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Mom's Guide to Vitamins and Minerals

Shifting to a healthy balanced diet becomes even more vital when pregnant and breastfeeding. The best way to get your vitamins and minerals is from natural sources, but making sure you do so can be quite taxing – eminently with the increasing food cravings and aversions while pregnant or the demanding days with baby at home for breastfeeding moms. This is why doctors recommend that you take supplements or a prenatal vitamin during these stages of your life. Before you drive yourself bonkers understanding an array of vitamins and minerals, get to know the essential ones you will need, their easily obtainable natural sources, and how much your body needs for a healthy baby and you. 

Folic Acid

A pregnant woman should take in 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. This helps prevent the birth defect spina bifida. It’s advisable to take folic acid when you reach a childbearing age or start as soon as you conceive. Your doctor may advise you to take a folic acid supplement until you are 12 weeks pregnant.

Natural sources:

Brown rice, green leafy vegetables, and fortified products like margarine, cereals, and bread.


Vitamin D

Calcium and phosphate are needed in pregnancy to keep bones and teeth healthy, and vitamin D regulates these. Vitamin D also provides your baby with enough of it for his first few months of life, since lack of vitamin D in children may lead to rickets. Take 10 micrograms daily while pregnant and breastfeeding. 

Natural sources:

Sun exposure is the best source of vitamin D. You do not need to sunbathe to receive this vitamin since your body absorbs enough of it even before you tan. You may also get your dose of vitamin D in eggs, meat, and oily fish.



Iron deficiency leads to anemia. You may feel extra tired when low in iron, which may add to the exhaustion you already experience from being pregnant. If you’re breastfeeding, this is also a very important mineral to take. You’ll be losing blood from delivery and from menstruation, which can also cause fatigue. A daily dose of 27 milligrams is recommended during and after pregnancy.

Natural sources:

Nuts, dried fruit, lean meat, and green leafy vegetables.


Your growing baby needs calcium for the development of bones and teeth, a healthy heart, muscles, and nerves. Lactating moms also need calcium. Studies show that women can lose up to 5% of their bone mass while breastfeeding. This may be from your child’s need for the mineral, drawing it from your bones. The recommended daily calcium intake is 1,000 milligrams.

Natural sources:

Dairy products, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables, and fish with edible bones.


Vitamin C

Your body needs to fight infection, particularly when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and vitamin C can help you do that. It also repairs tissue, heals wounds, contributes to healthy skin, and helps your body absorb iron. Your baby will also benefit from it as it’s necessary for collagen building. Just make sure you take no more than 2,000 milligrams a day. Some studies show that too much of it can lead to preterm birth. 

Natural sources:

Citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and bell peppers.



DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids essential for the development of your baby’s brain, nerves, and eyes. A daily dose of 300 milligrams is recommended for pregnant and lactating women.

Natural sources:

Look for quality fish oil to avoid the possibility of ingesting mercury from fresh fish.

Creating Weekly Pregnancy Menu

Eating the right food and getting proper nutrition is essential when you're pregnant. Remember, you're eating for two this time, so it's important you're mindful of everything that goes into your system. You're making all the decisions for the baby, so make sure they're the right ones. But eating healthy doesn't need to be boring. Knowing how to replace food that's off-limits with smart, not to mention tasty, choices can mean the difference between a dull drab meal and something you and your child will both benefit from, and enjoy to boot. To help you plan your meals, here are some foods you need to watch out for, and their safer replacements.


What you want: Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, feta, and goat cheese

Why you should pass: Unpasteurized cheese could potentially contain listeria, a bacteria that causes Listeriosis, a life-threatening disease. Pregnant mothers, the elderly, and AIDS patients are most at risk for Listeria infection.

What you should have instead: Soft cheeses like Havarti, Port Salut, ricotta salata, and some types of Brie. Fresh cheeses like cream cheese, fresh mozzarella, cottage cheese, and mascarpone. Just make sure to check the label.


What you want: Cold cuts and deli meat

Why you should pass: If you're getting them from a deli where they've been sitting in their refrigerated cases, usually exposed, you're at risk of contracting harmful bacteria that might be lurking there.

What you should have instead: If they're packaged well in a vacuum-sealed container, it shouldn't be a problem. Just avoid getting it straight from the counter. If you really must, make sure they heat the meat properly to kill any bacteria before ingesting it.


What you want: High-mercury fish like tuna steaks, saltwater bass, king mackerel, swordfish, or grouper

Why you should pass: Mercury is extremely harmful to a developing baby's nervous system.

What you should have instead: Fish that contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, herring, and sardines. Research has found that fatty acids like DHA help develop a baby's brain. Other safe seafood are shrimp, haddock, catfish, tilapia, scallops, and cod. All cooked, of course.

What you want: Sushi

Why you should pass: Aside from the high mercury levels found in some sushi, you could also potentially contract a parasite, which is harder to treat when you're pregnant. The parasite could also take nutrients from your baby.

What you should have instead: Cooked sushi rolls made with eel, crab rolls, California rolls, or veggie rolls made with cucumber. Various tempuras (battered and fried) are also good and tasty alternatives.


What you want: Raw or runny eggs

Why you should pass: You could run the risk of contracting salmonella if you ingest raw yolk. Remember, your immune system is weaker when you're pregnant. If you get sick, the dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea can affect fetal growth and could lead to preterm labor.

What you should have instead: Have your eggs but make sure that they are cooked all the way through. Eggs are a good source of protein and choline.


What you want: Coffee, and more than one cup!

Why you should pass: Having two to three cups of a caffeinated drink daily can raise risk of miscarriage. It's also linked to preterm delivery and low birth weight.

What you should have instead: Decaf coffee or keep it under a cup a day.


What you want: Saccharine, a.k.a. artificial sweeteners like Equal or NutraSweet

Why you should pass: Aside from the fact that you probably shouldn't be taking anything labeled "artificial," saccharine can also cross placenta and be absorbed into the baby's bloodstream.

What you should have instead: Use honey, maple syrup, or agave to naturally sweeten your drinks or food.


What you want: Herbal teas like chamomile and hibiscus

Why you should pass: Some research has shown that certain herbal teas can cause problems like preterm labor so it's best to stay away from them. Other teas that may not be safe are comfrey and sassafras.

What you should have instead: Ginger tea, peppermint tea, and rooibos tea are all beneficial teas for pregnant women.


What you want: Alcohol

Why you should pass: Increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and can result in fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a lifelong condition that results in poor growth, abnormality, and damage to the central nervous system.

What you should have instead: "Virgin" or non-alcoholic versions of your favorite drinks. Ginger beer (contains no alcohol) is a delicious substitute as well.

Pregnancy Food Pyramid

Keep up with your rapidly changing body by eating right and getting the proper nutrition for you and your baby. Knowing which food to eat, how often, and how much of it you should be eating is extremely important. Remember, you're eating for two now. To help you ensure you're eating right, here's a handy guide: 



How much you should be eating: Nine to 11 servings a day.

What you should be eating: Cereal, rice, pasta, bread, oatmeal, and crackers. At least half of them should be whole grain.

Meal options: 

Breakfast: Steel-cut oats topped with fresh fruit, sweetened with honey

Lunch: Brown rice and grilled salmon steak with roasted veggies

Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with Bolognese sauce



How much you should be eating: Four to five servings a day.

What you should be eating: Dark leafy greens like kale or spinach, peas, carrots, corn, potatoes, spinach, bell pepper, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Meal options:

Breakfast: Poached eggs with wilted spinach and pan-fried tomatoes, served with a toasted English muffin

Lunch: Grilled asparagus over brown rice and roasted chicken breast

Dinner: Mixed greens salad with raspberry vinaigrette and pan-fried pork chop



How much you should be eating: Three to four servings a day.

What you should be eating: Fresh (as much as possible), canned (rarely), dried fruit, or fruit juice. Apples, oranges, kiwis, papaya, strawberries, pineapple, and melons.

Meal options:

Breakfast: Fresh fruit with yogurt and granola

Lunch: Grilled pineapple, as a side dish

Dinner: Poached pears for dessert


Milk and Dairy 

How much you should be eating: Three servings a day.

What you should be eating: Yogurt, pasteurized cheese, and milk. Dairy is a great source of calcium for your baby's growing bones and teeth.

Meal options: 

Breakfast: Bananas and cottage cheese

Lunch: Spinach and ricotta ravioli with tomato cream sauce

Dinner: Mild chicken curry with yogurt sauce


Meat and Beans

How much you should be eating: Three servings a day.

What you should be eating: Lean meats, beans, and nuts.

Meal options:

Breakfast: Oven-baked bacon and scrambled eggs

Lunch: Lentil soup with vegetables and sausage

Dinner: Baked beans and grilled leg of lamb


Take note!

  • Good oils like olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower, and flaxseed are all heart-healthy oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Use them in place of lard or butter.
  • In the first trimester, eat foods rich in folate, vitamin B6, and iron. Folate helps develop your baby's nervous system, vitamin B6 aids in easing nausea, while iron-rich meals are beneficial as your blood volume increases.
  • During the second trimester, meals rich in calcium and vitamin D are needed to help with bone and teeth development. Omega 3 fatty acids for brain development should also be included in your meal plan.
  • For the third trimester, go for energy boosting food. Vitamin K is also important during this time as it assists the blood to clot, which is beneficial for giving birth. It’s also a good supplement to breast milk (since babies with Vitamin K deficiency can bruise or bleed spontaneously).