Nutrition in pregnancy and lactation

Pregnancy is a time for substantial changes in a woman’s body in many ways, including hormonal, mental and physical. This growth and development process needs fuel and constant support, and the overall nutritional status of the mother is central to the outcome of the pregnancy and health of the baby.

Birth defects, birthing complications and health risks in childhood and adulthood are substantially reduced if the mother has a healthy diet. This not only provides the baby with the fuel to grow and develop, but it also helps after birth as it influences the milk produced during lactation which sets the child up for the future.

A recent review of nutritional requirements in pregnancy and lactation was published in the Professional Nursing journal (1) which explained the increases in the nutritional demands for the pregnant/lactating female and the importance of this both in the short and long term.

The authors described how the energy intake requirements increase during pregnancy and lactation. Peaking in the third trimester, the accompanying weight gain needs to be steady and consistent based on the mothers pre-pregnancy weight (from 32.5-45lb weight gain in underweight mothers, to 12.5-22.5lb in overweight mothers). The authors also commented on research findings for macronutrients; reporting required increases in protein by 25g a day, especially in the final quarter of the pregnancy and an average serving of fish or chicken is approximately 22-24g.

Extra Carbohydrates are required through pregnancy
Extra Carbohydrates, such as wholemeal bread and one macronutrient that is required through pregnancy.

The diet also needs to consist of 50-65% carbohydrates with a daily minimum of 175g carbohydrates during pregnancy and 210g during breastfeeding. This is equivalent to a daily serving of 250g of wholewheat pasta with 3-4 slices of wholemeal bread.

Essential fatty acids such as omega 3 are vital during this stage of life. An intake of at least 200mg/day of DHA is reportedly needed for reducing birthing complications. Two portions of fish are recommended each week, however due to high mercury contents shark, swordfish and king mackerel should be avoided. Good options would be sardines, herring or salmon. Fatty acids excluding vitamin A may be supplemented in pregnancy and Udos Choice is a popular addition to many pregnancy health regimes.

Micronutrient demands are also escalated during this time and any nutritional deficiency in the mother can considerably impact on the unborn child’s development. As a result the authors commented on the essential need for dietary increases in iron, folic acid, zinc, selenium, chromium, iodine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and pantothenic acid. Additionally, they recommend a multivitamin including these nutrients but without large doses of vitamin A (as this is related to increased birth defects). These nutrients are associated with reduced risks to the child and a better pregnancy outcome.

The authors also reported findings that supplementing calcium in pregnancy is also associated with decreases in complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension and pre-term birth as well as improved birthing outcomes.

If you are  considering starting a family or are already pregnant or lactating, you may wish to source a multivitamin without vitamin A such as the Bio Health One-A-Day Bio-Caps that contains folic acid, calcium and iron as well as a good quality, pure essential fatty acid supplement. Folic acid and iron can help prevent Spina Bifida and pregnancy-related anaemia, so ensuring intake of these nutrients is particularly important. A wide ranging, balanced diet is essential and should not be replaced by supplements.  This considered focus on your health plan may help to provide your child with a healthy future and reduce the risks of complications during these demanding times.

Written by Lauren Foster


(1) Labuschagne, I.L., Ackerberg, T.S. & Lombard, M.J. (2012) Optimal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Professional Nursing,16(1), 26-29.