Healthy eating and active living for a healthy pregnancy

Eating well, taking a multivitamin, and being physically active when trying to conceive, and during pregnancy, can help you and your baby be in good health. Read on to learn about what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy  

Eating for a healthy pregnancy 
Healthy food choices when you are trying to conceive and during pregnancy will help your baby grow and develop. Healthy eating will also help you:  
  • Feel better and give you more energy 

  • Gain a healthy amount of weight  

  • Prepare your body for breastfeeding 

  • Reduce the risk of health problems like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and low iron 

  • Establish lasting healthy eating habits for you and your family 

Top tips from Canada's Food Guide:   

  • Eat three meals a day with healthy snacks in between  

  • Choose healthy foods most of the time by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, choosing whole grain foods, lean proteins and choosing foods with healthy fats  

  • Choose protein foods that come from plants more often 
  • Be mindful of your eating habits, take time to eat and notice when you are hungry and when you are full 
  • Be aware that food marketing can influence your choices 
  • Be active every day by taking the stairs or short brisk walks 

How much should you eat?  

While trying to conceive and in the first 3 months or pregnancy, extra energy (calories) is not needed.  During the last 6 months of pregnancy, you need a little more food each day to support the growth and development of your baby. You can: 

  • Add an extra healthy snack (e.g. fruit and yogurt or whole grain crackers with peanut butter), and/or 

  • Add more to your meal (e.g. glass or milk or soy beverage at lunch and more grains or vegetables at dinner) 

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy 

Nausea and vomiting are common in the first trimester. Eating small frequent meals and snacks every two hours can help you cope, but if you are feeling so sick that you miss meals or losing weight consult your doctor.  

For more information on healthy eating during pregnancy:   

Folic acid and multi-vitamins 

Prenatal supplements help you and your baby get all the nutrients you need during pregnancy. Some supplements, like folic acid, are necessary for a healthy pregnancy, but taking a vitamin supplement is not a substitute for eating a balanced diet.  

More is not better. Do not take higher doses of any supplement unless instructed by your health care provider. 

Folic acid 
If you could become pregnant, are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant, you need to start taking a multivitamin with 0.4 mg of folic acid every day starting at least 3 months before you get pregnant. If you have questions about which multivitamin is right for you, speak to your pharmacist or to your health care provider. 

Folic acid is a B vitamin, important for the development of your baby's brain and spinal cord. These develop in the first four weeks of pregnancy. Not getting enough folic acid can put your baby at higher risk of having a Neural Tube Defect (NTD). Neural tube defects affect the brain and spinal cord's development.  

In addition to taking a prenatal multivitamin with 0.4 mg of folic acid, you can eat foods that are good sources of folic acid such as: 

  • Green vegetables, e.g., spinach, asparagus, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts   

  • Salad greens, e.g., Romaine lettuce, endive, mustard greens  

  • Beets   

  • Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas   

  • Avocado  

  • Sunflower seeds  

  • Peanut butter   

  • Breads and pasta made with enriched flour   

Some women need more folic acid than others. Talk to your health care provider about the amount of folic acid that is right for you. 

For more information on folic acid:   

Iron 

During pregnancy, you need more iron for many reasons. Iron is needed to support the increased amount of blood your body makes during pregnancy. It helps your baby to grow properly and support brain development. Babies also keep stores of iron that they get from their mother to use after they are born.  

Most multivitamins have iron. Health Canada recommends that pregnant women make sure that their multivitamin has 16-20 mg of iron. Some women need more iron than others do. Talk to your health care provider about the right amount of iron for you.  

In addition to taking a pre-natal multivitamin with 16 – 20 mg of iron, you can eat foods that are good sources of iron such as:  

  • Beef, chicken, pork, lamb  

  • Fish and seafood  

  • Eggs  

  • Tofu  

  • Beans, peas and lentils 

  • Dried fruit, e.g. figs, raisins, prunes, and apricots  

  • Cooked spinach, asparagus, beets, beet greens 

  • Enriched cereals, instant oatmeal and pasta  

  • Nuts and seeds  

Iron from animal foods is better absorbed by your body than from plant sources, but vitamin C can help your body absorb the iron from plant sources. Combine plant sources of iron with foods rich in Vitamin C such as: 

  • Red and green peppers 

  • Broccoli  

  • Citrus fruits 

  • Tomatoes  

  • Strawberries and kiwi  

For more information on iron:  

Calcium and vitamin D 

Calcium helps to build healthy bones and teeth for your baby and vitamin D helps your body absorb and use the calcium you eat. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D while pregnant helps to protect your bones from being depleted from calcium.  

Calcium and vitamin D needs are the same for pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, low levels of vitamin D and calcium are common during pregnancy. Your body can make vitamin D when you are in sunlight, but many factors can reduce how much vitamin D your body makes including season, time of day, and sunscreen use, to name a few. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends talking to your doctor about taking a Vitamin D supplement of up to 2000 IU. This will help reduce your baby’s risk of vitamin D deficiency.  

Food sources of vitamin D include: 

  • Milk and soy beverage  

  • Margarine  

  • Fatty fish, e.g. salmon, trout, sardines  

  • Egg yolk  

  • Food sources of calcium include:  

  • Milk, yogurt, kefir and cheese  

  • Fortified soy beverages  

  • Tofu  

  • Sesame seeds  

  • Broccoli, Bok choy and kale  

  • Canned sardines and salmon with bones  

Talk to your health care provider about your need for a supplement with calcium and vitamin D.  

For more information on calcium and vitamin D:  

Healthy weight gain
A healthy weight is important for good health, but pregnancy is not a time to try and lose weight. It is, however, a good time to improve your eating habits. Eating well and gaining a healthy amount of weight throughout pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and having a premature or a low-birth weight baby.  

What can you do to gain a healthy amount of weight? 

  • Be aware that food marketing can influence your choices 

  • Be active every day by taking the stairs or short brisk walks 

Concerned about your weight gain?  

If you are on a restrictive diet or you have eliminated certain food groups from your diet (I.e. gluten, carbs, fats, dairy, meat, fruit, etc), you may not be getting all of the nutrients you need for yourself and your baby before and during the pregnancy.  Talk to a registered dietitian or other health care provider before getting pregnant if you have concerns about your weight, are dieting or follow a special diet. 

For more information on weight gain in pregnancy: 

Physical activity 

Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle. Being active is beneficial and safe if you are trying to conceive, and if you are already pregnant. It’s never too late to get started. Benefits of being active: 

  • Before pregnancy, can help lower stress and increase fertility which increases your chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.  

  • Can give you more energy and help you feel good about yourself.  

  • Can reduce the risk of pregnancy-related illnesses such as depression and the risk of developing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and preeclampsia.  

Getting started 

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.  

  • If you are just starting out, begin with activities like walking. Even 10 minutes a day will help. Gradually increase this time to at least 150 minutes each week and be active a minimum of three days a week.   

  • Moderate activity is safe for most pregnant women, but there are some situations where exercise is not recommended.  

  • Pelvic floor muscle training using proper technique (e.g. Kegel exercises) can be practiced daily to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.  

  • If you were not active before becoming pregnant, you can slowly start incorporating more physical activity in your day at any time in pregnancy. 

For more information on physical activity in pregnancy:  

Be mindful of your caffeine intake 

Caffeine passes to your baby through the placenta and in excess, it may be linked to negative effects on the pregnancy and your baby's development. It can also affect you and your baby's sleep.   

Small amounts of caffeine are generally safe for baby. Limit your amount of caffeine to no more than 300 mg a day. This means no more than 500 mL (2 cups) of coffee per day. Be aware that caffeine is also found in many other foods and drinks that you may consume on a regular basis like tea, chocolate, and cola drinks.  

For more information on caffeine in pregnancy: 

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol should not be consumed during pregnancy in any amount. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause serious harm to the baby, including, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Birth defects and developmental disorders caused by FASD can be prevented through avoiding alcohol during pregnancy.  

For more information on Alcohol Cannabis, Tobacco and Medications: 

Herbal products and teas that are safe, and what to avoid  

Herbal products in tablet, capsule or extract forms are not recommended while you are pregnant. Very little is known about the safety of many herbal products during pregnancy, which is why it is best to avoid them.   

You may look for herbal teas to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy. However, some teas are unsafe during pregnancy because of potential adverse effects on pregnancy and the baby.   

These herbal teas are considered safe if taken in moderation (2 to 3 cups per day):   

  • Citrus peel / orange peel   

  • Ginger   

  • Lemon balm   

  • Linden flower (not recommended for persons with pre-existing cardiac conditions)   

  • Rose hip   

Avoid teas with:   

  • Aloe   

  • Buckthorn bark   

  • Chamomile   

  • Coltsfoot   

  • Comfrey   

  • Duck roots   

  • Juniper berries   

  • Labrador tea   

  • Lobelia   

  • Pennyroyal   

  • Sassafras   

  • Senna leaves  

Be food safe 

Because of all the changes happening in your body, you and your unborn baby are at a higher risk of food poisoning. Your immune system is weakened, and your baby’s immune system is not developed enough to fight off the harmful bacteria. Some bacteria can cross the placenta, so if you become sick, there is an increased risk that your baby could get infected. Food poisoning can especially be dangerous during the first 3 months of pregnancy as it can cause miscarriage. if it happens later in pregnancy, it can cause your baby to be born prematurely. To keep you and your baby safe, it is important that you be careful about what you eat and how you store, prepare, and cook your food.  

For more information on food safety:  

Reduce your baby’s risk of developing food allergies  

You do not need to avoid allergens during pregnancy or breastfeeding (unless you have a known allergy yourself). In fact, even if your baby is at high risk for developing food allergies, your best advice is to continue eating these foods, if possible. If you decide to avoid certain foods while pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with a Registered Dietitian or your health care provider to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need.   

For more information on preventing food allergies see:   

Want to speak with a Registered Dietitian? 

Call Health Connect Ontario and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian. Available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm by calling 811 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007) or starting a chat.   

Contact Us