Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
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Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Nutritional needs change during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and it is important for women to understand how their diet can promote the healthy growth of their babies. From essential nutrients, to prenatal vitamins and supplements, to consuming a balanced diet, read on to find out more about what nutrients are important during pregnancy and beyond. 

Women should always eat a balanced diet, but it's even more important while pregnant or breastfeeding! During pregnancy, the mother's diet is the main source of nutrients for her developing baby, and many women who are pregnant don't actually get all of the nutrients that come from a healthy diet - including folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and protein. It is important that women pay attention to their diet during pregnancy, and if they choose to breastfeed their baby.

Although most women can thrive by eating a balanced diet and taking a prenatal vitamin, it is important to consult with a doctor to make sure they're getting all of the essential nutrients to foster a baby's growth in the womb. Pregnant women should eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends eating a variety of foods from different food groups. Through healthy eating and a balanced diet, pregnant women can maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy and nurture their developing baby.

Here are the major nutrients that women need during pregnancy and beyond:

pregnant woman cooking a healthy meal of vegetables

1. Calcium

Calcium is a necessity for pregnant women because it helps build strong bones and teeth. The best sources of calcium during a healthy pregnancy are cheese, yogurt, milk, and sardines. Women should aim to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily through their diet.

2. Iron

Iron is one of the key nutrients that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to the growing baby. Good sources of iron for pregnant women are lean red meat, beans, iron-fortified milk, iron-fortified cereals, and peas. Women who are pregnant should aim to get 27 milligrams of iron daily.

In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin (that inlaces iron), pregnant women should eat plenty of iron-rich foods, as well as foods that help the body absorb iron, such as grapefruit, strawberries, broccoli, oranges, and peppers.

Routine prenatal blood tests often include checking for iron deficiency, which is common during pregnancy. If a woman is low in iron, her doctor might recommend taking iron supplements for the duration of the pregnancy.

3. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential vitamin for promoting healthy skin, good eyesight, and bone growth. Vitamin A can be found in green leafy vegetables, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Women who are pregnant should aim to get 770 micrograms of Vitamin A each day.

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C promotes healthy gums, bones, and teeth. In addition, Vitamin C enables the body to better absorb iron, another essential nutrient for healthy eating during pregnancy.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and broccoli. For a healthy pregnancy, women should aim to get 85 milligrams of Vitamin C daily.

5. Vitamin D

To promote a healthy pregnancy, women should make sure to consume enough Vitamin D in their diet. Vitamin D assists the body in absorbing calcium, which helps the baby's bones and teeth develop.

Vitamin D can come through sun exposure, fortified milk, or fatty fish (like salmon). Pregnant women should get 600 IUs each day.

6. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 allows the formation of red blood cells, which help the body use protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 can be found in whole grains, bananas, pork, liver, and beef. Pregnant women need about 1.9 milligrams of Vitamin B6 daily.

7. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is necessary for forming red blood cells and maintaining the nervous system. This vitamin is found only in animal products, like liver, fish, poultry, milk, and other meat. During pregnancy, women need about 2.6 micrograms each day.

8. Folate (or folic acid)

Last but not least, folate is one of the essential nutrients for pregnancy. This B vitamin is important in the production of blood and protein, and also reduces the risk of neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain and spinal cord).

Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, liver, butter, beans, lentils, nuts, peas, and orange juice. Pregnant women should aim for 400 micrograms of folate each day before pregnancy, if possible, and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, in order to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. During the rest of the pregnancy, it is recommended to get 600 micrograms of folate each day. Folate is one of the main ingredients in many prenatal vitamins as well.

Taking a prenatal vitamin daily is important.

To promote healthy weight gain and a smooth pregnancy, taking a daily prenatal vitamin is recommended. Vitamins and minerals play a huge role in bodily functions, and eating a healthy diet during pregnancy, in addition to taking prenatal vitamins, can ensure that everything goes smoothly and that a baby's growth is healthy.

Pregnant women should take one prenatal vitamin every day (or whatever the daily dose is). An OB might recommend taking additional supplements, but pregnant women should not take any medications or vitamin supplements unless recommended by a doctor.

But what about pregnancy cravings?

Pregnancy cravings have their role as well. It's more than just needing ice cream at 2am - pregnancy cravings say a lot about what is going on in a pregnant woman's body!

Although it can be tempting to pig out on potato chips, popsicles, fast food, and soda throughout pregnancy, it is important to balance these with plenty of healthy eating and healthy weight gain.

There isn't one clear explanation for why pregnancy cravings are so strong, but scientists suspect that it has to do with hormones during pregnancy. Although there is nothing wrong with indulging pregnancy cravings once in a while, it can be helpful to make health food swaps to promote a healthy diet. Swap French fries for sweet potato fries, whole wheat toast instead of white bread, sparkling water instead of soda, and whole grain cereals over sugar-laden popular brands.

Just like during pregnancy, breastfeeding women should focus on health and nutrition. 

mother breastfeeding a newborn baby

How many calories do women need to consume while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding women should consume slightly more calories than the standard diet - about 300-400 extra calories per day. These extra calories give women the energy and nutrition to produce breast milk.

Women should obtain these extra calories by focusing on key nutrients, such as whole grains, nut butters, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.

What foods are beneficial during breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding women should focus on eating a healthy diet to ensure good milk production. Protein foods (meat, dairy, eggs, beans, and seafood) are good to eat while breastfeeding. Whole grains, like whole grain cereals or breads, are also beneficial during breastfeeding. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Making healthy food choices while breastfeeding can help encourage a baby's overall growth and development.

Eating a wide variety of food can actually change the flavor of breast milk, helping expose the baby to different tastes and preparing them for their own journey to eating solid foods later on. Breastfeeding women should take caution if they choose to drink alcohol. Although the old "pump and dump" method is unnecessary, it is important to exercise caution when drinking while breastfeeding.

A doctor might recommend continuing to take vitamins and supplements (like a prenatal supplement) until the baby is weaned.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are important times to focus on nutrition. 

pregnant woman with a bag of fruits and vegetables

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women should focus on eating an overall healthy diet, getting enough nutrients, and supplementing when needed. Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding can help ensure a baby's proper growth and development. From sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables, to delicious fruits, to fortified foods, consuming a healthy diet can lower the risk factors for major birth defects. 

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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