Whether you are planning pregnancy, already pregnant or breast feeding, healthy eating patterns are important for you and your baby. Although there will certainly be some nutrients you need more of, generally the key to eating well is including a variety of nutritious foods from the five major food groups each day to make sure you get a wide range of essential nutrients and energy. Remember that although some supplements like folic acid and iodine are recommended during pregnancy, most of the nutrients you need will come from a balanced diet with a variety of healthy food choices.
Below is a list of food groups, and a guideline for how many serves you should aim for every day from the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the serving advice for pregnancy. Some women may need a bit more food, and some women may need a bit less. Watching your weight gain is on track will be the best guide to let you know if you are eating the right amount.
During pregnancy aim to eat at least two servings of fruit per day. Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned (in juice, rather than syrup), choose a variety to provide different vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Slice a pear over your morning muesli, throw a banana in your handbag for a mid-morning snack, or a mandarin for afternoon tea, or treat yourself to grapes or strawberries for dessert.
Vegetables & Legumes
Eat at least five servings of vegetables per day. Have some carrot sticks for a snack, have a tomato or salad vegetables (washed and home prepared) in your lunch, include three different serves of vegetables with your dinner. Eating a variety of colourful veggies gives you and your baby a range of nutrients. Frozen vegetables can be a great option – they are easy to store and always on hand and can offer seasonal variety.
Grain (cereal) foods
Aim to eat eight and a half servings per day, choose mostly wholegrain and those naturally high in fibre. One serve is about the same as 1 slice of wholegrain bread, ½ medium wholegrain roll, 3 wholegrain crackers, or ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles, or 2 wheat biscuits. Simple staples like wheat biscuits, porridge and natural muesli are great way to start every day - they’re great value, filling and a wholegrain choice! Try grainy breads, brown rice or wholemeal pasta instead of white. Look at the ingredients and nutritional panel on the label and choose one with wholegrains and a higher fibre content, this is a better option than refined grains and also to help prevent the dreaded pregnancy constipation!
Protein foods – lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans
Aim for three and a half servings per day. One serving is about the same as 2 large eggs, or 1 cup of canned legumes, or 80g cooked chicken, or 30g nuts, seeds or nut butter, or 100g cooked fish, or 65g cooked lean red meat. These protein foods also provide zinc, iron and other minerals which are important for baby’s development. Choose lean meats with the fat trimmed off, and remove the skin from chicken for a lower fat option. For food safety in pregnancy avoid raw, cured and undercooked meat, and deli meats.
Legumes like beans and lentils are a source of protein and fibre. Try adding them to homemade rice dishes, curries or salads.
Cooked fish is an excellent food to eat while you are pregnant and breast feeding as it’s low in saturated fat, a source of protein, and certain varieties like salmon and tuna can provide omega-3 fatty acids. However, to be on the safe side, you’ll need to stick to canned or fresh cooked fish during pregnancy, rather than raw or smoked. In Australia, advice on safe fish consumption in pregnancy has been developed to minimise mercury intakes. Pregnant women are advised if consuming shark, marlin or broadbill/swordfish, to have no more than one portion (150g) per fortnight and no other fish that fortnight. If consuming orange roughy or catfish, have one portion (150g) per week and no other fish that week. For further advice see the FSANZ mercury in fish information.
Milk and milk products
Eat at least two and a half servings per day of low fat milk and milk products like yoghurt and cheese; these are great sources of calcium and protein. Within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s bones will start to form so it’s important you have plenty of calcium stores in your body. Calcium is also important to help your baby’s muscle, heart and nerve development. If you like milk, try mixing with fruit to make smoothies, or yoghurt makes a great snack too. Choose pasteurized milk and hard cheeses like Edam or Cheddar, or soft cheeses like cottage or cream cheese and buy smaller blocks so you’re sure to be using it up while it’s still fresh. Stay away from softer varieties like brie, camembert, blue, ricotta and mozzarella for the next 9 months, as these may contain listeria, a bacterium which can harm your unborn baby.
If you don’t eat cow’s milk products, choose plant-based milk alternatives such as soy, rice or oat milk that are fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.
Unless you have a pre-existing food allergy, there is no evidence that during pregnancy women need to avoid commonly associated allergenic foods to reduce the risk of your infant developing a food allergy.
Good calories – these are the ones that matter most! If you make up the bulk of your diet from nutritionally dense food it can help you keep your weight in check. It means you’re eating just what you need to, and not a load of extras.
Hollow victories – empty calories are simply that. These come from foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, without much else in the way of nutrients. Examples include sugary drinks, biscuits, chocolate, chips and cakes. So while you still need to burn them off, your body doesn’t get the benefit of a good range of nutrients. These discretionary foods should be occasional treats, not regular snacks to help you maintain a balanced diet and appropriate weight gain. Also prepare foods and drinks that are low in fat (especially saturated fats), and limit added sugar and salt.
Drink plenty of water to keep well hydrated, in pregnancy aim for least nine cups of fluids (including plain water and milk) each day if you can. Try to avoid beverages like soft drinks and cordials as they contain a lot of added sugar and calories, so should be treated as a discretionary choice.
Caffeine - too much caffeine can increase the risk of a low birth weight baby, and it’s also been linked with miscarriage. During pregnancy and breast feeding, limit your caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day. This is roughly equivalent to 1 cappuccino or 4 cups of black tea. Also do not drink energy drinks.
Herbal teas – use these with caution as some can be harmful and should be avoided during pregnancy. For further information on herbal tea varieties speak to your maternity health professional.
Avoid unpasteurized or raw milks or juices.
Alcohol – not drinking alcohol is the safest option if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant.
National Health and Medical Research Council (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Medical Research Council.
Ministry of Health. 2020. Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Updated 2020. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.