Always a healthy eater, Ann Shim grew even more determined to fill up on good stuff when she got pregnant. "Now it really mattered," the Seattle mom says. "It wasn't just about me! What I ate gave the baby the best start." So true, says Lora Sporny, Ed.D., a lecturer in nutrition and education at Columbia University's Teachers College, in New York City. "The better your choices, the healthier both Baby and mom are."
How much expectant moms consume matters too; you need only about 300 extra calories a day. Aim to gain 25 to 35 pounds if you were of average weight when you got pregnant, 28 to 40 pounds if you were quite slim, and 15 to 25 if you were overweight. Women who gain too much tend to deliver bigger babies, and higher birthweight is associated with obesity later in life. Besides, the more you pack on, the more you'll have to part with postpartum. For more tips, visit americanbaby.com/healthyweight.
About half of your daily caloric intake should come from healthy carbohydrates, which motor you through the task of growing a baby. Another quarter of your calories should come from lean protein (chicken breast, pork loin, lean cuts of red meat), and beans (black, soy, lentil, and kidney); the protein helps build up the placenta, uterine muscles, and blood vessels. Then add 25 percent of calories from healthy fats (found in olive and canola oils, avocado, and nuts), which help Baby's development and keep you satisfied.
Be sure to pop a prenatal vitamin every day. "In most cases, though, the body absorbs nutrients more effectively from food than it does from pills," Sporny says. If your pill leaves you nauseated, take it with a snack before bed or switch brands.
Rest assured: You can eat right without constant worry. (Save your obsessing for, say, what baby furniture to choose.) Beyond the basics, go for the particularly preg-friendly nutrients touted below.
Get Your Fill of Folate
This B vitamin, found in green leafy veggies, legumes, and asparagus (and known as folic acid in pills and fortified foods), reduces the risk for neural-tube defects by as much as 70 percent. Although there's plenty in your prenatal pill, folate-rich foods shore up your stores of fiber and iron. Other beneficial B's: B6, which helps generate red blood cells and antibodies for you and the baby, and B12, which is crucial in building your tot's brain and nervous system.
"Iron is essential in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body, including the placenta," says Sharon T. Phelan, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. If you skimp on iron, you might feel weak, lethargic, and dizzy; you'll also be at increased risk of delivering prematurely. Excellent sources include lean proteins, iron-fortified cereal, orange juice, and even graham crackers.
Pack in Calcium
This mineral is key for building your baby's bones and teeth. If you don't consume an adequate amount, your body will tap into the calcium reserves in your bones, which could magnify the problem if you're already at risk for weak bones and osteoporosis. Make room in your diet for milk, cheese, and yogurt. Lactose-intolerant? Eat dark leafy greens, almonds, beans, and broccoli as well as OJ and lactose-free milk.
Get More Omega-3s
These fatty acids, which contain essential nutrients such as DHA, are pregnancy superstars (even though you won't spot them in Us Weekly). They build a baby's brain and advance eye development. What's more, a healthy intake of DHA is associated with decreased risk for prematurity. Fish is the richest source (see good picks on the next page). If you can't stomach swimmers, try nuts, leafy greens, and DHA-fortified eggs.