Nutrition during pregnancy and its impact on maternal and child health

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The first one thousand days of life (from conception to a child’s second birthday), has been identified as having more influence on an individual’s future health and development than any other time in their life. Fortunately, many women are motivated to focus on their health during pregnancy and demonstrate an increased interest in nutrition.

If a mother’s nutrition is poor during pregnancy this can lead to:

  • Low birth weight (which in turn can lead to increased disease risk later in life)
  • Pre-term birth
  • Infant micronutrient deficiencies
  • Short-term health risks such as hearing/visual impairment or delays in neurological development

It is suggested that gene expression (and hence predisposition for later disease) may be permanently altered by the nutrient environment in utero and early life.

Healthy eating for pregnancy

There is a lot of information out there about foods to avoid during pregnancy (e.g., certain cheeses, pâté, uncooked meat) and it is well-known pregnant women should avoid alcohol and limit caffeine intake (see Tommy’s information page for a full breakdown of foods and drinks to avoid or limit during pregnancy).

Whilst information about what not to eat is important, it is equally important to talk with pregnant women about what they can do to ensure they are gaining the nutrition they need for healthy fetal development.

A healthy balanced diet

A healthy balanced diet includes food from each of the four food groups, in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide. In general, pregnant women need:

  • At least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day – this provides vitamins A and C, plus dietary fibre.
  • Starchy carbohydrates - provides energy and B vitamins; choosing wholemeal varieties of bread, cereals, rice and pasta will provide good amounts of dietary fibre.
  • High protein foods (e.g., meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses). Important for protein, zinc and iron – pregnant women need 2-3 portions per day.
  • Milk, dairy or fortified plant-based alternatives - provides protein, calcium and iodine. Pregnant women need 2-3 portions per day. Choosing lower fat versions will provide fewer calories.

If one or more food groups is missing, women can be at risk of nutritional deficiencies. For example avoiding the milk and dairy group may lead to a deficiency of calcium and/or iodine.

See the nutrition module for information regarding the functions and sources of key nutrients in the diet.

Essential Micro Nutrients for fetal development

Click on each tab below to learn why each nutrient is essential during pregnancy, and how pregnant women can ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs.

Faq Items


Vitamin D




Omega-3 fatty acids

Key messages:
  • A healthy balanced diet during pregnancy is important for successful pregnancy outcomes
  • Pregnant women need to include food from all food groups shown on the Eat Well Guide
  • Certain micronutrients are vital for fetal development, including calcium, vitamin D, Folic acid, iron, iodine and omega 3 fatty acids
  • Pregnant women need to ensure a good intake of reliable sources of these micro nutrients daily