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Nutrition During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an ideal time to reflect on your lifestyle and identify areas where you would like to improve or change. Changes you make during pregnancy will not only improve the health of your baby but will also benefit you and your partner for the long-term.

The importance of fluids

  • They carry nutrients to your body and to your growing baby
  • They take away waste
  • They keep you cool
  • They help prevent constipation
  • They help control swelling

Drink water regularly and more often in hot weather and when you are active.

Importance of healthy eating

Prenatal nutrition (external link) is important to:

  • give your baby the nutrition he/she needs to be healthy
  • help you gain a healthy amount of weight
  • help you and your family develop healthy eating habits for life
  • reduce your chance of developing health problems like high blood pressure or low iron in your blood

Follow Canada's Food Guide (external link) recommendations for Women age 19 to 50 (external link). On average, you need 2-3 extra servings per day of healthy food when you’re pregnant. Try using the My Food Guide Servings Tracker (external PDF file) to see how you’re doing. Remember its not that you're eating for two but that you should be eating twice as healthy.

What is the recommended weight gain in pregnancy?

That depends on your weight before becoming pregnant. As a start, check out this pregnancy weight gain calculator (external link) from Health Canada. You can also talk with your health care provider.

Folic acid (external link) helps your body make blood and helps prevent birth defects in the spine and brain, known as neural tube defects.

Take a prenatal vitamin/ mineral supplement with 0.4 of folic acid every day. Health Canada states: Although folic acid is found in some foods, such as dark green vegetables, beans, lentils, orange juice and some grain products, all women who could become pregnant and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding need a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid. This supplement, together with the amount of folic acid obtained by following Canada's Food Guide, will help decrease the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) and meet the extra folic acid needs for those pregnant and breastfeeding. Your doctor may recommend that you take a larger amount of folic acid if you have a family history of Neural Tube Defects or certain medical conditions.

Food sources of folic acid:

  • beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • fortified cereals
  • romaine lettuce
  • orange juice
  • spinach and broccoli
  • peas and brussel sprouts
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Iron makes healthy blood and carries oxygen to your body’s cells for energy. During pregnancy, your body needs to make more blood, almost double, for you, your growing baby and the placenta.

The impacts of low iron (anemia):

  • Feel tired
  • More likely to catch colds and other infections
  • Your baby's brain development, behaviour and general health can be affected

Recommended daily amount of iron:

    During pregnancy:
    27 mg
    While breastfeeding:
    14 - 18 years 10 mg
    19 - 50 years 9 mg

  • Eating according to Canada's Food Guide and taking a daily multivitamin that has 16 to 20 mg of iron will help you have a healthy pregnancy.
  • Some women may need more iron than others. Talk to your health care provider to find out how much iron is right for you.
  • Your health care provider may advise an iron supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin. Take the iron supplement with meals or a glass of 100% juice (pasteurized) that is high in vitamin C.
  • Avoid taking an iron supplement at the same time as calcium or zinc supplement.
  • To optimize iron absorption include a source of Vitamin C with meals. This is especially important at meals that don’t include meat.
  • Drink coffee or tea between meals rather than with meals as coffee and tea can interfere with iron absorption.

Some good sources of iron:

  • Red meat - beef, pork, lamb, veal
  • Turkey and chicken
  • Fish and seafood
  • Cooked or canned clams
  • Beans, lentils, seeds and nuts
  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Dried fruit

Good sources of vitamin C

  • Kiwi
  • Citrus fruit or juice
  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes, tomato sauce
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Calcium and vitamin D work together to build healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium. If your body does not have enough calcium, your bones may become weaker in the future. The recommended daily amount of calcium is:

  • 1000 mg (Women 19-50 years) 
  • 1300mg (Teens under 19 years)

Food sources of calcium:

  • Milk and milk products (Recommended Daily Amount of Calcium: 2 cups of milk a day provides enough calcium during pregnancy)

Good food sources of calcium if you do not drink milk:

  • Beverages fortified with calcium (e.g., orange juice)
  • Fortified goat’s milk
  • Fortified soy or rice milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Beans
  • Salmon and sardines with the bones
  • Almonds

Other food sources of calcium:

  • Legumes
  • Some vegetables

Recommended daily amount of vitamin D:

Vitamin D recommendations for pregnant women 19-50 and teens is 600 IU /day

Food sources of vitamin D:

  • Milk
  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Fatty Fish
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Omega-3 fats are needed for your health and the development of your baby’s eyes, brain and nervous system.

Women need more omega-3 fats in pregnancy. Omega-3 fats are transferred across the placenta and play an important role in the growth and development of the infant. Omega-3 fats can be found in a variety of foods: fatty fish (such as salmon, trout, herring, canned light tuna), vegetable oils, nuts, seeds.

Before taking omega 3 fat supplements, check with your health care provider.

Ways to include essential fatty acids in your day:

  • Eat salmon for supper or a salmon sandwich for lunch
  • Choose salad dressing made from oils such as canola oil
  • Use oils such as canola, olive, walnut, and flax in cooking and baking
  • Sprinkle walnuts and ground flax seeds in your meals or yogurt
  • Choose DHA-enriched eggs and/or DHA-enriched milk
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Too much caffeine isn't good for you and your baby. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or are of child-bearing age do not consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day.

Food or drink

Amount of caffeine (mg)

Coffee (6oz/ 200mL)

Percolated 72 - 144
Filter drip 108 - 180
Instant 60 - 90

Tea (6oz/ 200mL)

Weak 18 - 24
Strong 78 - 108

Chocolate bar (2oz/ 60g)

Milk Chocolate 3 - 20
Dark Chocolate 40 - 50

Soda Pop

Some varieties of pop (one 12oz can/355mL) 28 - 64

Source Region of Peel Public Health (external link)

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Herbal teas and supplements may have drug-like effects and can be dangerous for you and your unborn baby.

Herbs have been used for centuries to flavour our foods and to prevent or treat health problems. Most modern drugs originally came from plants. For example, the heart drug Digoxin originally came from Foxglove leaves.

Can herbs and herbal products be harmful?

  • Yes! Some herbs can have a strong, drug-like effect on the body. A few can be poisonous and life-threatening. For example, Ma Huang also known as ephedrine, which is claimed to be a diet aid, can cause death.
  • Health Canada have found herbal products which have been contaminated with dangerous amounts of arsenic and mercury or containing drugs such as steroids, hormones, diuretics and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Another hazard is the risk of an allergic reaction. Herbal products can contain a variety of allergens such as pollen, mould and mould spores.
  • Some preparations may interact with other medications, potentially making the medication less active or less safe.

Are herbs safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Just as you are careful about using drugs while you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should be careful about using herbal products. Herbs can have drug-like effects and so can be dangerous for you and your unborn baby. Before taking any herbs you should talk to your doctor/midwife or call Motherisk at 416-813-6780.

The active ingredient in some herbal products can:

  • Stimulate the uterus or cause uterine contractions
  • Act as a diuretic which can make you urinate more often and can cause dehydration
    • Dehydration can lead to uterine contractions
  • Produce toxic effects on the developing baby

The safety of various herbs and herbal products during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been tested. The risk or harm to your baby is not known.

These herbal teas are generally considered safe if taken in moderation (no more than two 250ml cups per day):

  • Ginger
  • Rose hip
  • Lemon balm
  • Orange peel
  • Citrus peel

Avoid herbal teas with these ingredients:

  • Black cohosh (has been linked with liver damage)
  • Chamomile tea (may have harmful effects on uterus)
  • Raspberry leaf (especially in first trimester, and may cause contractions leading to miscarriage or preterm labour)
  • Aloe
  • Coltsfoot
  • Juniper berry
  • Pennyroyal
  • Buckthorn bark
  • Comfrey
  • Labrador tea
  • Sassafras
  • Duck roots
  • Lobelia
  • Senna leaves

Source Public Health Agency of Canada (external link)

For more information on herbal products and pregnancy:

Source Region of Peel Public Health (external link)

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Food safety during pregnancy

Foodborne illnesses can pose a higher risk to you and your unborn baby when you are pregnant. You can minimize your chances of contracting a serious foodborne illness that can affect the health of your unborn baby by avoiding some types of foods and choosing safer alternatives.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy

  • raw fish, especially shellfish such as oysters and clams
  • raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts
  • undercooked meat, poultry, seafood and hot dogs
  • all foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs
  • unpasteurized milk products and foods made from them
  • soft/semi-soft cheeses like Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheese
  • unpasteurized juices, such as unpasteurized apple cider

Cooking temperature chart

Safe food handling

In addition, there are four basic safety steps you should always follow when handling, storing, preparing and shopping for food:

  • Separate: Make sure to always separate your raw foods, such as meat and eggs, from cooked foods, fruits, and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Clean: Wash your hands (external link), kitchen surfaces, utensils, and reusable shopping bags often with warm, soapy water to eliminate bacteria and reduce your risk of foodborne illness.
  • Chill: Always refrigerate food and leftovers promptly at 4°C or below.
  • Cook: Always cook food to the safe internal temperatures. Health Canada recommends that you check this by using a digital food thermometer.
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When should you seek help with nutrition in pregnancy?

You should seek help if you:

When/where can I get help with nutrition and healthy eating?

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