Nutrition for Pregnancy


Conception is a true miracle!

During pregnancy and breastfeeding it is important for both mother and baby to have the nutrients they need. This page discusses a selection of important nutrients and their sources, including:

Iron │ Folate │ Vitamin C │ Calcium + Vitamin D + Vitamin K2 │ Selenium │ Iodine │ Omega-3 Fatty Acids

IRON

During pregnancy, the body makes additional blood for mother and baby. Iron is essential for moving oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and to baby [1]. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), iron requirements double during pregnancy [1]. Iron intake is most important during the final trimester of pregnancy, as this is when baby starts to store their own iron, which will meet their needs for the first 6 months of life, until iron-rich foods are introduced.

Iron in food comes in two forms: haem iron, from animal foods, and non-haem iron, from plant foods. Haem iron is readily absorbed by the body, whereas non-haem iron is not. To improve the absorption of non-haem iron from plant foods, consume them along with a good source of vitamin C. See foods listed under the ‘Vitamin C‘ section below.

ANIMAL SOURCES
(Haem Iron)

Grass-fed beef
Grass-fed lamb
Kangaroo
Free-range chicken thigh

PLANT SOURCES
(Non-Haem Iron)

Dark leafy green vegetables* (ie. spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, kale)
Green capsicum*
Broccoli*
Pepita (Pumpkin) seeds
Pine nuts
Tofu

* Organic varieties recommended

FOLATE

Folate, or vitamin B9, is a critical vitamin during and prior to conception. It is recommended that foods rich in folate, along with a quality supplement, be taken prior to conception (as soon as a couple decides to plan a pregnancy), as well as during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
For women who have an MTHFR gene alteration, the biologically active form of folate is needed, L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, within their pregnancy multi-vitamin. For guidance, please book a Consultation.

It is recommended to include a minimum of 1½ cups of folate-rich foods at least 5 times per week. Folate is easily destroyed by heat, so if you are cooking green vegetables, do not cook them for too long (ie. 7-8 minutes on stove top).

Below is a list of foods that are rich in folate (vitamin B9):

VEGETABLES*

Asparagus
Spinach
Broccoli
Collard greens
Lettuce – cos and romaine
Turnip greens
Okra
Brussels sprouts

* Organic varieties recommended

LEGUMES

Lentils
Pinto beans
Black beans
Navy beans
Kidney beans
Lima beans
Split peas
Chickpeas

FRUIT*

Papaya
Avocado
Orange
Grapefruit

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It is needed for the development, growth and repair of baby’s skin, bone, connective tissue and gums [1]. Vitamin C also assists with the absorption of iron and folate from plant-based foods. Requirements are increased during pregnancy, and further increased during breastfeeding [1].

Below is a list of some vitamin C rich foods:

FRUIT*

Guava
Blackcurrants
Berries – strawberries, blackberries, raspberries
Citrus fruits – lemon, orange, tangarine, mandarin, grapefruit
Kiwi fruit
Tomatoes

* Organic varieties recommended

VEGETABLES*

Red and green capsicum
Chilli peppers
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Kale

CALCIUM

Calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2 are nutrients required for a number of processes including, the development and maintenance of baby’s bones and teeth, heart and muscle function, enzyme function, nervous system and blood clotting [1]. It is important to ensure an adequate intake of these nutrients during pregnancy to meet requirements for both mother and baby.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. It is recommended to spend 10-20 minutes in the sun every day with some skin exposed (ie. arms and/or legs). Be smart about what time of day you go out for sun, especially in the warmer months.
Some foods contain vitamin D. These include:

Free-range egg yolks (cooked)
Deep sea fish (ie. salmon, tuna, sardines)

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is needed to transport calcium to the bones. It activates a hormone called osteocalcin, which helps bind calcium to the matrix of baby’s bones [6]. Foods rich in vitamin K2 include:

Grass-fed, organic, unsalted butter (ie. B.d farm paris creek)
Free-range egg yolks (cooked)
Free-range chicken breast
Grass-fed beef
Hard cheeses
Natto (fermented soybean dish)

Below is a list of calcium-rich foods:

DAIRY

A2 cow’s milk/goat’s milk
A2 yoghurt
Cheese (cheddar and parmesan)

MEAT/MEAT ALTERNATIVES

Sardines
Salmon with bones
Tofu

VEGETABLES AND FRUIT*

Cress
Broccoli
Okra
Figs (including dried)
Currants (including dried)
Orange

* Organic varieties recommended

NUTS/SEEDS/LEGUMES

White beans
Almonds
Hazelnuts
Tahini (sesame seed paste)

SELENIUM

Selenium has a protective role during pregnancy due to its antioxidant action. It protects both mother and baby from oxidative damage and infection [2]. Selenium plays a critical role in thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, regulating blood sugar levels, and insulin sensitivity [2]. Consuming 2-3 Brazil nuts a day provides the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Selenium for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Below is a list of foods rich in Selenium: 

NUTS/SEEDS

Brazil nuts
Sunflower seeds

MEAT/MEAT ALTERNATIVES

Tuna
Sardines
Grass-fed beef
Turkey
Free-range chicken
Free-range eggs

IODINE

Iodine is a particularly important nutrient during pregnancy, as deficiency (even mild deficiency) can lead to defects in baby’s development, in particular brain development [3]. The NHMRC recommends daily iodine supplementation of 150mcg for women who are are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy, to ensure their needs are met [1].

It is recommended using iodised sea salt when cooking, and including at least 3 serves of iodine-rich foods each week to optimise intake [3]. Seafood provides a bountiful supply of iodine, however, it is important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, or women intending to become pregnant, to take care to avoid seafood that contains large amounts of mercury. See section below ‘Mercury in Fish‘ for foods that are safe.

Iodine-rich foods are listed below:

HIGH SOURCES

Dried seaweed
Iodised sea salt (when using salt in cooking, use this form)
Navy beans
Salmon

MODERATELY HIGH SOURCES

Yoghurt
Free-range eggs
Prunes
Tuna

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered ‘essential fatty acids’, because the body needs them for optimal health, but does not produce them. They must come through food. There are plant-based omega-3’s (ALA – alpha-linolenic acid) and marine-based omega-3’s (EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA – docosahexaenoic acid). Omega-3’s play a crucial role in baby’s brain development and function [4]. They are essential fats for individuals throughout the lifespan, aiding in growth and development, reducing inflammatory conditions, and supporting heart and blood vessel health.

SOURCES:

Fish

Salmon
Sardines
Makerel
Herring
Tuna

Note: for pregnant women, it is important to avoid fish high in mercury. See list below for those that are safe.

Plant-foods

Walnuts
Flaxseeds
Pepita (Pumpkin) seeds
Chia seeds

Mercury in fish

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can disrupt brain function and harm the nervous system [3]. It is especially threatening to pregnant women and young children. As a general rule, smaller fish (ie. squid, scallops, sardines) contain less mercury than larger varieties like tuna and swordfish, which are higher up the food chain. Below is a list of low- to very high-mercury containing fish [5].

LOW MERCURY – Enjoy these most often

Anchovies
Butterfish
Arctic cod
Flounder
Atlantic haddock
Herring*
North atlantic or Chub mackerel*
Mullet
Salmon (canned/fresh)*
Sardines
Freshwater trout
Whiting

High in Omega-3’s

MEDIUM – Eat no more than 6 servings per month

Barramundi (wild)
Bass
Carp
Cod
Atlantic or Pacific halibut
John dory
Freshwater snapper
Perch
Tuna – Skipjack (ie. Safcol and John West brands)

HIGH – Eat no more than 3 serves per month

Bluefish
Mackerel – Spanish, Gulf
Seabass – Chilean
Tuna – Albacore
Tuna – Yellowfin

VERY HIGH MERCURY – Avoid

King mackerel
Flake (shark)
Swordfish
Tilefish
Tuna – Bigeye
Orange roughy

References:

  1. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand
  2. Sunde R, 2012, ‘Selenium’, in Ross A, Caballero B, Cousins R, Tucker K, Ziegler T (eds), Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 11th edn, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, pp.225-37.
  3. Better Health Channel, Victoria
  4. Dietary Omega 3 Fatty Acids and the Developing Brain
  5. Mercury in Fish
  6. Vitamin K2