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Nutritional Needs for a Healthy Pregnancy

Nutritional Needs for a Healthy Pregnancy
Mother and Child Hospitals

Written by Dietician

Feels great when the news of a pregnancy hits you! You will soon be a mom (or again)! Aside from the infant period, nutrients needed during pregnancy are the highest, your fetus literally depends on you to survive. To meet these nutrient needs, you need to make careful and informed choice in food selections

Will my energy intake increase?

The answer is yes, but not during the first trimester. Your pregnancy doesn’t affect your basal metabolic rate (energy needed to perform basic body functions such as breathing, blood circulation, cell growth e.t.c) until the second and third trimester. At this time, your energy intake will increase by 340kcal and 450kcal respectively. The energy required for non pregnant female adults is 2,400kcal but during the second trimester, you are expected to increase your intake to 2,740kcal and to 2,850kcal during the third trimester. Eating a wide range of all food groups will ensure you get an adequate amount of all nutrients needed in all the three trimesters. The following nutrients are very important in having a healthy pregnancy;

Carbohydrate (Carbs)

While you should not overload yourself with carbs, it is very important that you take enough so that your body protein store doesn’t get broken down as an energy source. Make half of your plate carbs, include whole grains, tubers and green vegetables. Reduce intake of refined sugar or foods rich in added sugar, excess intake of this can lead to being overweight in pregnancy.


Protein is very important in fetal tissue growth and development. Aim for at least 70g of Protein all through your pregnancy. This is about 5 servings of protein food sources per day. For example, 100g of lean chicken breast/turkey or beef, 140g of Mackerel and about 200mls of low fat yogurt. Other foods very rich in protein are eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.

Essential Fatty Acids

It is quite easy for an average Nigerian to get more than enough fat all through the day, but you need to focus on certain foods to get certain essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and 6 fatty acids for the brain development of your fetus. Fill your plate with healthy fats from avocado, fatty fish, almond nuts, olive oil and canola oil. Avoid overly processed foods that are high in fat which can result in excess weight gain in pregnancy


During pregnancy, your need for Iron increases. This is because your growing fetus draws your body stores to make its own. Some prenatal supplements are usually recommended during pregnancy which gives between 30-60mg in a day to help you meet up with this requirement. To enhance iron absorption, the supplement should be taken between meals or at bedtime and with liquids other than milk, coffee, or tea, which inhibit iron absorption.  Also most protein rich foods are high in iron. Other rich iron food sources include . Food rich in Vitamin C such as oranges, pineapple, and watermelon should be taken in adequate amounts to enhance Iron absorption in the body.


Folate requirements increase during pregnancy as a result of rapidly dividing cells related to fetal growth. Adequate intake helps to reduce the risk for neural tube defects in the fetus.  A synthetic form of folate called folic acid  is usually provided as part of your prenatal supplements. Your body also has a slightly greater need for the Vitamin B12 which activates the folate enzyme but this can easily be met with your modest intake of meat, fish and milk. Folate-rich food sources are citrus fruits, dark-green leafy vegetables, nuts, and liver.

Calcium and Vitamin D

These two nutrients are very vital in bone development. Vitamin D major role is to improve the use of calcium in the body and inadequate intake can result in congenital rickets and fractures. Vitamin D nutrients should not be taken through supplements so as to prevent toxicity. Food sources include fortified milk or juice; natural sources include eggs and fish such as salmon. Most of these foods are equally rich in calcium, it is however recommended that 3 servings of low fat milk be taken daily to optimum calcium intake.


Eating a variety of foods from all food groups helps to meet up with the high nutrients needed during pregnancy. Iron, folate and calcium are usually provided as prenatal supplements, other nutrients can be adequately supplied from rich food sources.