Eating for Two?

Prenatal nutrition and diet affect health of pregnant mother and baby

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

For pregnant women, nutrition takes on a whole new role and importance because of the physical changes in the mother’s body and the impact on the unborn child.

“Pregnancy is the one time in your life when your eating habits directly affect another person,” explains the American Pregnancy Association (APA).

So when you are “eating for two” what should your diet actually look like? How much weight gain is healthy? Are there foods that should be avoided?

By knowing what to expect and what experts recommend, both mom and baby are more likely to be happy and healthy throughout the pregnancy.

Pregnancy Pounds

As the body prepares for the birth of the child, many changes occur requiring more calories and energy.

“By the time you are ready to give birth, your total blood volume will have increased by as much as 60 percent,” reports the APA. “Your breasts will have filled with milk. Your uterus will have grown to accommodate your baby and has filled with amniotic fluid; your baby has grown to weigh 6 to 10 pounds (on average).”

Though every patient is different and should discuss the matter with their prenatal physician, the APA estimates that the body needs around 300 extra calories a day throughout the second and third trimester to fuel these changes.

The APA does highlight that this 300 calories a day increase does not really amount to the equivalent of “eating for two.” The Mayo Clinic agrees, reporting, “Eating for two isn't a license to eat twice as much as usual.”

However, the APA does stress, “Mothers who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy place their babies at risk for severe complications such as premature birth, which can cause lung and heart problems.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the amount of weight each woman will need to gain will depend on several factors, like body mass index (BMI) and pre-pregnancy weight. Once again, women should work with their doctor to figure out what their body and their unborn baby needs.

Nutritional Needs

According to the Mayo Clinic, “[D]uring pregnancy the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same — get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.”

In an interview with dailyRx News, Deborah Gordon, MD, nutrition, homeopathy and family practice expert, stressed the importance of food and nutrient quality during pregnancy.

“More than any other time, for both maternal and child health, physical and emotional, it's important for pregnant women to eat the healthiest of protein and fat choices, including meat and liver from grass-fed animals, milk and butter from grass-fed cows, and eggs (never raw egg whites) from pasture-raised chickens,” said Dr. Gordon.

The Mayo Clinic stresses the importance of several specific nutrients during pregnancy, including folate and folic acid to prevent birth defects, vitamin D to promote bone strength and calcium to strengthen bones and support the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems.

On Dr. Gordon’s website,, she highlights several additional nutrients that can be beneficial during pregnancy, including omega-3 fatty acids for brain development, vitamin A to support the endocrine system and iodine to encourage healthy thyroid glands.

Dr. Gordon also told dailyRx News, “Supplementing with fermented cod liver oil and probiotics can lay the groundwork for healthy immunity for both mother and child.”

What to Avoid

“Just as important as including good nutrients is the caution to avoid potential toxins,” explained Dr. Gordon. “For instance, fish is highly valuable, but should be the fish found low in toxicity by the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch."

The APA recommends reducing or completely cutting out caffeinated beverages, including coffee and soda. On her website, Dr. Gordon explains that caffeine can affect the baby’s heart development and function.

According to the APA, it is important to make sure meats, as well as seafood and eggs, are cooked completely to prevent prenatal exposure to bacteria like salmonella.

Exposure to harmful substances goes beyond just food. Dr. Gordon warns against the use of household or garden products that contain toxins while pregnant.

Though all of the information can seem overwhelming, diet and nutrition are important aspects of pregnancy and should not be overlooked. Doctors can support individuals as they shift their unique eating habits and prepare for a new baby.

According to the APA, it is ideal to start a healthy eating plan before becoming pregnant, but no matter how far along the pregnancy is, it is never too late to start making healthy dietary changes.

“Supplying your own body with a tasty blend of nutritious foods can not only improve your fertility, keep you feeling healthy during pregnancy, and pave the way for an easier labor, but it can also help to establish essential building blocks of growth and overall health for your child,” the APA explains.

Review Date: 
May 19, 2013