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Diet and Nutrition

Nutrition During Pregnancy: Key to Health in Infancy and Beyond

Healthy eating habits may be more important during pregnancy than any other time in the life span. Recent research shows that fetal programming for future diseases occurs in low birth weight and overweight neonates. Therefore, both undernutrition and overnutrition in utero are associated with health risks in infancy and chronic diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, later in life.

How much weight should a woman gain during pregnancy?

Maternal weight gain is a primary influence on infant birth weight, which in turn is a key indicator of future health. The Institute of Medicine's recommendations for weight gain are based on the mother's pre-pregnancy Body Mass Index (BMI). For women with a healthy BMI of ~20-26, the recommended weight gain is 25-35 pounds, with a gain of about 3 pounds in the first trimester and ~1 pound per week in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Weight gain recommendations are higher for underweight women (28-40 pounds) and lower for overweight (15-25 pounds) and obese women (15 pounds). Pregnancy is not a time for weight reduction.

What are the diet recommendations for mothers-to-be?

Pregnant women should consume enough calories and nutrients to support adequate fetal growth. Requirements for almost all nutrients (particularly protein, iron, and folate) are increased during pregnancy, yet only ~340 to 450 extra calories per day are needed during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. So it's essential to consume a nutrient-rich diet of lean protein, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, while limiting foods that are high in fat or sugar. The following foods should be avoided during pregnancy:

Lifestyle counseling during pregnancy

While some women gain excessive weight, many expectant mothers, particularly adolescents and African American and Latina women, gain less than the recommended amount. Health care professionals should provide education and support for healthy lifestyle changes in all women prior to and during pregnancy. In addition to healthy eating habits, practitioners should encourage appropriate physical activity and avoidance of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy.

This article originally appeared in Nutri-bytes (April 2008), a service of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 02, 2008

Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD
Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati