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)”

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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. Hillary Avatar

    Do you take only these supplements that you mentioned? Or do you take these PLUS a prenatal vitamin?

  2. Hannah Avatar

    Hi Katie, so my question actually deals with postpartum diet…. have you found any evidence to suggest that nursing infants can be sensitive to dairy being in the mothers diet? I know there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence but I don’t now how much of that is psycological. Having had a very colicky first child I get how desperate I felt for an answer… but milk wasn’t the problem because I hadn’t been drinking it for over ten years due to my own sensitivities. That being said I started the Weston a price diet during my second pregnancy and didn’t have any problems with raw milk. Now my second is 10 weeks old and has been an easier baby, but in the last month or so he’s seemed to have some issues with stuffy nose, gas, constipation and overall fussiness. My mom suggested giving up milk, both my parents are pretty anti dairy after reading the China study and How Not to Die. I gave it up for 2 weeks. His fussiness is the same, but he started pooping every day, and had less trouble breathing at night. I started to introcuce milk gradually a few days ago and he has a stuffy nose again. My dilema is that based on what I’ve read raw milk (I trust my milk source) is one of the better things that I can be consuming as a nursing mother. And if I drank it while I was pregnant, shouldn’t my baby already be adjusted to it? Thanks for your time!

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      You’re right… most of the evidence is anecdotal. I haven’t found a direct study on this, but like you, I know many people who have noticed a correlation. I do wonder if there can be an actual scientific reason that we just haven’t studied yet…. perhaps if the mom has ever had a leaky gut issue and the baby has interacted with dairy proteins in a less than optimal way due to that? If you did decide to stay off dairy, you could just focus on other sources of fat soluble vitamins to make sure you are still getting the nutrients.

  3. Sarah Avatar

    Would love some input on strengthening kidney support….first trimester with 4th child and I am really struggling again with kidney discomfort and some cramping. Have had kidney stones with past baby too, so I am a little anxious about this being a big problem again! Anybody with some great tips would be amazingly appreciated!!

  4. Kate Avatar

    I’m a huge tea drinker and used to drink green tea a lot but now that I’m pregnant and in my first trimester I am avoiding caffeine all together. Is there any other good teas you could recommend that are good to drink in the first , second, third and fourth trimester that are beneficial for each trimester ?

  5. Grace Friesen Avatar
    Grace Friesen

    Thank you SO much for all your helpful guidance! I am 37 weeks pregnant and have been told that since my baby is measuring big that I need to be restricting my diet to one similar to if I had Gestational Diabetes (which I’m assured I don’t have)- it is actually quite similar to what you have outlined here! I have been eating quite healthy up to this point and am wondering how restricting my diet even more is actually going to “slow” the growth of my baby/if that is really such a good thing? How will eating mainly protein and little to no starches (with lots of fruits and vegetables of course!) curb my babies growth? I don’t particularly want to birth a 10 pounder (this will be my first) but… At this point can I really do much to change that?
    Thank you so much for your time!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Babies do feed on blood sugar to some degree at this point. As a general rule, I avoid starches in late pregnancy, and the kids I have done this with the most have been my smallest.

  6. Leah Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama! I am currently 35 weeks pregnant and have been consuming a diet similar to this. I have been spilling a small amount of ketones throughout the pregnancy, but I do not spill glucose. I spill more ketones after a meal. Do you have any ideas what might cause this? My midwife is confused by this as well.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I’ve had that at times as well, and it seems to be because the demands of pregnancy and a relatively lowish carb diet lead to small amounts of keytones, which I’ve been told are not a concern without the sugars in the urine as well.

  7. Kris Avatar

    I took fermented cod liver oil during my pregnancy, and stopped for the last month. At what point would you suggest starting it again after baby is born?

  8. Melissa Avatar

    What about taking the dried liver from Radiant Life. How many of those a day is equal to eating liver 2 to 3 times a week?

  9. cindy Avatar

    Hi, I’m in the UK and I’m due a little miracle in November this is #7 for me after being told 5 years ago i was infertile.
    Anyway the midwifes and Drs here pretty much shy away from anything not planned or managed, I’m booked in for an actively managed delivery…which i do not want as the last ended up in a PPH. I’ve been searching up alternatives to reduce risks of complications. Any advice would be welcome as they do not accept the use of natural or herbal remedies where I live. Any advice on what to do/use?

  10. danaca Avatar

    I’m due in aug and was wondering…. if red raspberry tea stimulates contractions when should it be used? I’m severely anemic and like the other benefits of the tea but I’m a bit concerned.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I start drinking it in the second trimester – but because of your anemia, I’d run everything by your midwife or OB first. Congrats on the pregnancy! 🙂

  11. Amanda Avatar

    Woah, after a lot of research, this is the ONLY place I’ve read that egg yolks, raw milk, liver, lots of seafood .. And a few other things are suggested. Are you saying you had all of this the entire time you were pregnant, and experienced no complications??

    1. Tasha L. Avatar
      Tasha L.

      Continue researching, look at sites like Dr. Mercola, Healthy Home Economist, Weston Price Foundation, etc. They all advocate this type of diet.

  12. Kirsten Avatar

    I found this post while searching for references to progesterone cream. I am wondering if you have a recommended brand. I had planned to use chaste berry extract but found out from your blog that it takes several months to have an effect. I am not young so am looking to do everything possible to strengthen an early pregnancy. Thank you for your help!

  13. Nicole Avatar

    Have you found anything to help in particular with the first trimester sleepiness? I felt so good after revamping my diet before this pregnancy (#4) cutting out all the proceased food and sugars! No more falling asleep while putting the kids down for naps or bedtime but now I want to nap multiple times a day! Hoping this will end after a few more weeks as I move into the second trimester but right now I’m exhausted all day! I take a prenatal and cod liver oil already but was curious if you have found any of these things to help with the sleepiness!?!?!?!?!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Unfortunately, that seems to be largely controlled by hormones as the baby is growing so rapidly and there is so much more demand on your body at this time. Eating as nutrient dense as possible can help, but I’ve never found or heard of anything that completely fixes it… sounds like you are getting toward the end of it though. Hang in there!

  14. Dana Avatar

    Hi wellness mama! Im in the nursing stage right now, wondering what kinda of vitamins and supplements you all take, I know you listed some above.. Are those it or are there others? And which ones are most vital when nursing or pregnant? Also… What brands are better… There are so many out there

  15. Nadia M Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    I just found out I am pregnant a few days ago. I’ve been consuming raw milk from a local farm with a great track record. Do you know anything about the risks of an outbreak should it occur while I’m pregnant? The paranoia has kicked in unfortunately with pregnancy

  16. Tyra Avatar

    I’m wondering which probiotic you recommend during pregnancy. I’ve clicked on a couple of your links, but they just bring me to the Amazon home page.
    Thank you!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Not sure why they aren’t working, but I’ll check on it. Thanks for the heads up. This is the one I’ve been using this pregnancy: wellnessmama.com/go/probiotics/ but I’ve also used Bio Kult in the past.

  17. Kirsten Avatar

    I would love to see an average day of meals for you this pregnancy, especially after being on AIP!

  18. Natalie Avatar

    Just found out that I’m pregnant and am sort of freaking out with all the information out there. I find it kind of hard to follow my own food plan for myself to follow and prefer to follow pre made and thought out food plans like online or with apps. I found a few online for pregnancies but I would see under the oil section canola oil and salad dressing so I don’t trust them. I know that every women probably needs certain nutrition differently but I was wondering if you knew of a good and reliable general food plan to follow for pregnancies that also follows your nutrition tips?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Congrats on your pregnancy… I’m due in February! 🙂 I absolutely agree with you… meal planning is a life-saver for me also… the plan I’m using this pregnancy is called Real Plans (wellnessmama.com/go/meals/) and it has all real-food options and I just added my recipes to their system so it includes over 1500 recipes total, a weekly meal plan, the ability to customize if you want to, and they can plan around food allergies and food preferences… I’ve loved it this pregnancy!

  19. Jessica C Avatar

    Hi! I am recently pregnant (VERY recently) with my first! I noticed that Dr. Price recommends beef/lamb daily and I am wondering the best way to fit that in? Burgers/steak every night?! Also, I heard that meat needs to be fully cooked before eaten while pregnant. I always eat my steaks medium rare. Do I need to cook to well done?

    Thanks in advance!

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