The Importance of Eating Well During Pregnancy and While Breastfeeding

The moment you get pregnant, your body is providing nutrition for your unborn child. Wild, isn’t it? What you put in your body, good and bad, is fed to the baby for it to grow and develop. There is actually a strong correlation between what you eat during pregnancy and the health of your child and yourself for the remaining years of your lives.¹ In fact, everything from food preferences to your child’s ability to conceive later on in life can all be affected by the nutrition it receives in your womb.²

If you know the foods you should eat while you're pregnant, you will be more likely to eat them, am I right? So here is a great list of over 20 nutrients you should have while pregnant (and breastfeeding!) for optimal nutrition for both mom and baby.Your baby has a certain set of nutritional needs from the moment of conception. Your body is capable of giving the baby its needs, so you should be eating well in order to start it off on the right nutritional track. It’s not really a walk in the park to eat well while your pregnant, which is why it’s important to take a prenatal vitamin during pre-conception, pregnancy, and while breastfeeding. But a prenatal vitamin should never replace the need for a healthy diet.

It’s so important to make healthy food choices before you even think of getting pregnant. It makes it easier on you, once you do get pregnant, if you are already eating well.

I did not eat well during either of my pregnancies. I ate quite a bit healthier with my first, but I still could have done better. I am certain I wasn’t getting enough calcium in my diet because I had horrible teeth pain with my second pregnancy and I had to get a root canal and a filling right after my baby was born. I wasn’t downing cake pops every day, but I wasn’t eating plenty of fruits and vegetables either.

Essential Nutrients You Need During Pregnancy

Most prenatal vitamins provide a lot of the nutrients you need during pregnancy. Get out your bottle of prenatal vitamins and compare it with this list of essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. If it is missing vital nutrients, you need to get them through the foods you eat. For example, if your prenatal vitamin only has 200 mg of calcium, you’ll need to eat food each day that gives you the extra 800 mg your prenatal vitamin is missing.

Calcium 1000 mg
Biotin 30 mcg
Choline 450 mg
Chromium 30 mcg
Copper 1 mg
DHA 300 mg
Folic Acid 600 mg
Iodine 220 mcg
Iron 27 mg
Magnesium 350 mg
Manganese 2 mg
Niacin 18 mg
Pantothenic Acid 6 mg
Phosphorus 700 mg
Potassium 4700 mg
Riboflavin 1.4 mg
Thiamine 1.4 mg
Vitamin A 2567 IU
Vitamin B6 1.9 mg
Vitamin B12 2.6 mcg
Vitamin C 85 mg
Vitamin D 600 IU
Vitamin E 15 mg
Vitamin K 90 mcg
Zinc 11 mg

Truthfully, you should make sure your diet is full of the above nutrients first and foremost, but some days you might have to rely on your supplement to complete it. Some vitamins and minerals might be necessary for you to take separately if you are unable to get enough from your diet and your prenatal vitamin, such as calcium or iron. Be sure to ask your doctor if she thinks you might need to take other supplements besides your prenatal vitamin.

On top of these vitamins and minerals, it is also important to eat an adequate amount of protein (at least 70 grams each day), drink plenty of water (at least 8 cups) and eat food with lots of fiber. Protein is a vital building block in your baby’s developing body, and you need quite a bit more of it during pregnancy than when you are not pregnant. Water is a must to make sure that all the vitamins and minerals from your prenatal and your food are taken to your baby. It is also essential if you want to avoid a UTI, constipation, and hemorrhoids.³ Eating fiber can help reduce how often you experience heartburn, constipation, and indigestion as well as significantly lower your risk for developing preeclampsia.⁴

Essential Nutrients You Need While Breastfeeding

Your nutrient needs do change somewhat while you are breastfeeding. The changes are as follows (changes in bold):

Calcium 1000 mg
Biotin 35 mcg
Choline 550 mg
Chromium 45 mcg
Copper 1.3 mg
DHA 300 mg
Folic Acid 500 mg
Iodine 290 mcg
Iron 9 mg
Magnesium 310 mg
Manganese 2.6 mg
Niacin 17 mg

Pantothenic Acid 7 mg
Phosphorus 700 mg
Potassium 5100 mg
Riboflavin 1.6 mg
Thiamine 1.4 mg
Vitamin A 4333 IU
Vitamin B6 2.0 mg
Vitamin B12 2.8 mcg
Vitamin C 120 mg
Vitamin D 600 IU
Vitamin E 19 mg
Vitamin K 90 mcg
Zinc 12 mg

If you are not sure what you can eat to get these nutrients, ask your doctor. He should be able to tell you some good sources for each one so you can have a well-balanced diet while you are breastfeeding.

It might seem like you can eat whatever you feel like (cravings, anyone?) while you are pregnant and breastfeeding, but that could not be further from the truth. The consequences on your health as well as your baby’s can be immediate and/or long-term. Eat well and take your prenatal vitamin, and you and your baby will have greater chances of being healthy now and in the future.

Please consult your physician for your own situation. This is an informational post and should not be taken as medical advice.

¹”Pregnancy food: What you eat can affect your child for life” by Amy Fleming for The Guardian
² “Prenatal Nutrition: How it Really Affects Your Unborn Child” by Chantal Wilford for The Feminist Breeder
³ “Are You Drinking Enough Water During Pregnancy” from What to Expect
⁴ “In the Rough: Easy Ways to Get Fiber on Board” by Monica Gullon for Fit Pregnancy
Nutrient amounts came from these sources:
Micronutrient Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation” from Oregon State University
Pregnancy nutrients you need to help your baby grow” from Baby Center
Vitamins and Minerals During Pregnancy” from March of Dimes
Your Healthy Pregnancy Diet: Top Nutrients” from WebMD

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I'm a mom of 3 on a journey to feed my family nourishing foods. Personally, I believe that you can feed your family healthy, delicious meals without spending a fortune or slaving away in the kitchen.


  1. I love that you’re touching on this topic. Often in our culture women use pregnancy as an excuse to eat terribly and gain crazy amounts of weight. It can seem really tough to get proper nutrition when you’re already feeling like a little alien has invaded your body, or you have young children running around, but it can make a night and day difference. I ate poorly with my first two, slightly better with my second two, and really well with my last (lots of quality fats and veggies). It might seem crazy, but I felt amazing with my 5th. Glad you’re getting the word out!

    • You’re right, too many women are gaining tons of weight during pregnancy because they are using the “cravings” excuse far too much. I personally don’t believe in cravings, but I never experienced them. I only hope that more women can be conscious of what they are putting in their bodies so their babies can get the best start to life!


  1. […] in mind that, if you do breastfeed, you should try to eat the healthiest foods possible, which could mean your grocery bill […]

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