By Elizda Hanekom

Expecting a bundle of joy? This is certainly an extremely exciting time in one’s life, but it can also come with many questions and concerns. However, this shouldn’t be the case when it comes to nutrition. Eating a healthy balanced diet is vital for good health and even more so when you are a mom-to-be. Many moms say they are ‘eating for two’. Should this be the case? Are there certain foods which are off the menu? Let’s take a closer look.

General healthy eating

Most guidelines on healthy eating include the following:

  • Eat your five-a-day for fruits and vegetables.
  • Include whole grains and choose more poultry, fish and lean meats.
  • Opt for low-fat, calcium-rich dairy options, drinks lots of water and lastly, limit fat and sugar intake.

Whilst these are key recommendations, they are, however, very general. For an expecting mom, there are important dietary changes that need to be made.

During pregnancy and lactation a woman has additional nutritional requirements which help to support the growth and development of their baby. It is, however, important to note that it is possible to reach these increased levels without drastically increasing the amount of food they consume. The reason for this is that our body is truly incredible – it becomes more efficient at absorbing nutrients which allow you to start building up vital vitamin and mineral stores. Keeping all of this in mind, you will see that there is no need to ‘eat for two’ but rather a need to place a vast amount of focus on eating a high-quality diet.

What more?

Following general healthy eating guidelines is great but what else do you need to know? Firstly, you need to eat a variety of foods. This will ensure that you are getting many different vitamins and minerals, all of which play a vital role in the development of your baby. It is best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat, however, sometimes this isn’t possible, and supplementation can be beneficial to provide peace of mind that you are meeting your needs. Speak to your healthcare provider to best advise you on your supplement requirements. Certain nutrients such as protein, folate (folic acid), calcium, iron and omega-3 fats are particularly important during pregnancy.


Our protein needs increase during pregnancy and lactation because it is essential for the growth of your baby and your own tissue growth during pregnancy. It is also essential for breastmilk production. Exact requirements vary according to your weight and stage of pregnancy and lactation, but special care should be put into reaching these requirements. It is advisable to include a protein source at all or most meals and snacks.

Folate (folic acid)

Folic acid falls in the B-vitamin group. The synthetic form is vitamin B9, also called folate. This helps your body to make new cells. It helps to make normal red blood cells and to prevent a type of anaemia. It is essential for the functioning, production, and repair of DNA. Getting enough folate is important for the rapid cell growth of the placenta as well as your developing baby. It also helps prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) . The part of the embryo from which your baby’s spine and brain develop is called the neural tube.

It is often difficult to obtain the right amount from diet alone. Consider taking a daily multivitamin that has 0.4mg (400mcg) of folic acid. Do not take more than 1mg (1000mcg) per day unless your healthcare provider advises you to do so. Give special attention to this guideline if you are vegan. Vegans are at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency and taking too much folic acid would make it hard to diagnose this deficiency.


Calcium helps with the development of healthy teeth and bones. It also plays a role in heart health, muscle and nerve development. Getting enough calcium and iodine throughout your pregnancy is important for both mom and baby as calcium gets taken from your bones and given to your baby. Aim to include at least two servings of dairy every day.

Dairy products also contain iodine which assists with the brain development of your baby. It is important to note that non-dairy milk such as nut milk, soy milk and oat milk contain virtually no iodine. Iodine is also important during breastfeeding. Sources of iodine include seafood, iodized salt, eggs, fortified bread and margarine.


Iron plays an important role during pregnancy and lactation as it helps build new red blood cells and also helps them to carry oxygen. When you are pregnant the amount of blood you carry increases to support both your and your baby’s needs. The iron you consume during pregnancy will help your baby store enough for when he or she is born.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 27mg of iron per day for all pregnant women.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids play many important roles in the body. They help support the immune system, heart, and inflammatory response. They also help support the brain, eyes and central nervous system, which makes it so important during pregnancy and lactation.

Getting your omega-3:

  • Have two servings of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, canned tuna in oil, light canned tuna, sardine, hake, rainbow trout, anchovy, mussels. Two servings equate to 150g of fish per week.


NOTE: Most fish have low levels of mercury. For healthy individuals, low levels of mercury does not cause harm. High amounts of mercury can, however, harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. It is therefore important for pregnant or lactating woman to limit their intake of mercury-containing foods. It is recommended to limit fish intake to no more than two servings of fish per week. Avoid shark, swordfish, marlin, fresh or frozen tuna and any dried fish as these have higher mercury levels.

Include ground flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, soy products and canola oil more often. Certain foods are fortified with omega-3 fats – look out for eggs, yoghurt, juice, soy beverages and margarine.

General do’s and don’ts during pregnancy

Enjoy regular physical activity, however, this should be managed by your healthcare practitioner, particularly if you are starting a new exercise routine or experience any complications.

Cook certain foods thoroughly. Foods such as meat, fish, poultry, seafood, unpasteurised cheese and eggs may have harmful bacteria therefore cooking these foods thoroughly is important to prevent harm to your baby – this means that sushi is an obvious no-no.

Avoid alcohol during pregnancy and lactation. Alcohol passes into breastmilk within 30-60 minutes (this is the same rate that it travels through your blood) .

Try to limit caffeine-containing drinks such as tea, coffee, cola, cocoa and energy drinks during pregnancy and lactation. If you must have caffeine, do so in moderation. Limit caffeine to 200mg per day which equates to two cups (500ml) of coffee or four cups (1 000ml) of tea. Remember decaffeinated coffee or caffeine-free teas can be a better option.

Drink plenty of clean, fresh water. Fluids are especially important during breastfeeding as you need to replace the fluid used in breastmilk. It may be a good idea to have a glass of water or low-fat milk every time your baby feeds.

Ask your doctor about any herbal supplements you are considering. Many can be harmful to you or your baby.

If you are overweight or underweight your nutritional needs may vary. Discuss these with your doctor who may refer you to a registered dietitian.

If you experience any side-effects like nausea, vomiting or constipation ask your doctor or dietitian for guidance.

If you are having twins or triplets your needs may be increased – speak to your healthcare provider to find out what amount is right for you. The above healthy eating guidelines will apply but may need to be adjusted to suit your specific needs.

enjoy every moment of pregnancy and lactation

During this exciting time, I urge you to enjoy every moment of pregnancy and lactation. Little sleep and sacrifices will soon be replaced with countless laughs, memories, and love. Making great healthy choices is no longer only important for yourself but also for your baby. I hope this article has eased your mind and made you excited about your and your baby’s healthy and happy future.

This article was published in partnership with Media Xpose.

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