Tips on getting 'smart' nourishment during pregnancy

Nutrition should always be a priority, but during pregnancy, it becomes even more vital to follow and practise good eating habits.

Ensuring you receive all the nutrients your body needs will help to promote a safe pregnancy and create a conducive environment for your baby.

A well-balanced diet is one that includes foods from all the food groups, in appropriate amounts and serving sizes. This ensures that essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, are supplied to the body to maintain good nutrition for you and your baby.

While pregnancy is a normal "condition" for the female body, it is demanding, and nutritional requirements are increased in order to meet the needs of the pregnancy.

Read on to understand the additional recommended nutrients and how to obtain them through the right kind of foods.


Energy helps support the growth of the foetus, placenta and associated maternal tissues. It is required for the increased metabolic demands of pregnancy. In addition, energy is needed to maintain adequate maternal weight, body composition and physical activity throughout the gestational period.

The increment in energy requirement is relatively small in the first trimester. The practical option is to add the extra energy requirement to the second trimester by as much as 360 calories a day, and 470 calories a day in the third trimester.

Your extra requirements can be met by consuming an additional 2½ servings of cereal (eg rice, oats) or cereal products (eg bread, noodles), along with milk and dairy products every day during the second trimester, and three servings during the third trimester.

You may spread the additional foods over three main meals and two snacks.



Protein is required for the physical growth and cellular development of your baby. It is also required for the placenta, amniotic tissues, and maternal tissues.

Furthermore, a woman's blood volume increases by 50% during pregnancy, and protein is needed to produce new blood cells and circulating proteins.

The guidelines recommend adding 7.5g of protein per day in the first, second and third trimesters respectively.

You can increase protein intake by adding one extra serving of legumes (eg peas, lentils, and beans) to your daily diet. You may also add a cup of milk to your regular intake to meet your additional needs. If you don't like beans, try other soy products such as tempeh or tofu.



Calcium is required during pregnancy for foetal bone and teeth development, breast milk production, and protection of maternal calcium stores. It is also necessary for proper blood clotting and blood pressure regulation.

Your calcium absorption increases by 25% during pregnancy, and the recommendation is set at 1000mg/day.

Meeting your calcium requirement can be as simple as adding a glass of milk to your current diet. You can also obtain calcium from fish, beans and bean products, and green leafy vegetables. Other calcium-rich foods include dairy products such as yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, milk shakes, milk-based ice cream, and calcium-fortified products.


This is the only nutrient that the foetus depends totally on the mother to supply. It helps in the formation of haemoglobin, which will in turn help maintain the energy required during pregnancy.

Your need for iron in the first trimester remains at the level of replacing basal iron loss as there is no menstrual loss.

However, during the second and third trimester, your iron needs will increase to support the growing foetus and placenta.

Take iron supplementation (about 100mg) as recommended by your doctor. Iron can also be obtained from liver, meat, chicken, eggs, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kailan and kangkung.


Good food for the brain

Foetal brain development begins in the second week after conception and continues to the last week of pregnancy. During this process, the nutritional state of the mother has a profound effect on brain growth.

Learn how you can help promote good foetal brain development for your baby by consuming a varied diet packed full of nutrients.


This essential nutrient is involved in the formation of brain tissue and insulation of neurons. You can find this nutrient in foods like fish, including salmon, tuna and sardines; nuts, seeds, tofu, soybeans, kidney beans, olive oil and dark green leafy vegetables; cold water fish and fortified foods.


Choline plays a role in DNA and nerve insulation. It may enhance memory and cognitive abilities. You can find this nutrient in eggs, wheat germ, soybeans, milk, peanuts, cauliflower, and kale.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acid is required for the development of cell membranes and physiological functions of the brain. Omega-6 fatty acids act as a precursor to a group of hormones that play a role in developing vital functions in the brain.

Sources of omega-3 fats include cold water fish, tuna, cod liver, salmon, formula milk. Sources of omega-6 fats include sunflower seeds, seed oils, corn, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nuts, meat, and dairy products.

Antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E)

Antioxidants protect brain cell membranes from damage. Sources of vitamin A include cod liver oil, carrots, spinach, mango, broccoli and tomatoes. Sources of vitamin C include guava, papaya, cantaloupe, orange and mango. Sources of vitamin E are corn oil, soya bean oil, palm oil, nuts.


This essential nutrient is vital in the production of nerve "messengers" in the brain, nerve insulation and energy. Liver, meat, chicken, eggs, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kailan and kangkung, as well as enriched cereals are all rich sources of iron.

Folic acid

In the foetus, folic acid helps with neural tube growth, and also helps prevent spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord protrudes through an opening in the back. Folic acid can be found in spinach, kailan, broccoli, liver, meats, peanuts, oranges and bananas.


Zinc is important for the development of areas of the brain dealing with attention and memory. Shellfish, meats, beans, milk, and wheat bran are all rich sources of zinc.


Iodine is essential to ensure normal development of the brain and nervous system. You can find iodine in seafood such as cockles, mussels, marine fish and seaweed, eggs, meat, milk, milk products, cereal grains, dried legumes, dried vegetables, and dried fruits.

Prof Dr Norimah A. Karim is a nutritionist. This article is courtesy of Positive Parenting Programme by the Malaysian Paediatric Association, supported by an educational grant from Abbott Nutrition Malaysia. The opinions expressed in the article are the views of the author. For further information, please visit .