Healthy eating tips during pregnancy

Pregnancy is an amazing experience with many great memories. My personal favorite has always been the kicking and going for the scan.

However, pregnancy came with many challenges, not least of which were the numerous cravings and the long labour.

Similarly, in this information age, mothers get overwhelmed with information on what to eat and what to avoid for various reasons- many of them dubious.

It’s easy to get carried away because we all want the best for our babies.

Today’s article will give a few handy tips on how to eat when one is expecting. Its not exhaustive but it will cover questions I have been receiving from readers via email.

Pregnancy is a great time and with the right team around you at home and at the antenatal clinic, you will likely have a memorable experience. Because your baby is in the womb for a good nine months, they completely depends on you for nourishment.

What a woman eats and drinks before and during pregnancy is her baby’s main source of nourishment. 

When should I prepare myself for pregnancy?

The best time to prepare for pregnancy is way before you fall pregnant. What you eat as a child determines your readiness to be pregnant. Pre-pregnancy consultations with your medical team will identify any challenges such as iron deficiency and hypertension that can be addressed in advance.

However, now is always a good time to start. Issues such as your weight compared with your height and what you are eating can play an important role in your health during pregnancy and the health of your developing fetus.

Your weight before pregnancy also has an influence on your baby’s birth weight. Women who are underweight will likely give birth to small babies, even though they may gain weight during pregnancy. Women who are overweight have increased risks for problems in pregnancy such as high blood pressure.

The key is identifying challenges early so they are managed. Tips for the pregnancy phaseAfter the pre-pregnancy phase we move on to the pregnancy.

It is recommended that pregnancies are reported and managed within the health system as quickly as possible. Delay must be avoided at all costs. I will respond to three questions I have received from readers.

1. Should I eat more during pregnancy?

Yes! It is recommended that a pregnant woman must add an extra 300 calories to their daily diet to meet the needs of her body and her developing fetus.

The common logic is that she is now eating for two! The catch here is that these calories must come from a healthy and balanced diet. The simplified recommendation used by health workers in the country is that a pregnant woman must eat one extra meal per day. 

2. Why do we get the red tablets? 

In Zimbabwe all pregnant women receive iron and folate supplements during pregnancy. It is recommended that these are taken as advised. Many women have low iron stores as a result of monthly menstruation and diets low in iron.

In Zimbabwe the last study conducted reported that over 60% of women aged 15 to 49 years old had iron deficiency while over 70% of children had the same problem.

Iron prevents anemia, a condition resulting in fatigue, an increased risk of infections and low birth weight for the baby. Building iron stores helps prepare a mother’s body for the needs of the fetus during pregnancy. Iron needs double during pregnancy so those tablets are very important.

Folate is a vitamin that is crucial in helping to prevent defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord, known as neural tube defects. Both nutrients are hard to get in the adequate amounts from food alone. 

3. Any foods to avoid during pregnancy?

There are a few products you need to take off the menu. First on the list is caffeine, which you get from coffee and energy drinks among other products.

In a previous article I highlighted the danger that caffeine poses to children and the pregnant. Authorities say less than 200mg of caffeine is safe and that’s about 350ml of coffee. The complication here is that we make our coffee differently. I prefer the strong aromatic coffee while others prefer the lighter brew.

So how do you ascertain that you are sticking to the limit?

My recommendation is to avoid caffeine in all forms. Caffeine increases the risk of miscarriage and premature labor. Second on my list is alcohol. A lot of research has gone into this area and the evidence is overwhelming. For a long time, it was believed that the placenta was so perfect it could protect the unborn baby from harmful substances such as alcohol. The placenta is indeed an amazing creation but the conclusion on alcohol and many other drugs was way off the mark!

The third food to avoid is unpasteurized milk and raw/rare/undercooked meats and poultry. This increases the risk of passing of some infections such as listeriosis to the unborn baby. 


Pregnancy is a special time for everyone involved and the well-being of both mother and baby are important. It is important to plan for your next pregnancy as it makes the journey easier and more enjoyable. This article addressed questions received from readers and is not meant to be exhaustive. Feel free to send in your questions and I will do my best to respond. 

Brief Bio:Craig Nyathi is a Nutritionist registered with the Allied Health Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe. He has over ten years’ experience practicing public health nutrition in Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity. Comments can be sent to

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