Nutrition and exercise during pregnancy

A healthy diet when you’re pregnant can pull double-duty by fueling your body with the good stuff and giving your baby the vitamins and minerals needed for growth and development. (You are growing a whole person, after all.) The same goes for fitness — what’s good for you can have tremendous benefits for your baby.

What is a healthy pregnancy diet?

When you’re pregnant, you will likely need approximately an extra 200-400 calories a day. These calories should come from a variety of nutrient-dense foods—high in vitamin and minerals—including:

  • Fruits, especially whole fruits. Watermelon, pineapple and pomegranate can help you stay hydrated, too.
  • Protein-rich beans, lean meats, poultry and eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard, collards or other dark greens
  • Avocados
  • Wild salmon
  • Yogurt
  • Grains, cereals and breads fortified with folic acid
  • Calcium, approximately 1,000-1,300 mg each day.1 If you’re lactose intolerant, there are many non-dairy options (almonds, broccoli, chickpeas, pinto beans, tofu, and spinach are good sources of non-dairy calcium). Calcium will help your baby build strong bones and teeth and help to reduce the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia.

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, there are a few foods that can be harmful for your baby because of how they’re cooked or the chemicals they contain.2 Those foods may include:

  • Rare or undercooked meat
  • Certain deli meat
  • Fish that contain high levels of mercury (king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (from the Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna).3
  • Smoked seafood
  • Raw or undercooked eggs
  • Raw sprouts
  • Imported soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk
  • Alcohol
  • High levels of caffeine4

How much should I exercise during pregnancy?

If you are medically able, some exercise is better than none during pregnancy. Whether you’re walking, jogging, strength training with low weights, doing yoga, dancing, doing low-impact aerobics or swimming (or any other activity that gets your heart rate going and your muscles warm), try to move your body a little every day. Pregnant women should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week.5 Remember to ask your doctor for recommendations specific to your situation.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

The benefits of physical fitness during pregnancy go well beyond keeping your weight in check. Moving your body while your baby bump grows can help:

  • Keep your baby’s weight in a healthy range

  • Reduce the risk of gestational diabetes

  • Boost your baby’s brain function6

  • Improve sleep

  • Improve mood

  • Increase energy

  • Reduce discomfort (backaches, constipation, swollen veins)

  • Prepare your body for an easier recovery

What exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?

Unless you have received medical advice not to exercise, most activities are considered safe during pregnancy. The activities you may want to avoid are those that could:

  • Increase your chances of falling
  • Increase your chance of abdominal injury
  • Include jarring, jerky movements like downhill skiing, kickboxing, scuba diving and horseback riding.7

If you’re unsure what activities are considered safe, ask your doctor for guidance.

What are warning signs when exercising during pregnancy?

If your doctor has cleared you for exercise during pregnancy, even small amounts of activity can beat lounging on the couch. There are some danger signs8 to watch for though, as your baby grows. Even if you’re used to an active lifestyle, there may be times when you’ll have to reduce the intensity of a workout or activity. You should immediately seek advice from your doctor if you experience:

  • Bleeding

  • Pain

  • Dizziness

  • Fluid leakage

  • Shortness of breath

  • Uterine contractions

  • A racing heartbeat

Eating well and moving often can help build a stronger mom and a healthier baby.

Disclaimers

The information provided is for general informational and illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical advice or a substitute for your doctor’s care. You should consult with your doctor or an appropriate health care professional to determine whether making a lifestyle change or decision based on this information is appropriate for you. In an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Footnotes

  1. Pregnancy week by week: pregnancy nutrition mayoclinic.org, 2020
  2. Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy marchofdimes.org, 2020
  3. Dietary Advice for Moms to Be fda.gov, 2020
  4. Caffeine During Pregnancy americanpregnancy.org, 2016
  5. Healthy Pregnant or Postpartum Women cdc.gov, 2020
  6. Exercise during pregnancy may improve baby's brain development cbsnews.com, 2013
  7. Exercise during pregnancy marchofdimes.org, 2012
  8. Exercise Warning Signs During Pregnancy americanpregnancy.org, 2017