Part 1 // Nutrition During Pregnancy: Uncovering the Truth About The Food You Are Eating

When Lauren told me she was passionate about nutrition, I was thrilled. Nutrition is such a large part of the human experience—especially as it relates to getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth, and entering into the postpartum period. I am so grateful for her willingness to put together this series for all of you. Thanks Lauren!


For the next six weeks we will be talking about….drum roll please….NUTRITION!! Since you probably already know the major keys to a healthy diet and lifestyle (eat your fruits and veggies, drink tons of water!) and the major no-no’s (no alcohol, smoking, or raw meat/fish), we are going to focus on specific nutrients and tips to help you have a healthy and happy pregnancy. To kick off our series we will be discussing some common myths and misconceptions about nutrition during pregnancy. Today we are going to pose three questions many women, maybe even you, have asked about a healthy diet during pregnancy. Let’s get started!

Question # 1: Is it okay to drink coffee during pregnancy?

Yes!...Well, kind of. Let’s explain: while there are many misconceptions about caffeine consumption, most experts say that you can actually safely consume caffeine in limited amounts without it negatively affecting the baby.

What have high intake levels of caffeine been accused of? Some think that high levels of caffeine consumption may interfere with conception and cause birth defects, a low birth weight, or a low IQ. Caffeine has also been suspected of being a risk factor for miscarriage since the 1980’s

The facts:

  • Low birth weight: One large study conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist found that mothers who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine a day were more likely to give birth to babies that had a lower birth weight for their gestational age.

  • Transference across the placenta: As your pregnancy progresses, your body becomes increasingly less efficient at breaking down caffeine, meaning that it takes longer to clear from your system. Unfortunately this can mean that caffeine can cross the placenta and reach your baby more quickly.

  • Iron absorption inhibition: Beverages like coffee and tea contain compounds that can inhibit iron absorption. As we will discuss later, iron levels are very important due to the role that it plays in blood and hemoglobin (a blood protein) production and delivery of oxygen to your baby.

  • Decreased blood flow: another caution is that caffeine can have similar metabolic effects as the stress hormone adrenaline (if you’ve ever felt those coffee jitters, you know what I’m talking about!). This could potentially reduce blood flow to the uterus.

  • Caffeine naturally has a diuretic effect; therefore, a high caffeine consumption would increase the frequency of urination, potentially leading to dehydration.

The recommendation from most doctors and health professionals is that you consume less than 200mg of caffeine a day- that’s about one 12 ounce cup of coffee a day. Here are some other common examples of caffeine amounts to help you monitor your caffeine intake:

  • 1 cup Coffee- 95-165 mg

  • Avg. soda- 37 mg

  • Excedrin- 65 mg

  • Candy- 30 mg

Question # 2: Should I stay away from eating fish?

Not necessarily- fish can be a very beneficial part of your diet, but some fish can be harmful to consume during pregnancy.

Many fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in your baby’s brain development before and after birth. Fish can also be a great source of protein and healthy fats.

Some types of fish have higher levels of mercury than others. The danger with mercury during pregnancy is that it has been linked to birth defects. Specifically, methylmercury, which is found in fish and shellfish, can cause brain damage and hearing or vision problems to your baby during pregnancy.

How can I make sure to stay clear of mercury? You can be exposed to elemental mercury by touching it, by breathing it in the air, and eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated with mercury. That being said, you can protect against mercury ingestion in very simple ways by avoiding fish with high amounts of mercury or asking for help from a non-pregnant adult to help clean a broken thermostat or fluorescent light bulb.

Okay, so what are the “good” fish and what are the “bad” fish to eat during pregnancy?

GOOD: Choose fish and shellfish such as shrimp, salmon, catfish, or pollock- these have little to no mercury at all

BAD: Avoid swordfish, marin, shark, and mackerel because these large fish have very high levels of methylmercury.

Question # 3: Ever heard the phrase “you’re eating for 2?” Does this mean I can eat what I want?

The truth is: yes and no. Just like before pregnancy, diet is a beautiful balance of eating right, drinking enough water, and getting some light exercise.

In reality, there is no need for excess calories during the first trimester, but during the second and third trimesters mothers can expect to increase their caloric intake due to the baby’s rapid growth. For example, a pregnant woman of normal weight should aim to eat about:

  • 1,800 calories/day during the first trimester

  • 2,200 calories/day during the second trimester

  • 2,400 calories/day during the third trimester

These calories are typically in correlation with a weight gain of about 1-4.5 pounds during the first trimester and 1-2 pounds per week during both the second and third trimesters.

Weight gain during pregnancy is not solely attributed to diet, however. To help you better understand the distribution of weight gain, here are the averages for pregnancy weight gain provided by the American Pregnancy Association: (assuming a gain of 30 pounds)

  • The average baby weighs about 7 ½ pounds at the end of pregnancy

  • The placenta actually weighs about 1 ½ pounds

  • Increased fluid volume measures out to about 4 pounds

  • The uterus weighs around 2 pounds

  • Breast tissue can weigh around 2 pounds as well

  • Increased blood volume rounds out to about 4 pounds

  • 7 pounds of weight gain normally results from maternal stores of protein, fat and other nutrients

  • The amniotic fluid can weigh about 2 pounds

While you may hear a plethora of suggestions to “eat this” or “don’t eat that,” your body is going to tell you when something is right and when something is wrong. Know that there’s freedom to eat what makes you feel good or strong and to indulge in a craving every once in a while (speaking to all of my fellow chocolate lovers!). Cravings during pregnancy are very normal and may even be your body telling you there is a specific need or deficiency in your diet.

How can I make sure I’m eating healthy for myself and my baby? One tool that is especially helpful for expecting mothers is a diet log that can help you monitor caloric and nutrient intake. During this blog series we will get into the specifics of important vitamins and nutrients, but here are a few brief guidelines to help you get started:

  • More protein is needed than you think! About 71 g/ day to promote your baby’s growth throughout pregnancy

  • About 1,000 mg of calcium is needed to support strong bones and teeth for you and your baby

  • Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin that is essential during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects- 400-800 micrograms a day is essential to obtain from your diet or via a supplement

  • During pregnancy you will need double the amount of iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby- 27 mg to be exact

Thank you for joining us as we continue this journey of supporting healthy mamas and healthy babies. We look forward to hearing from you and learning alongside you as we dive into this series on nutrition throughout pregnancy!