Request an appointment online with a nurse midwife at The University of Vermont Medical Center, or call 802-847-1400.
Marti Churchill, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Marti Churchill, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Growing a healthy baby begins with eating a healthy diet. So, where do you start?

The basics are to eat a well-balanced, lower fat diet made up of protein sources, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and plenty of water. Avoid empty calories in junk food, soda pop, desserts/sweets and substances such as alcohol, cigarette or marijuana smoking, or other recreational drugs.

As a general rule if you eat:

  • 3-4 servings of protein;
  • 4 servings (or more) of fresh fruit and vegetables of varying colors;
  • 2-3 serving of whole grains (rice, breads, pasta); and
  • 4 servings of dairy per day…

….You will have a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet!


Protein is essential for baby’s growth, especially in the second and third trimesters: 70 – 80 grams of protein per day are recommended. Protein sources include: meat, fish, nuts, eggs, soy, and beans/legumes. A quick reference to help add up how many grams of protein you are already eating is this: 1 ounce of meat or fish (or ½ cup cooked beans) = 7 grams of protein. Generally, a normal serving of meat is about 3 ounces and is about the size of a deck of cards.

Other examples:

  • Hamburger patty: about 4 oz = 28 grams protein
  • Steak: about 6 oz = 42 grams protein
  • Chicken breast: about 3.5 oz = 30 grams protein
  • Canned Tuna = 40 grams protein
  • Egg (one) = 6 grams protein
  • Milk (1 cup) = 8 grams protein
  • Peanut Butter: about 2 tablespoons = 8 grams protein

Stay safe: Avoid deep sea fish, such as tuna steaks, swordfish, king mackerel, and shark as they can carry high levels of mercury, which are dangerous to growing babies.


Dairy products provide crucial calcium for baby’s bone development and also provide a source of protein. Lower fat dairy products provide the same amount of protein and calcium with less calories. One thousand milligrams of calcium each day is recommended and getting that from a food source means the dairy will be better absorbed by the mother’s body, rather than taking a supplement. Read the label of your dairy product to see how much calcium is present in one serving. Generally if you have four servings per day you are getting enough calcium.

Stay safe: Always eat pasteurized dairy products. Unpasteurized dairy can carry a type of bacteria called listeria, which can be dangerous to babies if a mother becomes infected from listeria.


Iron is also important to include in your diet. It helps mothers and babies build their blood volume. Iron is an essential element in the making of red blood cells. A mother’s blood volume expands by 50 percent during the pregnancy, and she is also providing iron to the baby to build his/her blood supply. Twenty-seven milligrams daily is what is recommended. Again, eating iron in food means it will be much better absorbed than by taking a supplement. Another easy way to increase the iron in your diet is to cook your food in a cast iron pan. The iron from the pan is absorbed by the food greatly increasing the amount of elemental iron in the food.

Stay safe: Always eat medium to well-cooked meat. Undercooked red meat may carry toxoplasmosis and raw or undercooked seafood may carry Hepatitis A. Avoid deli meats as well as they can carry listeria bacteria just as unpasteurized dairy can.

Sources of “heme iron” are also better absorbed than “non heme iron” sources.

Heme sources of iron:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Seafood

Sources of non-heme iron:

These are absorbed better with a vitamin C source (citrus fruits, strawberries, or broccoli for example)

  • Beans
  • Fortified Cereals (oatmeal, breakfast cereals)
  • Soy beans or tofu
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Molasses


Fruits and vegetables provide a multitude of vitamins and minerals. This is why eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides the full range of nutrition. They also provide fiber and fluids which are helpful for good digestion.


Whole grains such as brown rice, popcorn, whole wheat pastas and breads are preferred over white rice or white breads and pastas. Whole grains are absorbed more slowly by your system, preventing high spikes in blood sugar. White breads and pastas are absorbed quickly and act like a sugar in your system, causing rapid high spikes in blood sugar and leaving your blood sugar to crash later (which makes pregnant women more nauseated or overly fatigued or unsatisfied, wanting to eat more!). Whole grains also have more fiber than white breads.


A daily pre-natal vitamin is recommended to make sure a woman has adequate amounts of Vitamin A (not more than 10,000 IU), Iodine (220 mg), Zinc (60 mg), Folic Acid (400-800 mcg), and Iron (27mg). Other vitamins and minerals are also included in these prenatals.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing as well. Appropriate weight gain is also important and only one vitamin daily along with a well-balanced diet is just right.


Weight gain recommendation is based on your BMI (Body Mass Index). Calculate your BMI by clicking here. 

  • BMI         < 18                           28-40 lbs
  • BMI         18-25                       25-35 lbs
  • BMI         25-30                       15-25 lbs
  • BMI         > 30                           11-20 lbs

A combination of a well-balanced diet and exercise will help you grow a healthy baby!

Marti Churchill, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Learn more about our Maternity Match Program at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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