctor or midwife to ensure safety during pregnancy. In general, pregnant women have higher nutrient needs and often supplements are the only way to get adequate nutrients.

These basic supplements are ones that are often beneficial during pregnancy:

  • Probiotics: Best obtained from high quality supplements, fermented foods, and beverages like water kefir and kombucha. Since a baby  is born with a sterile gut and then has his or her gut bacteria begin to develop based on the beneficial (or not) gut flora of the mother this is an important factor! Adequate Probiotics can also help reduce the risk of Group B strep, and have even helped get rid of Group B strep before delivery when probiotic supplements or organic plain yogurt are used vaginally.
  • Omega-3s, DHA, RHA– Adequate good fats are absolutely essential for baby’s development and it is difficult to get enough from diet. Supplementing high quality sources of these fats can help reduce risk of complications and give baby the necessary nutrients for good development. Sardines are a great food source.
  • Vitamin D– This article reports that “Compared to women who took 400 IU of vitamin D daily, those who took 4,000 IU were half as likely to develop gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, or preeclampsia, Wagner says. They were also less likely to give birth prematurely.” Vitamin D needs vary, but many doctors are now suggesting at least 4,000 IU and up to 10,000 IU a day.
  • Folate– Well known for its preventative effects against spina bifida and other developmental struggles, folate is another important supplement. The current recommendation is 400 micrograms, though many doctors recommend 2,000 micrograms or more for optimal development, and folate is water soluble and difficult to overdose.
  • Iron– Anemia can cause serious complications during delivery, and is easy to prevent. If blood tests show that iron levels are low, iron supplements may be necessary, but things like cooking with cast iron pans, eating red meat/grass fed liver and eating a variety of fats and vegetables can help optimize iron levels. I personally much prefer to get this from food rather than supplements.

Herbs During Pregnancy

Consult with a qualified herbalist, midwife, or doctor before taking any herbs during pregnancy! This chart gives a basic breakdown of herbs that are helpful, and ones that should be avoided.

If your doctor or midwife approves, some herbs can be very beneficial during pregnancy. My favorite is to make a strong tea that I drink throughout pregnancy using the following herbs:

I blend these dried herbs and make a strong tea by putting 3/4 cup or more in a large glass jar and filling with boiling water and letting sit overnight. I strain, and keep iced in the fridge.

Red Raspberry Leaf:
Red Raspberry Leaf: it is an all-around excellent herb to use for pregnancy. It is a uterine tonic, anti-abortive, and helps prevent infection. Aids in preventing cramps and anemia. Prevents excessive bleeding during and after labor and will facilitate the birth process by stimulating contractions.

Peppermint: after the first trimester, may be used to help digestion, soothe the stomach and overcome nausea. It is an all-over body strengthener and cleanser.

Alfalfa Leaf and Nettle Leaf:
Can will guard against excessive bleeding as they have vitamin K; will improve kidney function and help prevent hemorrhoids.

Weston A. Price Diet:

The Weston A. Price Foundation offers more detailed suggestions for diet during pregnancy and nursing, and I follow many of their guidelines, though I don’t include the grains in any form and am not always able to consume that much raw dairy. Always check with your own doctor or midwife to find out the best diet for you during pregnancy.

From the Weston A. Price website:

“1 quart (or 32 ounces) whole milk daily, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows

4 tablespoons butter daily, preferably from pasture-fed cows

2 or more eggs daily, preferably from pastured chickens

Additional egg yolks daily, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc.

3-4 ounces fresh liver, once or twice per week (If you have been told to avoid liver for fear of getting “too much Vitamin A,” be sure to read Vitamin A Saga)

Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly wild salmon, shellfish and fish eggs

Fresh beef or lamb daily, always consumed with the fat

Oily fish or lard daily, for vitamin D

2 tablespoons coconut oil daily, used in cooking or smoothies, etc.

Lacto-fermented condiments and beverages

Bone broths used in soups, stews and sauces

Soaked whole grains

Fresh vegetables and fruits

Foods to Avoid

  • Trans fatty acids (e.g., hydrogenated oils)
  • Junk foods
  • Commercial fried foods
  • Sugar
  • White flour
  • Soft drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Drugs (even prescription drugs)”

Interested in a more natural pregnancy?

Sign up for the world’s first pregnancy week-to-week series from a *natural* perspective! Created by my friend Genevieve from Mama Natural, the series shows you what’s up with baby, mama, and more each week. You’ll discover natural remedies for various pregnancy symptoms and prepare for your best and most natural birth!
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weekly pregnancy updates from a natural perspective - purple
Diet and nutrition options for staying healthy during pregnancy and nursing.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


188 responses to “Optimal Diet and Nutrition for Healthy Pregnancy”

  1. Becca Milam Avatar
    Becca Milam

    Have you heard about the study stating that fermented cod oil is actually rancid?

  2. Emily Johnson Avatar
    Emily Johnson

    It took 3 years for me to get pregnant. During the month I did, I drank maybe 16 oz. Of coffee per day with that terrible but delicious International coffee creamers. I was eating all sorts of junk food. For most of the three years before, I tried to eat super healthy and organic. But not that month. Only difference was, I had just started taking daily vitamins consistently. God was at work and there were non-health things going on, but everyone is different. Theres no exact recipe – no one-size-fits-all. My best advice is, seek God first.

  3. Dana Avatar

    Katie. Love reading your blogs! I noticed that you take a certain prenatal. On another post iy shows the vrand of omega 3s you take through nordic naturals…i noticed on there site that they have an omega prenatal. Would that work to take instead of this one? Thought instead of a multi and omega…this would kill 2 birds w one stone sort of thing… let me know your thoughts! 🙂 thanks! Dana

  4. Nikki Avatar

    Hello there! I have a question regarding your posts on pregnancy. it seems Im a little confused on the information.

    In one pot, you recommend a prenatal and state which one you took while pregnant, in other you don’t recommend one stating that the artificially synthesized vitamins may be harmful to your baby. Which one is it? Did you change your mind with your last pregnancy? thank you for your clarification


    Prenatal Multivitamin
    There is some debate on if a full multivitamin prenatal is necessary during pregnancy or not. While I don’t routinely take a multivitamin, pregnancy and nursing is one time that I do. A deficiency in a vitamin or mineral won’t make a tremendous, immediate impact on an adult in most cases, but during the intensive developmental phases of pregnancy, a nutrient deficiency can have lasting consequences for baby.


    Prenatal Vitamins Or Not?
    Typically, prenatal vitamins are recommended during pregnancy. While these are certainly beneficial for many people, especially those who aren’t getting adequate nutrition from diet, but I don’t usually take them for several reasons:……

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Great question, Nikki! At the time of the writing of the prenatal care post, there weren’t many good options for prenatal vitamins. Most were synthetic and didn’t have the right forms of vitamins. In my last pregnancies, I discovered a couple of wonderful, real-food, non-synthetic prenatal vitamin options that I loved (and that’s when the pregnancy/nursing supplements post was written). I hope this helps!

      1. Allison Avatar

        I had the same question so this is so good to hear! Thanks for the clarification. I am 6 weeks and am currently taking the seeking health prenatal . I’m also following the Weston price Diet and am nervous about getting too much vitamin a from food plus the vitamin a combination in this vitamin . I eat butter, oat milk, Greek yogurt, oats which all contain the performed version not to mention sooooo much of the beta carotene version in sweet potatoes and tons of veggies which really adds up (although I’m not sure how much converts). Anyway, do you find eating a nutritious diet along the lines of Weston price and this form of prenatal is safe ? Worried a bit but optimistic . Thanks !

  5. Emi Avatar

    I am so glad I found this.

    I am just 7 weeks and everyone is criticizing my diet (lower carb, no sugar, lots of fruit and veggies)

    I absolutely abhor seafood/fish and fish oil makes me vomit. Any suggestions on how to supplement?


  6. Megan Avatar

    It is so difficult to stay away from the vegetable oils. I bought a pizza bread from whole foods already prepared and it had expresser sunflower oil in it and I ate it because I read that it was safe if the oil was cold pressed. I will start to make my own pizza dough now because it is not worth the risk. On another note, what are your thoughts about getting a TB test done while pregnant? It is required by work, as well as the flu shot. I don’t feel safe getting both of the test done. Thanks.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I would avoid both if possible. most employers will allow you to wear a mask if they’re concerned about flu. And if they’re insistent about the TB test, ask if you can at least wait until after you deliver.

  7. Carin Avatar

    What do you recommend for a pick-me-up instead of something caffeinated?

  8. Michele Avatar

    Hi Katie, first of all thank you so much for these highly informative blog posts! After consulting with my doctor, I’ve added many of the things that you suggest to my diet!
    Anyway, I have a couple questions for you after trying to synthesize the info from a few Of your posts – do you recommend taking a prenatal vitamin or a b-complex in addition to the methylated folate and other supplements you have recommended in this/other posts? I now take FCLO/butter blend, desiccated liver and heart pills, probiotics/fermented foods, magnesium, vitamin C, dandelion tea, and Chlorophyll, in addition to eating coconut oil daily as well as eating fairly nutrient dense Paleo-ish diet.
    Am I correct in thinking you take all of those supplements during pregnancy? Do you take a prenatal vitamin, folate supplement, and/or methylated b-complex on top of them? I want to make sure that I’m getting plenty of nutrients but I’ve worried about overdoing it on some of them by adding a prenatal. I am definitely thinking I should add in the methylated folate and was wondering if you would link to the one that you recommend. I found it before but didn’t see it in this post. Just curious if it was you, if you would take additional b-vitamins and/or a prenatal on top of the above supplements and folate. I will of course talk to my doctor about this, but I love getting your recommendations for what worked for you!

  9. Nicole W Avatar

    Hi! I would like suggestions as to how to make this kind of eating doable on a daily basis. I’ve known about Weston price eating principles for 3 years now but I can’t seem to make it happen. I break down and start eating bread again because it’s so much easier! So how can I make it easy for me to eat well. I’m currently nursing my fourth baby and need hope that I will be able to replenish my nutrients. Thanks do much!

  10. Melina Avatar

    Hi Wellnessmama, I currently trying to conceive my second child and I love all of the advice you give on pregnancy. I was wondering if you had any cheaper alternative to some things you recommend. I don’t have a big budget for these items and I want to be the healthiest I can this time around. Any cheaper alternatives for the fermented code liver oil, prenatal vitamins, probiotics? I drink brew and drink kombucha is that an alternative? I also am currently taking the Rainbow light prenatal one multivitamins is that an ok brand? I also just ordered folate the one you suggested. Should I not take this with the multivitamin that has folic acid?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      I’d actually recommend just eating sardines to get Omega-3s (if you can handle them), and they are also a great source of fat soluble vitamins. Sauerkraut (Bubbies and Farmhouse Culture are great brands) are good sources of probiotics too. Then, I’d just prioritize a good prenatal.

  11. Leesa Avatar

    Very informative article. You require more nutrients and vitamins for you and your baby’s health. It is important to follow a well-balanced diet. Choose a variety of foods to provide the important nutrients for baby’s growth and development. Eggs are a great source of protein, combine eggs with veggies for a breakfast. Beans are a good source of fiber, protein, and essential fatty acids. Avoid alcohol and raw meat.

  12. Zarina Rapone Avatar
    Zarina Rapone

    I read this entire post thinking how impressive your knowledge of supplements is. You’re doing such a great job as a mom! Thanks for all the info above.

  13. Stephanie Avatar

    Probiotics as labeled as the “friendly bacteria” is really essential during pregnancy. The right amount of probiotics can actually prevent the risk of developing different diseases on pregnant moms.

  14. Rebekah Avatar

    do you recommend eating liver (or taking desiccated liver capsules) even while taking the seeking health prenatal vitamin? I am worried that I will get too much of folate and b12!


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