Women's Health

Healthy Eating Habits During Pregnancy

Here are our dietitian’s top tips for what to eat and drink during pregnancy, as well as common foods and beverages to avoid.

Jan. 15, 2021 6   min read

Pregnant woman eating

One of the most common questions in early pregnancy is “what should I eat when expecting?” While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, and every woman’s situation is different, there are some guidelines you can follow that help you maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy and understand what foods and beverages you should avoid. 

Here are our registered dietitian’s top tips for what to eat and drink during pregnancy, as well as common foods and beverages to avoid.

Maintaining healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight gain during pregnancy is important for you and your baby. “Not gaining enough weight throughout your pregnancy can increase the risk of your baby being born prematurely or small for their age,” says Catherine Stephan, RD, CDN. “Gaining too much weight during your pregnancy can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, and having a larger baby which can lead to complications during delivery.”

How much weight you should gain depends on how much you weighed before you became pregnant. “Most women should gain around 25-35 pounds, and you may need to gain a few more pounds if you were underweight and a few less pounds if you were overweight before you got pregnant.”

Most women require about 300-400 additional calories per day during pregnancy which can be met by eating one additional small meal or two small snacks daily. Focus on eating a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods rather than how much you are eating.

Eat protein, fats and carbohydrates

Eating a balanced diet of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates is essential to maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy. It’s important to eat nutrient-dense foods that will help you pass along vitamins and minerals to baby.

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods from the main food groups, as well as key nutrients:

  • Protein: Aim to eat at least 70 grams of lean protein per day, which can include chicken, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds, beans, and even dairy if you have the tolerance for it. Greek yogurt is a great source of protein.
  • Fats: It may sound counterintuitive, but eating healthy fats are among the best ways to stay healthy, especially during pregnancy. During pregnancy, 20-35% of your total calories should come from healthy fats like fish, (such as fully cooked salmon, tuna, cod, and haddock), avocados, nuts, and plant-based oils like olive and canola oil. Aim for 2-3 servings of fish per week.
  • Carbohydrates: Choose veggies, fruits, and whole grains like brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, whole grain pastas and oatmeal as your carb sources. Do your best to stay away from junk foods like chips, desserts, sweets, and ice cream. These are empty calories that offer no nutritional value to you or your baby, so you may find yourself still hungry and eating more.

*Dietitian Tip: Use MyPlate to help balance your meals. Start by making half your plate fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget to include high calcium foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, beans, nuts and leafy green vegetables like spinach.

Drink water

Aim to drink at least 64 ounces (8 cups) of water every day. Drinking water is key to keeping your body functioning at its best and keeping everything moving along as it should. Water helps build new tissue, carry nutrients in the foods you’re eating, helps with digestion, and eases constipation—one of the common side effects of pregnancy.

*Dietitian Tip: For an added boost of flavor and to cut back on drinks that are higher in sugar like soda or fruit juice, try creating your own fruit-infused water. Simply add a few slices of fresh lemon, lime or orange to your water or try more creative combinations like strawberry and fresh basil or cucumber and fresh mint. Frozen fruits work great too! The longer you let the fruits infuse the more intense the flavor will be.

Eat fiber-rich foods

Fiber-rich foods have several benefits for everyone, and for expecting mothers and their babies, fiber goes even further. The nutritional benefits of fiber include lowering blood pressure and stabilizing blood sugar, which can decrease the risk of preeclampsia and help protect you from developing diabetes during your pregnancy.

Fiber also helps you battle constipation, which is common in the second and third months of pregnancy, as well as helping you feel full without needing to consume empty calories that may be tempting throughout pregnancy. 

Common fiber-rich foods:

  • 100% whole wheat bread
  • Oatmeal, cereal, brown rice
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Artichokes
  • Apples
  • Raspberries
  • Pears
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils

What to Avoid

Certain foods and beverages that we consume regularly should be avoided during pregnancy to reduce risks during labor and delivery, and during baby’s development.


Some soft cheese such as brie, gouda, blue cheese, feta and some Mexican-style cheeses like queso blanco or queso fresco may be unpasteurized or made from raw milk. Raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli, and listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous food-borne illnesses. Listeria can cause miscarriage, fetal death, illness, or death of a newborn.

Pasteurized hard or firm cheeses such as cheddar, swiss, and parmesan are safe. If you’re eating at a restaurant, ask your server if the cheese is pasteurized or unpasteurized.

*Dietitian Tip: When in doubt check the ingredients on the nutrition facts label. If cheese or other dairy products contain “pasteurized milk” they are generally safe to eat.

Deli meat

Cold deli meat can contain listeria and should be avoided during pregnancy. Listeriosis is an infection that is passed on through contaminated food, and it primarily affects people with weakened immune systems like pregnant women, newborns, and older adults.

If you eat deli or luncheon meats, it’s recommended that you heat them up in the microwave or oven before consuming.


Drink no more than one 12 oz cup of caffeinated beverage like coffee, tea or soda per day during your pregnancy (200 mg). Excess caffeine can increase the risk of spontaneous miscarriage and stillbirth, and may also decrease your baby's birth weight.


Mothers who smoke are more likely to deliver babies early, and preterm delivery is the leading cause of death, disability, and disease among newborns, according to the CDC. Babies whose mothers smoke are about three times more likely to die from SIDS.

Want to quit smoking? Our Smoking Cessation program can help à


Drinking any amount of alcohol is unsafe in pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it quickly reaches her baby and can seriously harm her baby's health. The same amount of alcohol in your blood is in baby's blood. Alcohol is much more harmful to a baby or child than an adult.

Risks of drinking alcohol

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Mental deficiencies
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Problems with joints and limbs
  • Heart defects
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, anxiety, and poor attention span

If you think you have a drinking problem, talk to your provider or call Lifeline at (585) 275-5151, or Alcoholics Anonymous at (585) 232-6720.


Using drugs in pregnancy can harm your baby. The following are drugs and their effects on baby:

  • Marijuana. Smoking releases carbon monoxide which can prevent baby from getting enough oxygen.
  • Cocaine. Any way you use it, cocaine can cause bleeding, premature birth, and fetal death. Your baby can be born with withdrawal symptoms, slow growth, brain injury, fussiness, long term behavioral, emotional, and learning problems.
  • Heroin and other narcotics. When used during pregnancy, heroin can cause fetal death, addiction in the fetus, preterm birth, low birth weight, delays in development, and behavior problems.
  • Methamphetamines (Meth). Meth can cause placental abruption or even fetal death. Baby may grow too slowly, and after birth may be more fussy than normal, have trouble bonding with others, and experience tremors.
  • Glues and solvents. Inhaling solvents can cause users to feel lightheaded and dizzy. It can also damage the liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and brain. Risks include miscarriage, slow growth, and premature birth.

Using any street drugs in pregnancy can permanently harm your baby. If you need help quitting drugs, please talk to your provider or call the numbers below.

Lifeline: (585) 275-5151

Narcotics Anonymous: (585) 234-7889 or 1-818-772-9999

Monroe County Drug Hotline: (585) 275-0505

NEXT STEPS Women's Care that Changes Lives

We partner with women to provide personalized, comprehensive OBGYN care throughout all stages of life, from annual OBGYN exams to maternity and childbirth care, specialized gynecologic treatments and more.

Learn More
womens health icon