Healthy Eating When You’re Pregnant or Breastfeeding

Eating well during pregancy and while breastfeeding has health benefits for you and your baby.

Dietary Guideline 1:

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs

It is normal to gain weight during pregnancy as your baby grows and your body changes to support your baby’s development and prepare for breastfeeding. However, gaining too much weight can put you at risk of gestational diabetes and put your baby at greater risk of becoming overweight or developing metabolic syndrome later in life.

The right amount of weight gain during pregnancy will depend on whether you were at you most healthy weight before pregnancy. Mothers who were already carrying extra weight should aim to gain less weight than those who started in their healthy weight range.

Institute of Medicine (2010) recommendations for total and rate of weight gain during pregnancy, by pre-pregnancy BMI

Pre-pregnancy BMI Total weight gain in kg Rates of weight gain* 2nd and 3rd trimester in kg/week
Underweight (< 18.5 kg/m2) 12.5 – 18.0 0.51 (0.44 – 0.58)
Normal weight (18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2) 11.5 – 16.0 0.42 (0.35 – 0.50)
Overweight (25.0 – 29.9 kg/m2) 7.0 – 11.5 0.28 (0.23 – 0.33)
Obese (≥ 30.0 kg/m2) 5.0 – 9.0 0.22 (0.17 – 0.27)

Weight gain during pregnancy: recommendations for Asian women, by pre-pregnancy BMI

Pre-pregnancy BMI Total weight gain in kg (during pregnancy) Weight gain per week in kg (after 12 weeks)
<18.5 12.5-18.0 0.5
18.5-22.9 11.5-16.0 0.4
23-27.5 7.0-11.5 0.3
>27.5 ≤ 7.0

However, while it’s important for your own health and the health of your baby to only gain the amount of weight recommended by your health professional, during pregnancy it is also important not to try to lose weight during pregnancy. This is because, dieting and food restriction may mean that your baby doesn’t get the nutrients they need for their development.

If you find you are gaining weight too fast, make sure you are not having too many discretionary foods and use the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating to work out what kind of foods and how much to have.

Dietary Guideline 2:

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day

When you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you and your baby need extra nutrients, but not a lot of extra kilojoules. This means it’s very important to choose foods that are nutrient dense but not energy dense. Go for quality, not quantity. Let the Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australian Guide to Healthy Eating tell you what types of foods to eat and how much. Limit discretionary foods.

While it continues to be important to eat a wide range of foods from all the Five Food Groups there are special reasons to avoid foods that pose a risk of illness from listeria (Listeria and food, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (PDF, 85KB) or too much mercury (Mercury in Fish, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (PDF, 72KB).

Because an adequate amount of iodine and folate is so important for your baby’s development you are also likely to need folate and iodine supplements. Check with your health professional if you need supplementation.

Dietary Guideline 3:

Limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

As throughout life, it is always best to limit discretionary foods high in saturated fats, added salt and added sugars for good health and to prevent health problems. By limiting discretionary foods, you will also be more likely to achieve the number of serves from the Five Food Groups that you and your developing baby needs. Foods high in fats and sugars are also higher in kilojoules, making it harder to gain only the recommended weight for pregnancy.

There is no safe level of alcohol for developing and breastfeeding babies, so pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to drink alcohol.

Guideline 4:

Encourage and support breastfeeding

Finding out about breastfeeding, even before your baby is born makes a big difference, when it comes to starting and continuing on with breastfeeding. Pregnant women, new mums and family and friends who support and encourage them will all find the following links helpful.

Please also see the Eat for Health Program's pregnancy and breastfeeding resources here.

Illustrative image of a pregnant woman on the beach used to provide context to this page.