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Eating and lifestyle guidelines when pregnant and breastfeeding

When you're pregnant, a healthy diet and lifestyle will help you cope with your pregnancy and give your pēpi (baby) the best start in life.

Eat regular meals and snacks

The easiest way to get all the nutrition you need is to have regular meals and snacks. Eat at regular mealtimes and have one to two small snacks between meals. This will help keep your energy levels up.

Eat a variety of foods each day

Have food from the four food groups every day.

Grain foods – mostly wholegrain and those naturally high in fibre

Choose at least eight servings every day. A serving is one medium slice of wholegrain bread, ½ to ¾ cup of breakfast cereal or ½ cup of cooked brown rice, pasta or noodles.

Vegetables and fruit

Choose at least five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. A serving is the size of the palm of your hand. Try to have many different colours of vegetables and fruit, as they all have different antioxidants and vitamins.

Milk and milk products

Choose at least three servings every day. A serving is 1 cup (250 ml) of cow's milk or a calcium-enriched plant milk, ¾ cup (200 ml) of yoghurt or 2 slices (40 g) of cheese.

Lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds

Choose at least three servings every day, including one of nuts and seeds. A serving is a piece of meat, chicken or fish (the size and thickness of the palm of your hand); 2 large eggs; ¾ cup of tofu, cooked dried beans, split peas or lentils or a small handful (30 g) of nuts or seeds.

You may need more or less from each food group depending on your pre-pregnancy weight. Talk about this with your dietitian or LMC.

Drink plenty of fluids

Water and milk are the best choices when you're pregnant and breastfeeding. Aim for nine to 10 cups of fluid each day. You'll need more in hot weather, after activity, if you're vomiting or if you have diarrhoea or constipation. You may also need more if you're breastfeeding twins or triplets.

Cups of tea or coffee count towards your nine to 10 cups. But having too much caffeine can affect your baby's growth. Have no more than four cups of tea or instant coffee (or three cups of plunger coffee) each day. Avoid energy drinks, as these are high in sugar as well as caffeine.

Some herbal teas may be harmful in pregnancy. Avoid these teas: aloe, buckthorn bark, chamomile, coltsfoot, comfrey, juniper berries, Labrador tea, lobelia, pennyroyal, sassafras and senna leaves (alpine tea).

Be active

Regular activity is also important as long as your pregnancy is uncomplicated. Activities such as walking and swimming will maintain your fitness and make your pregnancy more enjoyable. Ask for a physiotherapy referral from your LMC if you have back or ligament pain.

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol is not recommended during pregnancy as the full effects of alcohol on your pēpi baby are unknown. Alcohol, even in small amounts will enter your baby's bloodstream. So, whatever you drink, your pēpi will get too.

Avoid alcohol when you're breastfeeding, but having an occasional drink is usually safe. If you do have a drink, the Feed Safe app helps you to figure out when your breast milk will be free of alcohol and answers some common questions about alcohol and breastfeeding. It's free to download.

Be smokefree

Being smokefree is recommended as smoking during pregnancy can slow down your baby's growth and development.

Keep your food safe

Your immunity is lower during pregnancy, so you and your pēpi are more susceptible than usual to food-borne illnesses. Follow food safety practices such as washing your hands prior to handling food, cooking food thoroughly, and using cooked, prepared and canned foods stored in the fridge within two days.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by Nutrition and Dietetics, Christchurch Women's Hospital. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2021.


See also:

Eating well when breastfeeding twins & triplets

Healthy weight gain in pregnancy

Nutrients and supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Page reference: 67934

Review key: HIPRC-41255