A well-balanced diet is always important but certain vitamins and minerals are vital for a healthy pregnancy.
Folic Acid Test - For more information about folic acid, see the HealthLink BC file Folic Acid Test Overview.
Folic acid is important for the healthy growth of an unborn baby's spine, brain and skull, especially during the first four weeks of pregnancy. It can decrease the risk of certain birth defects.
Health Canada recommends all women of childbearing age take a multi vitamin with 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day and eat a diet rich in folate - one of the B vitamins found in dark green vegetables, beans, lentils, orange juice and some grain products.
During pregnancy, some women may need more than 0.4 milligrams of folic acid.
- Supplements with more than 1000 micrograms or 1 milligram of folic acid should only be taken if advised by your doctor or midwife.
Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
All women benefit from eating at least 150 grams (five ounces) of cooked fish each week. Fish contains omega 3 fats and other important nutrients. Aim to meet your body’s need for omega 3 fats through food sources rather than fish oil supplements. For more information, see the HealthLink BC file HealthLink BC file Healthy Eating: Choose Fish Low in Mercury.
Avoiding Mercury in Fish
Some types of fish contain environmental contaminants like methyl mercury which cannot be eliminated by cleaning, preparing or cooking.
Fish low in mercury include anchovy, capelin, char, hake, herring, Atlantic mackerel, mullet, pollock ( Boston bluefish), salmon, smelt, rainbow trout, lake whitefish, blue crab, shrimp, clams, mussels and oysters.
To minimize your exposure, limit fresh/frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar to no more than 2 servings (150 grams) per month.
Limit canned albacore tuna to 300 grams per month.
Pregnancy is a time of intense growth, so getting extra iron now will help prepare your body. It can also help you avoid fatigue, reduce stress on your heart, and fight off infections.
Liver and other meat, eggs, fish, beans, lentils and leafy green vegetables are all good sources of iron, but our bodies digest iron from animal sources more easily. To get more iron from plant sources, combine them with foods rich in vitamin C like orange juice, broccoli or strawberries.
Wait one or two hours after a meal to drink coffee or tea, take calcium supplements or use antacids that contain calcium. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have specific questions.
Calcium and Vitamin D
For more information on calcium and vitamin D sources, see the HealthLink BC file Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D.
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth and fighting chronic diseases. Food sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices and fish canned with the bones. Vitamin D sources include milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices and fatty fish. Our bodies also make Vitamin D when we’re out in the sun.
Some women need extra calcium and Vitamin D for a healthy pregnancy. To learn more, including whether you may need a supplement, talk with your healthcare provider or call 8-1-1 to speak to a registered dietitian.
If you don’t eat meat and are planning to become pregnant, make sure you get the nutrients you need. For example:
- Instead of a serving of meat, have one of the following:
- ¾ cup (175 mL) cup cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup (60 mL) nuts or seeds
- ¾ cup tofu (175 mL)
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) peanut or nut butter
- Instead of milk, have soy beverages fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. You can also use fortified soy cheese or soy yogurt.
For more information, call 8-1-1 to speak to a registered dietitian, or read the Health Link BC file Vegetarian Diets: Are Vegetarian Diets Healthy?
Resources and Links:
HealthLink BC: Folate and Your Health
HealthLink BC: Pregnancy and Nutrition: Folate and Neural Tube Defects
HealthLink BC: Healthy Eating: Avoiding Mercury in Fish
HealthLink BC: Getting Enough Iron
HealthLink BC: Getting Enough Calcium
HealthLink BC: Pregnancy: Vegetarian Diet