Nutrition for expectant moms

How much weight should your gain during pregnancy? What is a balanced diet?

  • In this article we will look at:
  • How much weight should your gain during pregnancy?
  • What is a balanced diet?
  • Don't eat for two?
  • But don't diet!

Food Safety

  • Nutrition tip for a pregnant vegetarian
  • Healthy snacking tips
  • Anaemia (iron deficiency)
  • Carbohydrates and pregnancy
  • Do I have to quit my morning cup of coffee?
  • Eating out and takeaways during pregnancy
  • Food Additives/Preservatives and Pregnancy
  • More on- Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids and pregnancy
  • Vitamin B
  • Water

How much weight should your gain during pregnancy?

The reason why mothers gain some weight during pregnancy is biologically determined. The purpose of moderate weight gain during pregnancy is to ensure that you have what is called "a desirable pregnancy outcome", which means that your baby should weigh between three and four kilograms.

The following pregnancy weight gains are recommended by international experts:

Weight of mother before pregnancy
Recommended total weight gain during pregnancy
Low or underweight
 12,5 - 18 kg
Normal weight
 11,5 - 16 kg
High or overweight
7,0 - 11 kg

In other words, the less you weigh before pregnancy, the more weight you should gain during pregnancy, keeping in mind that weight gain shouldn't exceed 18 kg.

Any gains that exceed 18 kg, especially if you start your pregnancy being overweight, are excessive.

What is a balanced diet?

A well-balanced diet should include the following foods:

Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially dark green and yellow ones, to boost beta-carotene or vitamin A intake and those that are good sources of vitamin C

Examples:Vitamin A or beta-carotene: carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, butternut, broccoli, yellow peaches, paw-paw, and mangoes Vitamin C: oranges, grapefruit, naartjies, lemons, guavas, strawberries, kiwi fruit, paw-paw, mangoes, the cabbage family, sweet green peppers

Unprocessed bread, cereals and grains to ensure that you get sufficient B-vitamins and dietary fibre to keep you regular
Examples: high-fibre breakfast cereals, brown or whole-wheat bread and rolls, maize meal or oats porridge, brown rice, pasta
Milk and dairy products to provide you with the large amount of calcium you need to build the baby's bones and teeth, plus protein and riboflavin

Examples: whole or low-fat or skimmed milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, other cheeses - use the low-fat varieties if you are scared of gaining weight

Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs to provide body-building protein, iron and vitamin B12 for a healthy blood supply and essential fatty acids (found in fish and omega-3 enriched eggs)

Fats and oils for energy and essential fatty acids - use sparingly if you are trying to control weight gain, and remember that soft tub margarines, which are rich in polyun saturated fatty acids, and olive oil which is one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, are your best options.

Don't eat for two?

The old-fashioned idea that you must eat for two the moment you fall pregnant, is not true. All you need to do is to eat a balanced diet as recommended by your doctor or dietician.
In the second half of pregnancy you should increase your energy intake by 1 000 to 1 500 kJ, but you don't need to stuff yourself at every meal.
Women who use the "eating for two" phrase as an excuse to go overboard and eat to their hearts' content are not doing themselves any good.
Excess weight gained during pregnancy is difficult to lose afterwards and obesity can cause problems, such as hypertension and complicated or premature births, which can result in infant deaths.
But don't diet!

Make sure not to restrict your diet during pregnancy because you might not be getting the right amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals that are necessary to properly nourish your unborn baby. Low-calorie intake can cause the mother's stored fat to break down, leading to the production of substances called ketones.
Ketones, which can be found in the mother's blood and urine, can be a sign of starvation or a starvation-like state. Constant production of ketones may result in possible problems with your baby.

Food Safety

Certain foods are potentially dangerous to the pregnant woman, because they might contain toxins, allergens (that would cause an allergic reaction) or harmful bacteria. These could penetrate the foetus's bloodstream via the placenta.

Raw or soft-boiled eggs can be contaminated with salmonella - bacteria that cause food poisoning - this also includes foods that are made with raw eggs.

Raw meat, processed meats or undercooked poultry migh t contain salmonella or the toxoplasmosis parasite. Avoid infection by cooking meat thoroughly, washing your hands after handling meat and keeping meat refrigerated. Take special care of burgers and sausages - these might appear cooked but can be raw on the inside.

Raw seafood , such as sushi, might be contaminated with tapeworms or other parasites. Freezing and sufficient cooking usually kill the worms. Chemical contamination can also be a problem in fish. Generally, ocean fish is safer than the fresh water varieties.

Swordfish, shark king mackerel and tile fish - these fish can contain high levels of mercury which can cause serious health problems for your developing baby.

Peanuts shouldn't be a problem, unless you, the baby's father or one of your previous children has had an allergic reaction to it. Also avoid other foods to which your family might be very allergic.

Foods containing artificial sweeteners , consumed in moderate amounts are usually safe. Some studies suggest that saccharin has detrimental effects on the development of the foetus. Luckily, this sweetener is not used that often anymore and the substitute, aspartame, seems not to be too much of a problem.

Avoid herbal supplements and teas - certain herbs can be harmful to you and your baby.

Nutrition tips for a pregnant vegetarian

Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12, B2 and D, due to the dietary absence of products of animal origin. Nutrient deficiencies could have a serious impact on your baby's development.

Iron intake is often the biggest problem. Plant sources of iron like potatoes, dried fruit, dark green vegetables and beans should be included in your diet on a daily basis. Combining iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C can enhance iron absorption.

So, when you eat a baked potato, drink a g lass of orange or guava juice to ensure that the available iron is readily absorbed. Routine iron supplementation during pregnancy is advisable for vegetarians.

The relevant nutrients can be found in the following sources, which should form an integral part of your diet:

  • Calcium: milk, yoghurt and cheese; or dried fruit, figs, rhubarb and whole-wheat bread
  • Zinc: fish and shellfish; or ricotta cheese, avocados, tomatoes and spinach
  • Vitamin D: butter, margarine and oil (go for canola or olive oil)
  • Vitamin B12: the only source of this vitamin is meat and meat products - a strict vegetarian need to take supplements during pregnancy and lactation
  • Vitamin B2: whole-wheat bread and cereal, almonds and seaweed (spirulina)

Healthy snacking tips

Here are some quick, easy snacking options that you can eat at anytime of the day.

Fruit salad with yoghurt

Cut up a variety of fruit in season and mix with plain yoghurt. You can add muesli for breakfast (with honey).

Cheese and marmite with biscuits

Savoury biscuits spread with Marmite (great source of iron) and your choice of cheddar, Gouda, cottage or cream cheese. Avoid pâtés and unpasteurised or mould-ripened cheese (e.g. camembert, brie, feta and blue-veined cheese as they could contain listeria, bacteria that could cause a miscarriage)

Sardines on whole-wheat toast

Lightly toast wholewheat bread, chop up the sardines and mix with tomato sauce and place on toast. (Avoid raw fish, such as sushi, as it may contain salmonella). If you don't eat sardines, you can replace this with other fish such as tinned tuna or smoked salmon.

Crudités with dip

Cut up a variety of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, peppers, mini corn, cucumber, celery, and so forth and dip into cream cheese mixed with avocado .

Potato wedges

Slice up peeled and washed potatoes quite thickly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 200° for about 40 minutes - turning often - until crisp on the outside. Either dip into avocado mash (with cream cheese) or sprinkle with grated cheese.

Egg salad

Hard boil two to three eggs, slice up and mix with chopped cucumber and mayonnaise. You can add grated cheese as well. Eat as a salad, on health bread or savoury biscuits. (Eggs must be hard - raw or lightly cooked eggs could cause salmonella).


Sweet or savoury, bought or home-made, muffins are a simple snack that can be quite filling. For a sweet snack, stick to banana, carrot and bran, while for a savoury snack, the cheese and spinach are great. They are also a good snack if you are at a coffee shop.

Sweet snacks

To satisfy your sweet cravings try crunchies (homemade or bought), chocolate digestive biscuits (better than just chocolate) and jelly babies (great glucose without much fat).

Snack packs

Mix a variety of dried fruit with nuts in a small container to fit in your handbag for a great energy snack throughout the day. (If there is a history of allergies in your family avoid peanuts.)

Remember to eat small amounts often, this will keep up your energy levels, and drink plenty of fluids (water is the best).

Anaemia (Iron deficiency)

During your pregnancy, you have twice as much blood flowing through your body to support your growing baby, and you need extra iron to make more haemoglobin for all that new blood. Haemoglobin is the protein in your blood that carries precious oxygen to your body's tissues and to your growing baby.

If your iron intake is insufficient, you can become anaemic during pregnancy.

Symptoms are:

  • you may become excessively fatigued;
  • have a tendency to get stressed and sick;
  • or develop a pale complexion, shortness of breath;
  • fast or irregular heartbeats;
  • weakness;
  • dizziness;
  • light-headedness;
  • or fainting spells.

If your anaemia is very severe, your baby's growth may slow and you may be at risk for premature delivery. And if you are anaemic when you deliver, it may be difficult for you to recover from the loss of blood, an infection, or other possible complications of delivery.

You may also become anaemic if you have a folic acid or vitamin B deficiency, lose a lot of blood from an injury or surgical procedure, or if you have a chronic illness such as kidney disease.

Your caregiver probably tested you for anaemia at your first prenatal appointment and will continue to test you at every appointment thereafter. He or she will probably recommend you take a prenatal vitamin that contains iron, as a preventative measure against anaemia. If you develop anaemia sometime during your pregnancy, it will probably be treated with an iron supplement.

To prevent anaemia, eat foods that are high in iron, such as red meat, dried beans, leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, and fortified breads, pastas, and cereals. In addition, be sure to get plenty of vitamin C (which aids iron absorption), vitamin B, and folic acid.

Carbohydrates and pregnancy

Low carbohydrate diets are known to assist in weight management. But is a low carb diet safe during pregnancy?

The function of carbohydrates

  • Carbohydrates are the fuel for most body functions.
  • It supplies the body with the energy needed for the muscles, brain and the central nervous system. In fact, the human brain depends exclusively on carbohydrates for its energy.
  • When carbohydrates are lacking, the body cannot use its fat in the correct way. Normally carbs combine with fat fragments for energy. When carbs a re not available, there is an incomplete breakdown of fat that produces a by-product called ketones.
  • hese ketones accumulate in the blood and in the urine causing ketosis. During pregnancy, ketosis can cause brain damage and irreversible mental retardation in the infant.

How do I eat carbs without gaining excess weight during pregnancy?

Carbohydrates can be divided in two groups:

Simple carbs
Complex carbs

Simple carbohydrates

Found in rice, pasta, white potatoes, and some dairy products, carbohydrates contain sugars that are broken down quickly by your body. This will provide your body with a quick burst of energy, but if the carbohydrates are not used quickly, the sugar will turn to fat.

Complex carbohydrates

Also contain sugars, but ones with longer, more complex chains. Because of this, the human body takes longer to break them down. This allows the body more time to use the carbohydrates, and as a result fewer of the carbs turn to fat. Vegetables, whole grain pastas and breads, and beans all contain complex carbohydrates.

This means you can get the fuelling benefits of carbohydrates and gain weight the healthy way throughout your pregnancy.

Another key advantage of complex carbohydrates is the fibre content, which will help with constipation.

Do I have to quit my morning cup of coffee?

The effect of caffeine on pregnancy has been the source of many a debate.

But it is still sensible to limit coffee and caffeine intake during pregnancy for the following reasons:

  • Caffeine is a diuretic. This means that it heightens urine output, which draws water and minerals from the body.
  • It stimulates the nervous system and can cause insomnia.
  • It can have a negative impact on the absorption of iron.
  • Remember that caffeine is not only found in all types of coffee (except the decaffeinated version), but also in Ceylon and Earl Grey tea. Small amounts of this substance are also found in chocolate.
  • If you are a regular coffee, tea or cola drinker and want to kick the habit completely while you are pregnant, ease off gradually. Going cold turkey may cause headaches, fatigue, and lethargy.

Eating out and takeaways during pregnancy

Eating at your favourite restaurant with your partner, eating at the cafeteria at work or getting a quick takeaway on a Friday night is not always safe during pregnancy.

You should know:

During pregnancy your immune system is weakened which makes it harder for your body to fight any harmful bacteria found in contaminated/old food.

Things to consider:

Assess your surroundings:

How the food is handled and prepared.
Look at all the surfaces - counters, tables, chairs - if surfaces are dirty, it is not safe.
Look at the staff and the cleanliness of their uniforms - this will tell you a lot about the overall service.
Cutlery and crockery have to be spotless
Always asked for your meat to be cooked thoroughly, and don't eat raw meats.
Don't order foods that you have not eaten before.
Don't take a "doggie bag" to eat the next day and don't eat takeaways the next day.
And lastly, but certainly not the least, is the cleanliness of the toilet area - even if it looks clean, preferably don't touch door handles/taps/ without wiping them with an antiseptic wipe or sit on the toilet seat without doing the same.
Food additives/preservatives and pregnancy

A new preservative or sugar substitute seems to appear on the market every week - they all promise to cut calories or fat, improve taste, or make food last longer.
The safety of these substances takes on new importance when you are pregnant.
The most common food additives and preservatives: MSG, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite.
There is no substantial evidence that additives and preservatives have any toxic effect on unborn babies. However if you are usually sensitive to additives and preservatives you may want to avoid them during pregnancy.
In general you can follow the rule that if what you are eating doesn't add to the nutritional needs of you and your baby - don't eat it.
More on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. In fact, babies who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems - but don't overdo it.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered as essential fatty acids (EFAs)
Essential fatty acids are essential to human health, but our bodies cannot manufacture it. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food.
Which foods contain omega-3 fatty acids?

Fish - Fish oil and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines. It is not recommended that you eat raw fish when you are pregnant. Pregnant women should stay away from sushi.

Plant and nut oil : flax seed oil, ground flax seed, breads and breakfast cereals containing flax seed, and walnuts and walnut oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.

What is the safe intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy?

Be careful not to eat too much fish as it could harm your unborn baby. Ask your doctor before you add a lot of fish to your diet. Your doctor may recommend pharmaceutical grade fish oil pills instead.

Omega-3 supplements

Your doctor may recommend that you take fish oil (omega-3) capsules. Speak to your pharmacist to make sure that you buy a trusted brand and the best quality you possibly can.

Vitamin B

What is the function of vitamin B?

Vitamin B is involved in the manufacture of most protein-related compounds, such as hormones, haemoglobin, neurotransmitters and many enzymes.

In addition, it is needed by the body for making amino acids (the building blocks of protein)

How can vitamin B6 help me during pregnancy?

Vitamin B6 is important for your baby's developing brain and nervous system.

Pregnant women frequently have low blood levels of vitamin B6, possibly because of your developing baby's increased need for the vitamin.

Should I take a supplement?

Supplementation is often recommended as a symptomatic treatment for vomiting, nausea, lethargy, fatigue, and depression in affected women.
While you're pregnant, you'll need about 1.9 mg a day.


During pregnancy you will need to drink 8-12 glasses of liquids (preferably water) every day. Water is essential to life, providing a route of transmission for nutrients and cells, balancing acids, holding salts, and cushioning the body's cells and organs.

Water contributes 55-65% of the adult body weight.

During pregnancy your body's water compartments grow substantially.

The foetus also requires a rich fluid supply to grow, develop and live comfortably in its prenatal environment.