Which Nutrients do I Need during Pregnancy?

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 5 minutes 

What should I know about getting the right nutrition while pregnant

  • Nutrient needs increase during pregnancy
  • A healthy, balanced diet helps you meet your and your baby’s nutrient needs during pregnancy
  • Learn which foods will help you get the right nutrition while pregnant

The importance of healthy eating when pregnant

Eating well during pregnancy is essential not only for your health, but the health of your growing baby. Pregnancy is a huge task for your body, and a balanced, varied diet can support your and your baby’s needs. Staying well-nourished during this time is vital because your body will prioritize the baby. During pregnancy, your baby will take all the necessary nutrients they need from you, and if you’re not eating adequately that may leave you depleted of nutrients.

While the phrase “eating for two,” isn’t exactly accurate, you do need to think for two and prioritize food quality.

How much should I eat when pregnant?

In the first trimester, your body does not yet need additional calories to support your baby (a developing fetus is small!).1 However, in the second and third trimesters, your calorie needs do increase.

If you were a healthy weight before you became pregnant, you will need about 340 additional calories per day during your second trimester and about 450 additional calories per day during your third trimester. If you were under or overweight prior to getting pregnant, those numbers will go up or down accordingly.2, 3

Gaining the right amount of weight helps promote a healthy pregnancy and offers lasting benefits for you and your baby.2, 3

Read more: How Much Should I Eat While Pregnant?

How much should I drink while pregnant?

It is also important to stay adequately hydrated during pregnancy. Drinking enough water per day helps with constipation and digestion; as well as plays a role in the formation and maintenance of amniotic fluid.4

How much water do I need? 8 to 12 cups per day4

Read more: Staying Hydrated Even When You’re Peeing Plenty

Need help with balanced meal and hydration ideas during pregnancy? Come chat with our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 8 pm (EST) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 4 pm (EST). Chat now!

Key nutrients during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s best to follow general principles of healthy eating: enjoy a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and adequate protein.

Although all nutrients are important, there are a few key vitamins and minerals to focus on while pregnant that play a role in your baby’s development: folic acid/folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA, choline, and iodine.

Eating a well-balanced diet as well as taking a prenatal vitamin (should your doctor recommend it) will help you meet these nutrient needs easily. Don’t fret about perfectly meeting every nutrient need every day, instead think about your diet as an average over the course of a week.

Folate

Folate is a B vitamin that we need to make new cells and to support growth and development. In babies, folic acid helps form the neural tube early in pregnancy.5 Without enough of this vitamin, birth defects of the brain and spine, such as spina bifida, may occur.5 For this reason, taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy is important.

Food sources of folate: Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods. Folate can be found in fortified cereals, green veggies (such as spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, and lettuce), beans (black eyed peas, kidney beans), and green peas.6

How much folate do I need? 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid per day from foods and supplementation before and during pregnancy.26,27,28

Read more: Why Folate Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Iron

Iron is a mineral the body uses to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body.8 You need much more iron during pregnancy than pre-pregnancy to help carry oxygen to your baby as well as to allow baby to make their own blood supply.7,9 The iron you get from food and supplementation will build iron stores in the womb that usually lasts your baby for the first six months of life.10

Food sources of Iron: This mineral is most easily absorbed from meat (beef, pork, chicken), but also found in spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables (swiss chard, beet and collard greens, bok choy, kale); beans (lentils, garbanzos, navy, kidney, black, pinto); tofu, and iron-fortified infant cereals.8

How much iron do I need? 27 milligrams per day.8

Read more: Meal Plan for Low Iron

Calcium

This mineral helps develop baby’s bones, teeth, nerves, and more.9 If you don’t meet your calcium needs during pregnancy, the body will take calcium from your bones to give to your baby.11 This can lead to weak and brittle bones later in life.11 Getting enough calcium may also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy.9,12

Food sources of calcium: Calcium is found in foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified orange juice, fortified milk alternatives, tofu; greens such as kale and spinach; broccoli, and fortified cereals.12

How much calcium do I need? 1000 milligrams per day.12

Read more: Why Calcium Mattes for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Vitamin D

This vitamin helps support your immune system as well as helps your baby’s bones and teeth grow.9,13,14 Additionally, vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.

Food sources of vitamin D: Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines (all these are low mercury); fortified milk, milk alternatives, and cereals.15 Most of our vitamin D comes naturally from exposure to sunlight.6,15

How much vitamin D do I need? 600 IU per day.7,15

Read more: Why Vitamin D Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)

DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid which helps support your baby’s brain and eye development.20, 21

Food sources of DHA: DHA is found primarily in fatty fish such as herring, salmon, trout, shrimp, cod, and sardines (all listed are low mercury).19 There are supplements available with plant-based forms of DHA, such as from algae.

How much DHA do I need? It is recommended pregnant women eat two to three servings of fish per week, which is about 8-12 ounces of low-mercury seafood.16 If this is not possible or you don’t care for fish, a daily supplement with at least 200mg DHA is recommended.17,18

Read more: Can I Eat Seafood While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Iodine

Iodine is needed in our body for healthy thyroid function.22 In pregnancy, iodine is essential for healthy brain development in the fetus and young child.23

Food sources of Iodine: Seaweed (nori), enriched bread and pasta, yogurt, iodized table salt (though note that not all salt has iodine added), egg, cheddar cheese, and shrimp.22

How much iodine do I need? 220 micrograms per day.22

Read more: Why Iodine Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient, meaning the body can’t make enough of it to meet its needs so the rest must come from your diet.24 During pregnancy, choline is important for baby’s brain and tissue/cell development, as well as sending signals in the brain (neurotransmissions).25

Food sources of choline: Eggs, beef, chicken, cod, wheat germ, kidney beans, quinoa, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peanuts, ad green peas.24

How much choline do I need? 450 milligrams per day.24

Read more: Why Choline Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Do I need a prenatal vitamin?

Even if you’re eating a balanced, varied diet, it’s possible to miss out on key nutrients. By taking a prenatal vitamin, ideally before you plan on getting pregnant, you can help fill in any gaps and help meet the needs for both you and baby.7

Speak with your healthcare provider to see if you need one, and to help you choose one that will meet your needs.

Read more: Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

How do I ensure I’m meeting my baby’s needs?

It can feel overwhelming to try to get all of the recommended nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy, especially if you’re feeling too sick to eat certain foods. The most important things to focus on during pregnancy are eating to meet your calorie needs, as well as take in a well-rounded, healthy diet. That plus a prenatal vitamin, should your doctor recommend one, helps you and your baby get everything you need during pregnancy.

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm ET, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2pm ET. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Achieving healthy weight gain in pregnancy and why it’s good for you and your baby

How much should I eat when I am pregnant?

Which foods and ingredients should I be avoiding while pregnant?

Food safety during pregnancy

Healthy snacks during pregnancy

Taste imprinting when pregnant and breastfeeding

Managing cravings