Congratulations, you’re pregnant! What should you do now? As tempting as it is, put down the baby clothes catalog and focus first on growing a healthy child in your body. The best way to do that is for you to find healthy, nutritious food that you’ll be eating during pregnancy.

Although pregnancies aren’t always planned, the ideal time to start your healthy lifestyle is before you get pregnant, about a month or two in advance. When my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby, I began taking prenatal vitamins, eating more nutritious food, and got rid of junky snacks.

Of course, if you’ve always maintained a healthy diet you have a head start. But even if your impending little one is a delightful surprise, he or she will still benefit from your healthy eating regardless of when you begin.

What to Eat for a Healthy Baby

Some people think the phrase, “eating for two” means that a pregnant woman has to eat twice as much as before for her baby’s sake. Not at all! In fact, pregnant women only need 300-500 additional healthy calories a day . In fact, a woman of average weight should only gain about 25-35 pounds during her pregnancy.

Here’s a list of food you should be eating during pregnancy and the important nutrients that you and your growing baby need. Keep in mind that if you have allergies or other dietary restrictions—including that pesky morning sickness—you may have to consider alternatives, such as supplements.

Folate/Folic Acid

Folate, or its synthetic form folic acid, is crucial in the first trimester.  It helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.  Since neural tube defects occur very early on in development, it’s highly recommended to start taking folic acid before you start trying to conceive. Foods rich in folic acid include lentils, legumes, avocados, dark leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and juices, and whole grains.

Iron

Since your body supplies blood and oxygen to your baby, you’ll need to double your iron intake. Eat iron-rich foods such as red meat, leafy green vegetables, and orange juice. Be aware that too much iron can lead to constipation, so consider iron supplements only if you’re anemic and need a boost.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D maintains the right amount of calcium and phosphorus your body receives, both of which are important to your developing child’s bones and teeth. Get your Vitamin D from eggs, dairy, fish liver oil, and fatty fish.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important to neurological development, particularly the eyes and central nervous system . The highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish. However, it’s a tricky situation since fish also contain mercury, which pregnant women should avoid. Therefore, eat fish with the lowest levels of mercury (such as salmon) and stick with two servings a week. Alternatively, take fish oil supplements with omega-3s.

Protein

Protein helps build all the cells in a human body. Thus, if you eat food high in protein while pregnant, you increase the chances of your child being born with a healthy birth weight. Eat dairy, lean meat, legumes, and eggs for protein.

Some Caveats

Take precaution in some of the foods on this list, as eating them in a different preparation may be harmful instead of beneficial, to your child. Earlier we discussed the pros and cons of eating fish (omega-3 and mercury) and how to eat it safely. Let’s revisit fish and go over some of the other foods.

Fish:

Skip the sushi for a few months and eat only cooked fish. Yes, I know it’s hard but if I could do it, then so can you!

Dairy:

If you love soft cheeses such as brie, make sure that it’s pasteurized. Stick to U.S.-made cheese, which is all pasteurized.

Lean meat:

Make sure that your meat is fully cooked, so no rare steaks for a while. Also, avoid deli meats because the nitrates in them have been found to be carcinogenic.

Eggs:

Make sure you only consume fully cooked eggs to avoid salmonella.

Juice:

Similar to dairy, drink only juice that has been pasteurized.

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