Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD | September 7, 2018

It’s can be a challenge for an expecting mom to meet her nutrition needs perfectly every single day, especially when considering some of the common pregnancy symptoms, like nausea, vomiting or food aversions, which may alter taste or meal preferences.

I know that to be true, firsthand!  As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I know the importance of supporting my health (and baby’s) with quality nutrition!  And as a foodie, I love incorporating nutrient-dense whole foods into my eating pattern in delicious, creative ways.  But as an expectant momma over halfway through my first pregnancy, I realized in my first trimester that the extra support I was receiving through my prenatal dietary supplement was not only important, it was imperative. Experiencing food aversions and nausea, I just didn’t want to eat some of my favorite, nutritious foods anymore!  I’m glad I had a dietary supplement to help me fill in the gaps.

So, when it comes to important nutrients to get during pregnancy, what really matters?  Here’s what women should especially look for, how the nutrients function during pregnancy, key food sources of the nutrient, and how much a pregnant woman should have each day from overall (i.e. from the food, beverages, and supplements she consumes).


Function: Research demonstrates the beneficial aspects of carotenoids, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, for brain and eye health in the developing baby.[Link to Carotenoids blog here if desired].

Sources: Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits including cantaloupe, carrots, corn, and yellow/orange peppers; leafy green vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli, lettuce, basil, and parsley; fish including salmon; egg yolks.2-3  You can find carotenoids in some prenatal dietary supplements as beta-carotene (listed as vitamin A) or separately as lutein, lycopene and/or zeaxanthin.

How Much: Though no recommendations are set exclusively for carotenoids, experts recommend 770mcg/day of all forms of vitamin A. 4  Some food safety bodies recommend not exceeding 7mg of beta-carotene from supplements.1


Function: In early pregnancy, choline supports the growth of the mom’s organs (the kidneys, uterus, and placenta) and the central nervous system of the baby.  In late pregnancy (especially the third trimester), choline is supportive of baby’s growth – including its developing brain.5

Sources: Eggs; fish and seafood including salmon, tilapia, and shrimp; lean beef; chicken breast; beans; cruciferous vegetables including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.5

How Much: 450mg/day is recommended, yet approximately 90% of pregnant women do not get enough.4-5  


Function: Calcium is needed to maintain bone health of mom and to support bone growth and development in baby.

Sources: Dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt; fortified foods including orange juice and non-dairy beverages; leafy green vegetables including cabbage, kale, and broccoli; nuts and seeds including sesame seeds, chia seeds and almonds; in small amounts in some prenatal dietary supplements.

How Much: When it comes to calcium, it is recommended that pregnant women between the ages of 14 and 18 years of age consume 1,300mg/day and that pregnant women ages 19-50 years of age consume 1,000mg/day.7


Function: Vitamin D boosts calcium and phosphorus absorption.  It works with calcium to support bone and tooth health for mom and baby.

Sources: Sunlight; egg yolks; fatty fish; fortified dairy including milk and yogurt .and non-dairy foods.8

How Much: 600 IU/day is recommended for vitamin D.4 Those at risk for deficiency – especially those who get little sun exposure, live in northern latitudes, are dark-skinned or who choose a vegan eating pattern – may need more.8

#5 DHA:

Function: Studies suggest that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), influence baby’s brain development and nervous system function. DHA supplementation may also help reduce the risk of early preterm birth.

Sources: Oily fish including anchovies, salmon, sardines and skipjack tuna; DHA-enriched eggs; DHA-fortified foods; algal-based DHA supplements for those who consume primarily plant-based foods.

How Much: Some experts recommend that women of childbearing age consume 200mg/day of DHA, which is the equivalent of one to two portions of oily fish each week.8,9 


Function: Folate consumed before and during the early periods of pregnancy protects against neural tube defects, like spina bifida and anencephaly.8, 10-11 Because the brain and spinal cord develop very early on in pregnancy, it’s crucial that all women of childbearing age get adequate folate – even before pregnancy begins.11

Sources: Legumes; leafy green vegetables; whole-grain breads; citrus fruits and juices.11

How Much: 400mcg/day from food and supplemental sources.4


Function: Iodine helps produce thyroid hormones, which are important for healthy brain development of the growing baby in the prenatal and postnatal periods.12

Sources: Seafood; sea vegetables like kombu, wakame and nori; dairy products including milk, yogurt and cheese; iodized salt.

How Much: Expert bodies recommend 220mcg/day. While most non-pregnant adults meet their needs for iodine, the greater demands of pregnancy mean that many pregnant women fail to get enough.12

#8 IRON:

Function: Iron is an essential mineral for red blood cell production.  The need for iron increases considerably during pregnancy to account for the needs for the baby, for the placenta, and for mom herself!  In fact, during pregnancy a woman’s red cell mass increases by 30%, underscoring the need for additional iron!13

Sources: Animal proteins including lean meat, poultry and fish; dried fruits; beans; nuts; seeds.  Pairing sources of vitamin C (like vegetables and fruits) with plant-based sources of iron can help boost iron absorption.

How Much: During pregnancy, a woman’s needs for iron increase from 18mg/day to 27mg/day!7  It’s important to get iron through dietary sources, as too much supplemental iron may be associated with constipation during pregnancy.8,13

During pregnancy, a woman also needs other important nutrients like adequate fiber, potassium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C to help support her health and that of her baby.  Truly, a healthy eating pattern centered around whole, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats is important in ensuring that she receives the nutrients she needs.

Remember, a prenatal is a supplement to – not a substitute for – a healthy eating pattern.  A pregnant woman should make small shifts to include more nutritious foods into her eating pattern and supplement when appropriate to help fill in the nutrient gaps.  Want more tips for what to look for in a prenatal?  Check out this article [Link: https://www.lifesdha.com/en_US/news/what-to-look-for-in-your-prenatal-vitamin.html] and send me a message [Link: www.YESNutritionLLC.com] if you have any questions!


1. Eggersdorfer M, Wyss A. Carotenoids In Human Nutrition And Health. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics.  2018;652:18-26.

2. Johnson EJ. The Role Of Carotenoids In Human Health. Nutrition in Clinical Care. 2002 Mar-Apr;5(2);56-65.

3. Abdel-Aal E-SM, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1169-1185. doi:10.3390/nu5041169.

4. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Vitamins, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/7_ Nutrients Summary.pdf?la=en.

5. Caudill MA. Pre- and postnatal health: evidence of increased choline needs. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(8):1198–1206.

6. Hacker AN, Fung EB, King JC. Role Of Calcium During Pregnancy: Maternal And Fetal Needs. Nutrition Reviews. 2012;70(7):397-409.

7. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Elements, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/6_ Elements Summary.pdf?la=en.

8. Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome.  Practice Paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014 July:1-13. https://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/practice%20papers/practice_paper_healthy_pregnancy.ashx

9. Cetin I, Koletzko B. Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supply in Pregnancy and Lactation. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. 2008 May;11(3):297-302. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e3282f795e6.

10. Lassi ZS, Mansoor T, Salam RA, Das JK, Bhutta ZA. Essential pre-pregnancy and pregnancy interventions for improved maternal, newborn and child health. Reproductive Health. 2014;11(Suppl 1):S2. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-11-S1-S2.

11. Czeizel AE, Dudás I, Vereczkey A, Bánhidy F. Folate Deficiency and Folic Acid Supplementation: The Prevention of Neural-Tube Defects and Congenital Heart Defects. Nutrients. 2013;5(11):4760-4775. doi:10.3390/nu5114760.

12. Bouga M, Lean MEJ, Combet E. Iodine and Pregnancy—A Qualitative Study Focusing on Dietary Guidance and Information. Nutrients. 2018;10(4):408. doi:10.3390/nu10040408.

13. Brown, Judith E. “Nutrition During Pregnancy.” Nutrition Through the Life Cycle, 4th ed., Wadsworth, 2011, pp. 88–133.

The information contained in Healthy Sights is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Content within this site was based off of recommendations in the United States. Consult your health care practitioner before changing your dietary regimen.

The information contained in Healthy Sights is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Content within this site was based on scientific information. Consult your health care practitioner before changing your dietary regimen.

© 2018 DSM