"I'm pregnant! How much should I eat?" and other questions


The far-reaching influence of good nutrition prior to and during pregnancy is immeasurable, impacting not only the labour, but also the mother and child’s health throughout their lives. 

Following a healthy diet during pregnancy is the best thing you can do for your growing baby, while also ensuring you feel your best. 

Parent24 spoke with two registered dietitians who gave us their top tips for following a healthy eating plan throughout your pregnancy. 

Should I really start eating for two? 

“Additional energy is needed during pregnancy to support the growth demands of your baby, however the saying ‘eating for two’ has been taken out of context,” explains Cath Day, registered dietitian.

“During the first trimester, you don’t need any additional energy. This means that if you were maintaining a healthy weight before you became pregnant, you can continue eating the same amount.  It is only in your second and third trimester that you need to eat a little more.”

What’s the recommended number of calories I should be consuming? 

In the second trimester, dieticians advise that moms-to-be of a health weight can consume an additional 350 kCal / 1470 kJ per day. 

To be exact, this amount is equivalent to adding: 

  • half a cup of fruit or one tennis ball-sized fruit,
  • 175 ml of plain low-fat yoghurt,
  • 2 whole-wheat crackers,
  • 2 teaspoons peanut butter without added sugar and salt, as well as
  • 30-gram portion of a medium fat cheese.

For the third trimester, an extra 460 kCal / 1930 kJ per day is recommended. This amounts to eating:

  • an extra one cup of fruit or two tennis ball-sized fruits,
  • 175 ml plain low-fat yoghurt,
  • 4 whole-wheat crackers
  • 2 teaspoons peanut butter without added sugar and salt, and 
  • 30-gram portion of a medium fat cheese.

Also see: 7 superfoods to help you during pregnancy

I am overweight and pregnant, what should I do? 

Excessive weight and obesity may result in health complications during your pregnancy, and experts caution women to achieve a healthy weight before conceiving. 

“Pregnancy is not the time to think about dieting and weight loss,” says Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson and registered dietitian Nazeeia Sayed.

“An overweight pregnant woman should focus on the healthy eating of a variety of nutritious foods, and her weight gain needs to be monitored at her antenatal check-ups.  She should also focus on light exercise such as walking.”

How can I eat healthily on a budget? 

Cath Day has some sensible tips:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables which are in season and more affordable.  
  • Get your family members and neighbours to shop with you for bulk fruits and vegetables that are more cost-effective. 
  • Start a vegetable garden using water-saving ideas at home or in your community. NGOs such as Soil for Life and many more help households and communities to sustainably increase their access to fruits and vegetables.  
  • Spend less money on fizzy cold drinks, junk food and take-aways, and use what you save to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables instead.  
  • You can save money by reducing your meat intake by half and instead use beans, split peas and lentils to bulk up your favourite meat dishes. These legumes are a more affordable, healthy vegetable protein source that also include the B-vitamins and folic acid.
  • Buy frozen vegetables when they are on promotion – they contain as much or even more nutrients than vegetables which have been on the shelf for an extended period of time. 

Can pregnant women who can't afford supplements eat the right kinds of food to get the micro-nutrients important to pregnancy?

Taking a supplement of iron and folic acid is recommended for both pregnant women and women wanting to conceive, as a healthy pregnancy depends on these vital nutrients. 

All South African women have access to these supplements and additional antenatal services via state hospitals and clinics, notes Sayed. 

Day advises that pregnant women can also eat specific foods to up their intake of nutrients for the healthy development of their unborn baby. 

“Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, morogo and legumes such as beans, split peas and lentils are good sources of folic acid and iron. You can also find staples such as maize meal and brown bread that are fortified with folic acid and iron. Amasi and milk provide calcium. Tinned sardines and pilchards provide calcium and iron, and chicken livers are another good source of iron.”

What healthy habits should I develop during pregnancy? 

Your health and the health of your growing baby should be your number one priority during pregnancy. For Day, this not only entails what is included, but also what is excluded: 

“Don’t drink alcohol when you are pregnant. All forms of alcohol could be harmful to your baby and the safest choice for your unborn baby is not to drink any alcohol at all when you are pregnant.”

Sayed concludes: “Pregnancy is not a state of ill health but a time to be enjoyed, and it can help you to develop life-long healthy eating patterns that you sustain as you become a role model for the new addition to your family!”

What's been your greatest battle with nutrition during your pregnancy? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we could publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.  

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