Nutrition During Pregnancy – Requirements For Rapid Growth

Nutrition during pregnancy is much easier for the mother if nutrition prior to conception has been handled properly. It is helpful to know something about the stages of development of the fetus to understand the nutrient needs of the mother and developing child.

It is during the embryonic stage of development of the fertilized egg that the placenta which is attached to the umbilical cord allows the developing embryo to receive nourishment from the mother, so whatever the mother eats, drinks or smokes reaches the embryo.

The embryonic stage is also the stage that organs are formed and by eight weeks the embryo has formed all of its main internal organs as well as major external structures. It is during this formative stage that deficiencies in nutrients or harmful substances can result in birth defects or miscarriages, so this stage is termed a critical period of development.

The fetal stage of development is the longest stage of the developing child that lasts until the baby is born, and where the fetus continues to increase in size and weight until it is born at an average weight of about 7 pounds, this is a time of tremendous nutritional demand on the mother.

Nutrition and Maternal Changes

The mother’s body is also undergoing changes during the different stages, some of which are due to the hormones secreted by the placenta.

In the mother tissues of the breasts and uterus and fat deposits increase in size to provide energy to the mother as the pregnancy progresses, and the breasts are preparing to produce milk to feed the infant.

Maternal blood volume expands by 50%, along with the production of red blood cells. This is a likely stage where vitamins such as iron, Folate and vitamin B12 are needed.

Food transiting through the gastrointestinal tract slows down to allow for nutrient absorption.

Energy Requirements and Nutrition During Pregnancy

Increased energy is needed by the mother during pregnancy not just to maintain the developing fetus, but also to support the systems required by the fetus, which are the placenta, increased breast tissue in preparation for lactation and fat stores. Proteins, vitamins, and minerals are also required for fetal growth.

Energy expenditure increases during pregnancy due to the energy requirements of the fetus and placenta and the increased workload on the heart and lungs of the mother. Energy is needed to support the mother’s weight gain during the second and third trimesters, with an energy need of approximately 340 extra kilocalories per day during the second trimester and an energy need of approximately 450 extra kilocalories per day during the third trimester.

Food Choices During Pregnancy

Nutrition during pregnancy for the mother is the same as for the general population for adults, with variety being the key to a well balanced diet. The difference is that extra calories are needed and can be obtained by adding an additional serving from the food groups of fruits, vegetables, grains and low fat milk, with nutrient dense foods being the choice. The diet shouldn’t consist of high calorie, high fat, or low nutrient foods such as snack foods.

Although a pregnant woman can obtain the vitamins and minerals that she needs from a balanced diet she is often given prenatal vitamins by her physician at a level appropriate for pregnancy.

Foods to Avoid

• Alcohol is off limits

• Foods that can aggravate nausea and vomiting

• Certain types of fish that contain high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish

• Less than 300 milligrams/day of caffeine since caffeine has been shown to be linked to delayed conception, spontaneous miscarriage, and low birth weight

Fish that can be eaten and should be eaten are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish since these are lower in mercury levels.

For more information about how to eat during pregnancy here is a nice video from

How to Maintain a Healthy Diet During Pregnancy —powered by

Nutrition After Pregnancy - Supporting Infant Nutrition
Infant Nutrition - The Lactation Stage

For more information about nutrition during pregnancy click on the link to

For other information on nutrition including nutrition during pregnancy some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

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Nutrition Eating Disorders
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