The Best Foods To Eat While Pregnant

A trimester-by-trimester guide on what to eat when you have a bun in the oven

If you're pregnant, you've probably read all about what you're supposed to avoid: alcohol, caffeine, unpasteurized cheeses, sushi, etc. But what about the foods you should be eating to bolster your baby's development? We spoke to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, the New York Times best-selling author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide, to get intel about what you can eat while you're pregnant. With these tips—and with input from your doctor, of course—you'll be well on your way to a delicious and healthy 40 weeks.

While Trying

"If you're trying to get pregnant, folic acid is crucial to the development of the neural tubes," Largeman-Roth says. "These tubes start to develop immediately after conception, and most women don't find they're pregnant for six to eight weeks." Prenatal vitamins will get you about halfway to the recommended 800 micrograms a day of folic acid; Largeman-Roth recommends supplementing them with rich foods like oranges and orange juice, asparagus, edamame, lentils, and spinach.

First Trimester  

Because of neural tube development, folic acid is as crucial in the first trimester as it is during preconception. 

Iron is also critical; a woman's blood volume increases by 50 percent when pregnant, and that ramps up during the first trimester. Largeman-Roth notes that about half of pregnant women become anemic, because they are not getting enough iron (30 milligrams a day). For this reason, she recommends supplementing prenatal vitamins with an iron pill or foods such as steak, bison, chicken breast, cooked spinach and fortified cereals like Total Raisin Bran. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so don't be afraid to pile on the red pepper romesco or load up on orange slices, soccer mom-style.

Calcium is another nutrient to focus on. "Even in month three, the baby's bones are growing a lot, and tooth buds develop during this time, too," Largeman-Roth says. Getting the recommended 1,000 milligrams a day is as easy as taking a supplement or eating plain yogurt, cheese, milk, calcium-fortified orange juice (shake it up, because calcium settles at the bottom), tofu made with calcium sulfate, canned salmon and dried figs.

Largeman-Roth raises one hitch: Because calcium gets in the way of your body absorbing iron, don't take your calcium supplement at same time as your iron pill. She suggests taking iron and prenatal in the morning, and calcium at night before bedtime.

Second Trimester

The second trimester is a big growth phase, so it's essential to get at least 60 grams of protein a day. Since the body can absorb only 30 grams of protein at once, it's important to spread out your protein consumption throughout the day. Animal protein is great, as is cooked quinoa, edamame, black beans, peanut butter, almond butter and Greek yogurt.

Additionally, Largeman-Roth explains, choline is crucial to the baby's brain development and plays a role in preventing birth defects; it may also contribute to a child's memory and ability to learn. Luckily, choline is found in pretty routine foods, including eggs yolks, cauliflower, pork chops and wheat germ, which Largeman-Roth recommends you keep in your fridge and sprinkle on everything. If you decide to breastfeed, continue to get as much choline as possible.

Lastly, vitamin A is vital for both skin and eye cell growth, and can be found in carrots, spinach, kale, cantaloupes, papayas, sweet potatoes, apricots and mangoes.

Third Trimester

During the third trimester, aim to get 300 milligrams of DHA omega-3s, which are essential for brain development and growth of the nervous system. They're usually contained in the fish oil soft gel tab supplement that comes with a prenatal; you can also get them from fish like salmon, herring, tuna, cod, anchovies and sardines. Vegans can take algae supplements.

Andrea Strong has been writing about food for the past 15 years. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her two kids and her big appetite. Follow her on Twitter at @strongbuzz.