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The importance of good nutrition

Following a healthy diet will ensure you have adequate stores of nutrients to meet your and your baby's needs during pregnancy. Follow the principles of healthy eating and choose appropriately from the major food groups, making sure you have a well-balanced and varied diet:


Food group

Number of servings a day

Starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, breakfast cereals, porridge oats, rice, pasta and potatoes

5 to 7

Fruit and vegetables - all types, fresh, juiced, frozen or canned

At least 5

Milk and dairy products, for instance, low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese

2 to 3

Meat, fish and alternatives, for example, lean meat, poultry, eggs, white fish, oily fish, peas, beans and pulses


Fat and sugar rich foods, such as butter, margarine, cooking fats, pastries, cream, crisps, cakes, chocolate, sugary drinks, biscuits and sweets

Keep to a minimum

Body Weight and Fertiliy

Being a healthy body weight is important before pregnancy. If you're underweight, it can be more difficult to conceive and if you're overweight, you run a greater risk of complications such as high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy.

The ideal range is usually calculated using the body mass index (BMI) of 20 to 25. Take steps either to try to lose or gain weight where necessary, in a sensible way - crash dieting will not be good for your overall health and may deplete your nutrient stores.

Even a small weight loss can greatly increase your ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. If you're concerned about your weight, you may find it useful to speak to your doctor or practice nurse for further advice.

Folic Acid

Taking folic acid before and in the very early stages of pregnancy can reduce the risk of your baby suffering from neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should take a supplement that provides 400mcg folic acid per day. This is in addition to a dietary intake of folic acid of about 200mcg per day.

Once pregnant, women should continue taking a 400mcg supplement for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Rich dietary sources include fortified breakfast cereals, bread, green leafy vegetables (such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and green beans), oranges, dried beans, peas and lentils. Some supermarkets and food manufacturers identify good sources of folic acid with a special label. Look out for these next time you go shopping.

Women who've already had an NTD-affected pregnancy should take a supplement that provides 5mg a day. See your doctor for more information.


Ideally, you shouldn't need a vitamin and mineral supplement (apart from folic acid) if you're eating a healthy diet. However, if you want to take a supplement, choose a specially formulated prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement. These are more likely to provide nutrients in balanced amounts, not high doses that may be dangerous to your health.

Dads Too

Being super-fit and healthy is also important for men who are hoping to conceive. There have been numerous research studies looking at preconceptual nutrition in men. We know that diets low in zinc can reduce sperm counts, while excessive alcohol intake can reduce zinc levels even further. Zinc is found in food such as meat, wholegrain cereals, seafood, eggs and pulses.

Another nutrient that has a role in male fertility is selenium. Brazil nuts contain lots of this important mineral, along with meat, seafood, mushrooms and cereals. As with women, being very overweight or underweight can influence your fertility significantly. Aim to be the right weight for your height by eating sensibly and exercising on a regular basis.

The key message is to stick firmly within the alcohol limits - or reduce them further - and embark on a healthy-eating regime to ensure you and your sperm are in tip-top condition. Don't expect results overnight - better quality sperm will result in about three months, the length of the sperm production cycle.

Plan well in advance of the intended time of conception. Each day, simply choose food from each of the major food groups, as outlined in nutrition basics This will help you ensure you have a diet packed with energy-giving carbohydrates, moderate in protein and fat (but low in saturated fat) and rich in vitamins and minerals.