Nutritional status during pregnancy is one of the most important factors affecting foetal growth and development.



Adequate weight gain during pregnancy is essential to ensure optimal growth of a baby. But how much weight should one actually gain? The following is recommended:

Women with a normal weight and BMI (18.5–24.9kg/m2) 11–16kg
Women who are underweight and have a BMI of less than 18.5kg/m2 12–18kg
Women who are overweight and have a BMI of more than 25kg/m2 6–11kg
Women carrying twins 16–21kg



Women are encouraged to follow a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy. It is particularly important to consume fresh fruit and vegetables as many vitamin and mineral requirements are increased during pregnancy (especially calcium, iron, folate, vitamin C).

Calcium Milk and milk products, broccoli, dried beans, orange juice
Iron Red meat (beef, lamb, mutton, venison, biltong), dried beans and legumes, fortified cereals, spinach, raisins

NOTE: Foods containing iron are better absorbed if eaten with foods containing vitamin C.

Folate Fortified whole grain products, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, bananas, dried beans
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, strawberries, melon, kiwi fruit, broccoli, green and red bell peppers, tomatoes

Vitamin and mineral supplementation during pregnancy may be necessary for specific individuals (speak to your dietitian or doctor about whether you need to take a supplement). Supplementation is generally recommended in the following cases:

  • Poor, inadequate diet
  • Pregnant with twins / triplets
  • Vegans
  • Iron deficiency anaemia
  • Smokers

Omega-3 fatty acids
It is recommended that women consume oily fish 2–3 times per week during pregnancy. Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, pilchards, sardines, snoek, mackerel and anchovies. Fish with high levels of mercury, such as swordfish, shark and tilefish, should be avoided as mercury contamination has been associated with negative birth outcomes.

Fish still remains an important part of the diet and should be not be excluded. It is recommended that pregnant women who do not eat fish take a fish oil supplement (speak to your dietitian or doctor).

Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach and fortified products such as eggs.



Water intake
Women should ensure that they drink enough water during pregnancy: at least 9–10 glasses per day. This requirement is usually met through increased levels of thirst. Women who exercise should ensure that they remain hydrated and drink enough water during the day, as their fluid requirements may be higher.

Women should remain active during their pregnancy. Exercise recommendations are similar to non-pregnant women: 30 minutes of activity 3-5 times per week. Types of physical activity recommended include walking, jogging, cycling or swimming.

A safe level of alcohol during pregnancy has not been determined, therefore it is strongly advised that pregnant women refrain from drinking any alcohol. High amounts of alcohol have been associated with adverse effects such as foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) which is associated with impaired mental development, inadequate growth and facial abnormalities.



  • Eat a variety of foods to ensure a balanced intake.

  • Introduce more fibre-rich foods into the diet, such as whole wheat breads and cereals (oats, oat bran, All Bran, Hi Fibre Bran, whole wheat Pronutro), beans and other legumes, and fruit and vegetables.
  • Include more fresh fruits and vegetables into the diet, especially dark green leafy and orange-coloured vegetables.
  • Drink at least 9–10 glasses of water per day.
  • Cook all meat, fish and eggs completely before eating.
  • Consume dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) every day. Use only pasteurized milk, cheese and other milk products, as unpasteurized products may cause Listeria infection.
  • Keep caffeine intake to less than 4 cups of coffee per day.
  • Avoid the intake of alcohol.
  • Follow good hygiene practices when working with food.




Nausea and vomiting

  • Eat slowly and in a relaxed environment
  • Eat small frequent meals instead of 3 large meals per day
  • Avoid foods that worsen the nausea and vomiting (fatty, creamy, greasy foods and foods with a strong flavour)
  • Eat meals in a well-ventilated area
  • Ask someone else to prepare food for you if the smell worsens nausea
  • Eat dry, salty crackers, pretzels, and biscuits as these may be better tolerated
  • Avoid tight waistbands, as pressure on the stomach can aggravate the nausea


  • Increase your fibre intake by including more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, oats, legumes, and bran.
  • Avoid medications that are not prescribed by a doctor
  • Drink enough water every day
  • Be physically active


  • Eat slowly and in a relaxed environment
  • Eat small frequent meals instead of 3 large meals per day
  • Avoiding lying down after a meal (try to eat 2-3 hours before going to sleep)
  • Avoid spicy and greasy foods
  • Avoid the intake of large volumes of fluids with meals
  • Avoid tight fitting clothes and belts
  • Find out which foods cause or worsen heartburn and avoid them

 Changes in taste and smell

  • Ask someone else to prepare food for you if the smell results in nausea
  • Focus on foods that do not cause nausea or result in foul odours
  • Speak to your doctor and dietitian should you develop a craving for non-food items (soil, ice/freezer frost, chalk, laundry starch, baking powder)



Brown JE, Isaacs JS, Krinke UB, Murtaugh MA, Sharbaugh C, Stang J, Wooldridge NH. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle. 3rd ed. Thomson Wadsworth; 2008.
Nutrition Information Centre University of Stellenbosch. Department of Human Nutrition. PREGNANT: What should I eat and how much?