A Healthy Real Food Diet for Pregnancy
Written by Diana, Contributing Writer
I remember being pregnant with my first child. I was more concerned with the colors of his nursery rather than truly understanding the responsibility of growing a human being.
I didn’t have anyone to stop and explain to me what my body was about to go through and the importance of a healthy diet to grow a baby and endure childbirth.
Needless to say, I stayed within the average weight gain, however, I delivered via cesarean section and spent the first month of my baby’s life in post-partum depression.
I love my midwife
When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew something had to change. I immediately sought out a midwife and was enlightened by the information she was able to give me regarding my body, how to grow a healthy baby, and how to prepare myself for the actual process of birth.
I felt peace that I hadn’t felt before. The midwifery model of care vs the medical model of care is one that showed me the beauty of child birth and taught me, educated me, empowered me to have a natural VBAC for the birth of my second son.
I’m currently pregnant with my third child and ready to have my first baby girl, naturally, at home. I’ve had to bring out my previous books, dive into my pregnancy diet logs, and start eating optimally to grow a healthy baby and prepare myself for the hard work ahead of giving birth.
My previous midwife (I just love her) would constantly reinforce eating optimally. Making sure that I was getting all the necessary nutrients to grow a healthy, strong placenta and baby. She was always concerned about the placenta as well since it’s the womb that needs to be kept strong to provide for the needs of the baby throughout the entire pregnancy.
She made me track everything I ate and we would spend at least 15-20 minutes per visit discussing my diet. Another benefit of having a midwife that understands, truly understands, a woman’s body.
A real food diet for pregnancy
What does a real food diet for pregnancy look like?
From what I’ve learned the two most important elements to a healthy diet during pregnancy is protein and water.
- 80-100 grams of protein per day
- 2 quarts of water in the first trimester of pregnancy
- 3 quarts of water in the second trimester of pregnancy
- 4 quarts (1 gallon) of water in the third trimester of pregnancy
I know, it sounds a bit much but let me tell you, as soon as I started learning about protein it wasn’t difficult to consume that many grams since it’s something you can do around the clock. Also as far as water goes, I never swelled with my second pregnancy. My wedding ring stayed put the entire time. It wasn’t until I delivered did I start to swell from the excess of fluids running through my body.
Those are the two most important elements, however, I also had to make sure to consume cod liver oil, fresh dark greens, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and wholesome grains all paired with exercise.
I never needed any supplements and had such a nice and strong placenta that my midwife actually took it home with her to share with one of her child birth classes.
What does a typical menu look like?
I am a creature of habit. I love to keep things consistent for my breakfast and lunches. However, as a real food blogger, I do love to switch things up for dinner trying new things all the time.
A typical day for me looks something like this.
- 2 fried eggs, over easy (pastured from backyard) (12 grams protein)
- 1 piece (freshly milled, homemade), whole wheat toast (4 grams protein)
- 1 fruit (1-2 grams protein)
- 8oz glass of raw milk (9 grams protein)
Total: 26-27 grams
- Plain, homemade yogurt, topped with blueberries, raspberries, or mango (9 grams protein)
My lunch varies. Usually, it’s one of the below.
- Large spinach and romaine salad with some sort of protein. Sauteed wild salmon, garbanzo beans, lentils, chicken, cheese, in an extra virgin olive oil and either balsamic, red wine or raw apple cider vinaigrette. (20-30 grams protein)
- Black bean burrito with sauteed spinach and red onions in a whole wheat tortilla, topped with avocado and homemade salsa. (23 grams protein)
- 8oz glass raw milk (8 grams protein)
Total: 28-38 grams protein
- Almonds or a homemade granola bar (6 grams protein)
For dinner, we have a wide variety of homemade real food recipes that you can find on my blog, A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.
You can see though, that without even including dinner, I’m already in the 70-80 grams of protein a day.
All real food and nourishing for both mama and baby.
As long as I stick to my regular breakfast, make sure to include raw milk, fish, shellfish, legumes, pastured chicken and grass fed beef for dinner, I seem to hit the mark. Of course, since I do eat a Mediterranean diet, our diet include quite a bit of vegetables and fruits.
As much as I’d like to say that I eat this way every single day, that would be deceiving.
I do stray (darned sweets jump into there especially when visiting others and on weekends) but jump back onto the bandwagon and will continue now that I’m close to getting into my third trimester.
When I do go out to eat, I make sure to skip any french fries and opt for salads instead. I drink water all day long and stick to that wherever I go.
It’s not too difficult when you’re intentional and really… it taste so yummy anyways!
Some resources to help you along on eating real food during pregnancy
- Weston Price Foundation: Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
- Which Beans Have the Most Protein
- Printable Protein Counter
Oh, how I wish I had had this information when I was pregnant with both of our children! The medical doctors are so concerned with making sure you get all the right tests that they don’t even talk about how to be healthy besides asking if you are getting enough calcium.
I have never been poked or prodded as much as I was during my pregnancies and actually wasn’t looking forward to my second pregnancy because of it. When I refused some of the tests I actually got a look like they thought I was crazy. Both of the deliveries were c-sections and were very difficult.
I am so glad that you have shared this information and hope that it will help other women so that they will not have to have the type of experiences that I had.
Great article, but your ‘printable protein counter’ isn’t working. Thank you for all the great information.
Thanks Loretta, I’ll have to look at that link and get in touch with Stephanie. Thanks for letting me know.
Thank you so much for this valuable information! My midwife also takes the time to talk with me about nutrition and the benefits of leafy greens and raw veggies, but we’ve never discussed the needs of the placenta. It seems so obvios now that you mention it, I’ll be sure to bring it up at my 18 week visit with her. One of the things my midwife did mention was to cut out processed fats, and stick with natural healthy fats from nuts, avocado, etc. It’s very helpful for baby’s brain development.
Yes Sara, that is so true. At home the only fats we eat are homemade rendered lard and extra virgin olive oil. I also personally eat 2 avocados a week. I love them!!
Diana, This information is invaluable! You gave some much in a nutshell! This comes at an ideal time for me in my second trimester! I take a reusable water bottle out with me, but I do a terrible job remembering to drink enough water while home! I also didn’t eat as well (I had hubby made lots of Panera trips–sadly!) during my first trimester when I was feeling ill. It’s time to get back on the ball!
Erin, I can forget at home as well. What I do to keep myself on the right track is fill a quart sized measuring cup filled with water. It helps me visually see how much I’ve drank. As far as the first trimester, goodness, I was a mess to! I was so ill that I was careless on more than one event. Ugh… starting on the second trimester I got my butt back in gear ;D Just move forward and like you said, get back on the ball ;D
Thanks, Diana! Love the quart-sized jar idea!
I am so frustrated. I’m ten weeks pregnant, and prior to this pregnancy (my 3rd), I had been preparing to have a high-protein, low-sugar diet. Yogurt, natural pb, cheese, and eggs were staples in my pre-conception diet, along with grass fed beef. But before that pregnancy test even showed a positive, I was gagging at the thought of any of those foods. I’ve had a less-than-real diet for the past 6 weeks, filled with carbs and sugars just to keep them in my tummy.
🙁 I’m hoping that the 2nd tri will allow an optimal diet for baby and me, but it is hard not being as in control of my diet as I’m used to. Thanks for the info though, I’m reeeeeally hoping to put it into practice soon.
Excellent post filled with very helpful information! Thanks for the details of what you personally eat in order to fulfill your pregnancy needs. P.S. I love the photo at the top of your boys and your baby bump! So precious! 🙂
Great article and great advice. I’m on my second pregnancy and wish that my midwife would have given me more nutritional information than what I’d received during my first pregnancy. Though I was a fairly healthy eater to begin with, at least by Western standards which doesn’t mean a whole lot, my first son was born tongue tied with all sorts of food intolerance issues. Those issues caused me to do research and stumble upon the real foods/whole foods diet. My diet has changed drastically and I’m hoping this time around, our second baby won’t suffer from the same food related issues that plagued our son. I know that diet is incredibly important and has a lot to do with baby’s development. It doesn’t have everything to do with development, but it plays a huge role.
And thank you for being honest about straying! I find that trying to eat healthy all day, every day is stressful since I work full time and am out of the house at least 9 hours a day. I continue to eat as healthfully as I can 95% of the time and allow myself 5% of straying from the diet. For instance, I participate in my office’s Friday breakfast club where a member bring in breakfast for all of the other members to enjoy together(this morning someone brought in breakfast pizzas). It’s not just about food, but we actually sit together and bond. We get to know each other on a more personal level and talk openly and honestly. It’s also a wonderful way to start a Friday morning. It really sets the mood for the rest of the day. I also go out to lunch or have dinner at friends’ houses and expect that I won’t be able to eat optimally. I guess what I’m really getting at is being healthy is part nutrition and part happiness in life. There has to be that balance.
As for other pregnancy foods that are supposed to be beneficial, I’ve read that roe/caviar is supposed to be wonderful for babies. I just bought some from my local fishmonger. I’ve also bought the caviar at Trader Joe’s since the ingredients say fish eggs and salt, though I don’t exactly know much about the source. I still wanted to try it.
A baby girl is definitely exciting especially with her older brothers taking care of her! And I’m jealous you’re having an at-home birth. It’s illegal in my state so I have to do with going to the hospital but I’ve armed myself with a midwife and a doula.
Thanks again for your article. It reminds me that I need to eat more protein!
Thanks for the comment Naveen. You are so right, diet has to be just the right balance of health and happiness. I like that! Thanks for sharing 😀
What a helpful post! Like others have already said, I love that you give concrete examples of what healthy eating looks like. If only more women knew the importance of nutrition during pregnancy. If only they had midwives like yours!
With my first pregnancy my midwife had me do a food log and then critiqued it. Her main tip was that I needed more protein. For the most part I ate very healthy but I also allowed myself a few treats. However, this pregnancy I have gestational diabetes so my diet has been very regulated in order to control my blood sugar levels. As a result I probably have eaten healthier than I would have otherwise. I have to get 7-21 grams of protein at each meal and 30-45 grams of carbohydrates. Plus three snacks a day with 7 grams protein and 30 carbs. Breakfast is usually eggs, greek yogurt or wheat toast with peanut butter and milk. Lately I’ve been having Kashi Go Lean cereal without any negative blood sugar side affects. While I’m not a fan of most packaged foods I will say that it is easier to regular a diabetic diet when you know the exact amounts in things. My favorite snacks of Kashi bars and Skinny Cow Ice Cream treats (mostly ice cream sandwiches and truffle bars). I’ve gained less weight and I feel better (other than sometimes being hungry) than my previous pregnancy. Now if only the baby would arrive ASAP (I’m currently 41 weeks and counting).
My midwife didn’t really discuss nutrition but we did have an AMAZING homebirth.
My question is, how do you eat a real food diet when you suffer from Hypermesis Gravidarum??? With our first (and only, so far) pregnancy, I couldn’t even keep down water. I ended up taking Zofran, which helped somewhat, but I was still vomiting the day before DD was born. I didn’t find out about real food until the second tri, and have really just started getting into this way of eating.
I very much want to eat a healthy diet with our future pregnancies, but I don’t know if I can as I had so many aversions to the healthiest foods- eg salmon, vegetables, salads, tomato, garlic, milk and so on. All I could really handle was sugar or toast :o( Any suggestions?
Great article. I am wondering if you know anything about placental abruption. My first child was born naturally, but my second child was born at 32 wks. due to placental abruption. I was told it just happens/who knows what causes it, but am wondering if poor nutrition was the cause. You mention good nutrition is needful for a strong placenta. Apparently mine was not very strong if it separated prematurely! I have read that low blood volume can contribute to abruption…have you heard that? I eat fairly healthfully, but I was nursing my first child for 5 months into that second pregnancy, and I really don’t think I was eating enough protein or drinking enough water to support all 3 of us! Any thoughts?
BTW, I can’t change the past, of course, but if we pursue another pregnancy, I want to know what to do differently to prevent another preemie if I can! 🙂
How on earth do you manage to drink that much water during the third trimester and ever get more than 15 feet from a bathroom??? If I were to drink that much during pregnancy I would seriously have to pee every 10-15 minutes!
Is it safe to start drinking raw milk while pregnant? I’ve wanted to switch to raw from the UHT Pasturized organic and there is a farming fmaily in town that will begin selling it in another month or so. I will be 8 months pregnant. Or should I wait until after baby gets here. I’ve read that sometimes people can get sick from healthy raw milk simply because they aren’t accustomed to the new form of bacteria. I hate to take any risks! Maybe just start small and work my way up slowly?
That is such wonderful and valuable information! I had an emergency c-section with our last baby (number 7) and would love it if you could write about repairing and prepairing for another baby. I would like to begin getting ready now for our next blessing. Any tips on herbs or diet that you have found helpful would be great.
SUCH an excellent post, Diana. I’m so excited for you on this pregnancy!
Great stuff amiga! I know what midwife you are talking about and love her too. She was exactly what I needed for my first pregnancy and birth. I felt like she was taking me and Jon through a class called “Pregnancy & Birth 101”. My eyes were opened and that’s where all the natural, healthy living really started to take off for me. The birth was amazing and I remember my second midwife in Costa Rica saying how my plancenta was the best she had ever seen in all her years as a midwife. Shows that eating right really does the job well!! Wow… I can remember those days like they were yesterday. Well, all that you’ve shared are good reminders for me to stay on track with my food intake now that I am pregnant with #4. Love you amiga!!
I had gestational diabetes with my pregnancies, so was on a very strictly controlled (high protein) diet. I just gave birth last Sunday to a 38 week, 1 day ‘lil peanut of only 5 lb, 15 oz. (no idea why he was so small….but he’s perfectly healthy otherwise).
With this delivery, I decided to get my placenta encapsulated and take them daily. Has multiple benefits incl. reducing post-partum depression, increases milk supply, etc. It seems to be working, as he only lost 4 % of his birth weight (less than “normal”) and by day 4 is already increasing his weight!
Any tips on getting that much water into my diet when I feel nauseated at the thought of drinking water (I’m 11 weeks and on diclectin for moderate nausea and vomiting)?? I can only drink water in the middle of the night when my nausea is best. Otherwise, I can only drink milk, gatorade, juice (although this always gives me horrific heartburn and makes my nausea worse), and carbonated beverages….
During my pregnancies I like to cut a lemon into wedges, then squeeze the juice into my glasses of water. It’s so much more palatable that way! Good luck.
I had hyperemesis for the first 20 wks of my pregnancy and I too couldn’t palate water. I found that I had an easier time drinking it when it was as cold as possible, and through a straw. It sounds pretty silly, but it worked for me!
I was looking for that “Protein Counter” and the link did not bring it up. Tried a couple of other things to find it. Is it still up?
Thanks for the post! My husband and I are getting ready to start trying for number one, so I’m doing all the research I can about diet/nutrition/exercise, etc. Quick question, I noticed that you include a lot of milk/yogurt/fish for your protein intake, however, I can’t have any dairy products and fish is questionable. Any substitute suggestions for those of us with dairy and fish allergies?
Wow, this is fantastic! I’m hoping to be pregnant soon, and am really glad that I read this now. Thank you for sharing!
I have a question about dairy/calcium. I’m lactose intolerant, and am wondering what the best non-cow milk is for pregnancy. Do you by any chance know? I’ve heard that soy is not a good option, goat is good, and then rice/almond/coconut are all a mystery to me as far as how good they are for pregnancy.
Hi! Sorry to be poking in here.
I noted you said you are lactose intolerant. I have several friends were labeled that by their doctors, while they were drinking milk from the store (pasteurized/homogenized). They each sampled a glass of raw milk years later and were completely fine, so moved into the milk co-op my family was a part of, and never had issues with raw milk – they’ve been going at it for several years now. 🙂 It may not be milk itself, but the way the milk is treated, for you too.
On the aspect of alternatives, however, almond milk is probably healthiest in term of available nutrients, but any of the three you listed off can be made easily (and far cheaper) at home! I have a favorite almond milk recipe I found on a blog awhile ago… http://thenourishingcook.com/almond-coconut-milk/
Sorry if I rambled on, or gave unwanted info! :O I do hope it can help, though! 🙂
That has been my experience as well. Pasteurization kills the enzymes in milk that help your body to digest it. When you are drinking raw milk you are getting all the nutrients, minerals and enzymes your body needs to properly use and digest it. 🙂
This is so helpful! I’ve been sharing my pregnancy food diary on my blog, and even though I’m keeping track of what I’m eating, I still sometimes struggle to eat enough protein. And I do need to up my water intake. Thanks for the inspiration!
i am 36.5 weeks pregnant and even eating a real food diet i still have a hard time getting enough iron at the end of my pregnancy. i do take a liquid mineral supplement that is best for absorption, but i am wondering any tips your midwife had that may be in addition to what i already do (cooking in cast iron, red meat, juicing and eating tons of dark leafy greens, taking iron with citrus for vit.c…). i have never had to take my rings off pregnant either and i think it is because i am a huge water drinker!
Would you recommend CLO even for people that live in Houston, TX? We have lots of sunshine all year long. My whole family is the sun quite a bit. We love the outdoors! Is is still safe? Should I just half the recommended dose? Your thoughts?
Hi, thank you so much for this wonderful information! I am so happy to hear that my diet mimics that of the one you suggest, however, I do have a question about raw milk. You do suggest it, the pregnancy books do not. I have a friend that never drank it during pregnancy but drinks it now and only offers that as the milk in her home. Can you give me some tips on this…I am 12 weeks today! Thanks again!
Diana~ thanks sooo much for posting this article. I teach HypnoBirthing Childbirth Education classes in Utah and my couples will love this. I’ve linked to this article on Facebook and my website. It’s so nice to see someone so conscientious about their health and the well being of their baby. Very refreshing.
Thanks for emphasising how important it is to eat healthily in order to make a healthy placenta. I ve had three miscarriages and the doctor thinks its to do with how the placenta is being formed. I will certainly try and improve my diet .
Eating a healthy and real food diet during pregnancy is really good. And also super safe.
Very informative about pregnancy. Keep posting
I realize this post is over a year old, but I just came upon it and cannot thank-you enough! I am 18 weeks with our first baby and am trying to eat as healthy as possible; but, it is so nice to continue to be encouraged in this area!
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