Regular consumption of nutritious foods helps support nutrition needs:
- during pregnancy
- for milk production to support breastfeeding.
Additionally, advising on recommendations about vitamin and mineral supplements during this life stage is important.
On this page
- Nutrition advice to support breastfeeding
- Fish and shellfish consumption during pregnancy and to support breastfeeding
Female adults and adolescent females have increased needs relative to energy requirements for many nutrients such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate. Many also have low intakes of these nutrients. Reinforcing the advice on nutrition for different life stages and emphasizing the consumption of nutritious foods is important during this life stage to help improve dietary intakes and meet nutrient needs.
Individuals in their childbearing years should be advised to take a daily multivitamin with folic acid to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects (NTDs). Multivitamins may also contain vitamin D and thus provide a daily dietary source of vitamin D.
Encouraging the consumption of nutritious foods and advising appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation can help support a healthy pregnancy.
The needs for energy and many nutrients increase during pregnancy to support an expanded blood supply, the growth of maternal tissues and fetal development.
In addition to increased needs, individuals who are pregnant can also have low dietary intakes of many nutrients from food alone. These include:
- folate, choline, vitamin B6 and vitamin D
- iron and magnesium
- dietary fibre
Emphasizing the consumption of nutritious foods is particularly important during pregnancy to help improve dietary intakes and meet increased nutrient needs.
During pregnancy, it may be difficult to meet the increased needs for some nutrients from food alone. This is particularly true for folate and iron because the need for these two nutrients increases the most during pregnancy, and they tend to be under-consumed.
Advise taking a daily multivitamin with folic acid and iron to help meet nutrient needs. Recommended amounts are:
- 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid
- 16 to 20 mg of iron
A variety of food sources of iron should be included every day, in addition to taking a multivitamin containing iron. Vegetarians need more iron in their diet because of the reduced bioavailability of this nutrient from plant-based foods.
Multivitamins may also contain vitamin D and thus provide a daily dietary source of vitamin D.
The second and third trimesters of pregnancy are associated with a modest increase in energy needs. When advising on meeting increased needs for energy during pregnancy, recommend a small increase in the amount of nutritious foods consumed. How much food is needed depends on the type of food consumed, as well as pre-pregnancy weight.
Health professionals can refer to Health Canada’s Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals: Gestational Weight Gain for recommendations on weight gain during pregnancy. Promoting nutritious foods with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars can also help improve the quality of foods chosen.
Energy and nutrients are needed to support the needs of those who are producing milk to support breastfeeding.
The needs for some nutrients to support milk production for breastfeeding change from the needs during pregnancy. Relative to energy, needs for vitamin A, vitamin C and choline increase the most. Iron needs decrease initially and then increase to pre-pregnancy levels after menstruation resumes.
Encourage the consumption of nutritious foods, particularly:
- dark green and orange vegetables to help with vitamin A and vitamin C
- a variety of protein foods to help with choline
A daily multivitamin with 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid is advised for anyone who could become pregnant. Multivitamins may also contain vitamin D and thus provide a daily dietary source of vitamin D.
More energy is needed to support milk production. Some of this energy will come from fat stores accumulated during pregnancy. This helps promote gradual weight loss back to pre-pregnancy weight. Promoting nutritious foods with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars can help improve the quality of foods chosen.
Consumption of fish and shellfish can be encouraged as part of a healthy pattern of eating. Consuming fish and shellfish during pregnancy and breastfeeding provides nutrients that are important during these life stages, such as choline, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and magnesium.
For safe fish and shellfish consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding, advise choosing fish and shellfish known to have lower levels of contaminants. This can be done by following Health Canada’s consumer advice to limit exposure to mercury in certain types of retail fish that contain higher levels of mercury.
Check with local, provincial or territorial governments for any advisories on locally harvested fish and shellfish.
Resources to use with consumers
- Healthy snacks
- Caffeine and pregnancy
- Food safety for pregnant women
- Physical activity during pregnancy
- Your guide to a healthy pregnancy
- Healthy eating when pregnant and breastfeeding
- Make it a habit to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein foods