Prenatal Nutrition for OPTIMAL Health

I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to pregnancy… so I figure I am somewhat of an expert on the topic now 😉 I’ve compiled a pretty comprehensive, but far from complete, list of what to look for when thinking of becoming pregnant or if you are already blessed with a bun in the oven.


Photo credit: Simply Dreaming Photography

My approach on nutrition of any kind is pretty simple – Bring it back to Basics, meaning removing/limiting foods that don’t naturally support a healthy, meaningful diet. Anything processed and/or refined or most items from the centre isles of the grocery store. You want to crowd out all foods that don’t serve you by replacing the bad with the good. Fill your diet so full of good, healthy, nutritious food that you don’t have any space or appetite for the “other” stuff.

When thinking about family planning, you want to make these healthy lifestyle changes now, but generally speaking about 3 months prior to even thinking about trying to conceive. It’s never too late or too early to start, so if you haven’t already started, get on it! I’ll go through a couple points to get you started.

Monitor your weight. Check your BMI and work towards getting yourself into the “healthy” range of 18.5-25. Most importantly, you want to feel good here. You want to be comfortable in your own skin. BMI doesn’t take muscle into consideration, so the system can be slightly flawed in that regard so use it as a guideline only.

Start a fitness program. I don’t mean go all athlete, but start introducing various exercise programs, experiment and see what you like and go with it. You want to find something you enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it, chances are you won’t stick with it for any length of time. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. These are not temporary changes you’re making, you want to see lifelong shifts here. Find something that works and feels right for YOU.

Begin a stress relief regiment. This varies for everyone. For me it’s yoga, for others it can be walking, swimming, tai chi, running, whatever. You want to try out a bunch of them to see what really resonates with you. Same rules apply as the previous statement. I can’t stress enough how important it is for YOU to enjoy this. It doesn’t matter what others are doing. It needs to feel whole and complete to you and you alone. Limiting your exposure to toxic situations, relationships and limiting behaviours can help in the area of stress relief as well.

Begin taking HIGH QUALITY supplements. Do your research (I’ve listed some points at the end of this post). Look for a company that follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), uses only raw organic materials (preferably free of GMOs), manufactures to pharmaceutical grade standards and is a science based company.

Fix your diet. Take this time to really work on your diet. Eliminate all the junk and crap that’s not fitting. By preparing early, it will help alleviate the urges and cravings when you get down to business. Taking care of your diet NOW will help support you during pregnancy as well as support the development of your baby from infancy all the way into adulthood.

Weight Gain. ALL ladies need to gain weight while pregnant. It will vary for everyone, but a simple guideline would be to gain about 3.5 lbs in the first trimester and roughly 1lb a week after.

BMI >18 (Underweight)      28-40lbs
BMI 18-25 (Healthy)          25-35lbs
BMI 26-29 (Overweight)    15-25lbs
BMI <30 (Obese)               no more than 15lbs

You will need to increase your calorie intake to support the extra energy requirements. First trimester there is not really a need for an increase in calories, but second trimester you will add an additional 240 cal./day and third trimester you will add an additional 450 cal./day to account for the extra energy expenditures. This may seem like a lot, but it’s not. You’re growing a human and that takes A LOT of energy! I will only state this once because I don’t feel it needs to be repeated – Pregnancy is NOT the time for you to think about dieting. Go easy on yourself. Watching your body grow and change is an absolutely beautiful experience. Welcome these changes with an open and happy heart.

Weight gain is an important indicator of good nutrition and fetal development during pregnancy. Keep in mind that extra blood volume, enlargement of the breasts and growth of the placenta and uterus will increase weight.

Where do we get these extra calories? 

A healthy diet during pregnancy, like a healthy diet at other times, consists of various quantities of foods from different food groups. Variety is always a good thing.

Remember, not all calories are created equal. This is important. Here is a good info-graphic to get the point across.

400 calories

You want to fill those extra caloric needs with nutrient dense food, not empty calories such as cookies and chips or “bad” carbs like processed breads or bagels. If you are not getting the nutrients you need through proper nutrition your baby will take what it needs from you causing you to become deficient. Deficiencies can lead to various issues like feeling tired, run down, groggy and other more/less serious maladies.


Required to keep up with the additional energy requirements for fetal development.

Increase HIGH QUALITY carbohydrates (energy)

This will account for roughly 600-700 calories/day. Make them count.
You can get these from whole grains (quinoa, couscous, buckwheat, brown rice, ect), dark leafy greens, and legumes.

Increase your PROTEIN to about 25g/day

Protein is needed for the developing baby as well as your placenta, which provides the baby with the nutrients it needs.
Look for LEAN meats (organic, free-range, grass fed where possible), wild cold water fish (limit to 2, 4-6oz servings/week)

For Vegetarians/Vegans – legumes, grains, nuts & seeds

GOOD Fats – Long Chain Fatty Acids (OMEGAs)

Omegas are required for healthy spinal and brain development of your baby.
Benefits for Mom include a reduced risk of pre-term labour, reduced risk of PPD (Postpartum Depression) and reduced inflammation.
You get your Omega 3s from nuts, seeds, oils and fish
Up your intake to 1000 mg/day of mixed DHA & EPA.

Cool little fact – The brain contains MORE fat tissue than any other organ in the body (besides actual fat tissue). You want to make sure you are supporting your noodle with what it needs to function properly.

Omega 3s are also incredibly important while breastfeeding, but I’ll save that for another post.


It is important for pregnant women to drink plenty of water, as water is an essential nutrient and demand for water increases during pregnancy. It is recommended that women drink at least 8 glasses of water each day during pregnancy.


Important for the formation of blood cells and all other cells within your body

It is important that pregnant women are aware that many micro-nutrients are interrelated in function, so a deficiency in one micro-nutrient might affect the utilization of other micro-nutrients. For example, vitamin K influences the absorption of calcium; the absorption of iron from plant sources is increased when more vitamin C is available; and vitamin B12 is involved in converting folate to the form in which it can be absorbed by the body, known as methyl-tetrahydrofolate.

While pregnant women should obtain the majority of their micro-nutrients from dietary sources (the food they eat), in some cases it is necessary for a pregnant woman to take vitamin or mineral supplements, in addition to eating a healthy balanced diet.

Here are a couple micro-nutrients to watch for…

Folate – An essential micro-nutrient involved in DNA Synthesis, which means that without adequate levels of folate, cells cannot divide and replicate and growth is restricted. A deficiency in folate can lead to neural tube defects in infants.
Increase to 6 mg/day
Foods that are rich in Folic acid include: Lentils, leafy greens, citrus, asparagus, kidney beans, sunflower seeds and avocado.

B12 – Required for DNA synthesis (production of new DNA) and maintaining normal blood and brain functions.
Should be getting at least 2.6 mg/day
You get this from meat, fish, eggs & dairy
Vegetarian & vegans need to watch their levels of B12. Look for soy, almond and rice-based products fortified with B12

Vitamin D – An important function in assisting the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus. It is also an important nutrient for optimal immune function, maintaining healthy skin and muscle strength.
Visit your doctor to have your Vitamin D levels checked.
Obtain from fatty fish and the sun. For those of us in colder climates who generally only see the beautiful sun about 6-8 months of the year, we are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D.


Calcium – Nutrient that helps you build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your heart, muscles and nerves work properly.
Milk is not the only source of calcium as the dairy industry would have you believe. There are many other (better) alternatives such as black beans, white beans, sesame seed butter, almonds and collard greens and kale to name a few.

Iron – Iron is a component of a number of essential proteins, including hemoglobin which is essential for transporting oxygen in the blood.
Inadequate iron intake can lead to a range of iron deficiency disorders, from low iron stores at the mild end of the spectrum to iron deficiency anemia at the severe end. Symptoms of these disorders include fatigue, jaundice and reduced work capacity.
It is advisable to get your Iron levels checked by your doctor. During pregnancy, a woman’s requirements for Iron increase significantly.
Obtain Iron from: Spirulina, chia seeds and kale.

This is not a complete list by any means, but a pretty solid start. Check with your health care professional for more details or feel free to contact me with questions.


What to look for in a nutritional supplement…

  1. HIGHEST Quality – Do your research. Cheaper doesn’t mean better.
  2. A company that follows pharmaceutical GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices)
  3. Pharmaceutical grade using raw materials, organic and free of GMOs
  4. A science based company with a history to back them up
  5. Potency Guarantee – Guaranteeing that what is stated on the label is actually contained in the bottle
  6. Operates an FDA registered facility

Take a look at NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements™, Consumer Edition and find out how your current supplement rates. Usana Health Sciences which was named Editor’s Choice, and has had two products (Essentials and HealthPak) each receive a top 5-star rating and Gold Medal of Achievement is my main choice over any other supplement on the market.

Check out this informational video to hear all about Usana’s strict manufacturing process from start to finish:

Cheers to a HAPPY and HEALTHY pregnancy!

Sheena Cunning is a mother of 3 young children, aged 8, 3 and 1. She is a studying Health Coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition based out of New York City and a practicing certified Yoga Instructor offering classes out of Yoga by Sarah ( in St. Catharines. She is also a Wellness Coach and USANA Brand Ambassador. Her passions include yoga, nutrition, cooking, women’s/Prenatal health and children’s health.

Sheena will be taking coaching clients on in April 2013. She can be reached at to arrange a complimentary Health Assessment and get on her waiting list.

Learn more about Sheena’s Health Coaching Practice:
Learn more about Usana Health Sciences:
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