What is the impact of nutrition on prenatal development?

The choices a pregnant woman makes regarding her diet have far-reaching consequences, touching upon aspects such as fetal growth, organ development, and overall well-being. 

Expecting mothers, even women who are considering starting a family, should not underestimate the role nutrition plays in reducing chances of complications during pregnancy and birth as well as reducing chances of their baby’s having neural tube defects, developmental delays, congenital hypothyroidism, low birth weight, and more. It is never too late to improve your nutrition status, no matter what stage of pregnancy you’re in.

What nutrients are critical for fetal development?

Nutrition serves as the bedrock for a baby’s growth and development during pregnancy. Key nutrients such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and choline play pivotal roles in this process.

  • Folic acid is instrumental in averting neural tube defects. Folate-rich foods like leafy greens and fortified cereals should be an integral part of a woman’s diet. As prenatal dietitians, we believe all women who are considering becoming mothers should be taking folic acid supplements.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are indispensable for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Fatty fish, like salmon, walnuts, eggs, soybeans, and other elements are rich in DHA. Also, prenatal vitamins will include DHA. 
  • Zinc, folate, and iodine help prevent birth defects, neural tube defects, congenital hypothyroidism, and more. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, eggs, dairy, avocado, leafy greens, and lentils are power players when it comes to pregnancy nutrition.
  • Choline can help reduce the risk of birth defects. Don’t underestimate the power of the mighty egg.
  • Calcium helps your growing baby build strong bones and teeth. It’s particularly important in the third trimester when your baby begins its growth spurt. If you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, your body will take what your baby needs. Kale, yogurt, bok choy, kefir, cheese, tofu, and some pulses are high in calcium. Talk to your dietitian nutritionist or ObGyn to make sure you’re getting enough or if they recommend supplements.
  • Iron helps ensure your baby is receiving the oxygen they need while in the placenta and ensures Mom doesn’t get anemia. Anemia can cause babies to have a low birth weight or be at risk for preterm birth. Lean meats, beans, and fortified cereals can help Mom get the iron she needs.
  • Protein is essential for the growth and development of the baby’s organs, muscles, and tissues. Protein should be a part of every meal and snack, including lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes (beans, lentils), and tofu.
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, promoting healthy bone and teeth development in the fetus. Get out into the sunshine as well as include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), fortified dairy products, and fortified plant-based milk in your diet.
  • Vitamin A is important for the development of the baby’s eyes, immune system, and organs. Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and eggs are all rich sources of Vitamin A.


For more detailed information about the nutrients and vitamins that should be part of a pregnant woman’s diet, as well as quantities, check out this resource from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). As prenatal nutritionists, we can help you develop meal plans that incorporate vital nutrients, provide supplement support, and help you and your developing baby stay healthy. We also work with vegetarian and vegan moms-to-be.


Guiding Principles and Recommendations for Healthy Eating while Pregnant:

Every woman’s pregnancy is unique, for which a prenatal RDN will develop individualized diet plans tailored to her specific needs. We adhere to general principles and recommendations, regardless of specific needs. When eating while pregnant, keep these tenets in mind:

  • Balance: Work to get a well-balanced diet that encompasses a diverse array of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. Think color, color, color! When your plate is filled with natural colors from deep blue and purple (blueberries and cabbage) to bright orange (sweet potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin), you’ll be getting more key nutrients and vitamins. 
  • Calories: You will require additional calories, but striking a balance between adequate intake and avoiding excessive weight gain, and sometimes weight loss, is paramount. Work with your prenatal RDN to help you stick to a healthy diet plan and ensure you’re getting the calories you need.
  • Hydration: Maintaining optimal hydration is vital. Adequate water consumption facilitates digestion, sustains amniotic fluid levels, and mitigates the risk of dehydration. Dehydration is very dangerous for both Mom and baby.
  • Supplements: Prenatal supplements, featuring nutrients such as folic acid and iron, are often prescribed to ensure that essential nutrients are consistently met. Not all supplements are the same, so learn to read labels and find the best supplement to meet your unique pregnancy needs.
  • Food Safety: Vigilance with respect to safe food handling practices is essential to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.


In a nutshell, nutrition is significant in ensuring the health and well-being of both Mom and baby. By following trusted advice, moms-to-be can make informed food choices that ensure a happier, healthier pregnancy for both themselves and their little ones. Consulting with healthcare experts is a key part of getting the individualized support needed during pregnancy.

Here are three healthy pregnancy snacks that include at least five key pregnancy nutrients:

  • Greek Yogurt Parfait:
    • Greek yogurt (Calcium, Protein)
    • Fresh berries (Vitamin C, Fiber)
    • Almonds or walnuts (Folate, Healthy fats)
    • Honey (Natural sweetener, Antioxidants)
    • Chia seeds (Omega-3 fatty acids)

    Simply layer Greek yogurt with fresh berries, nuts, and a drizzle of honey. Sprinkle some chia seeds on top for added nutrients and enjoy a delicious and nutrient-rich snack.


  • Hummus with Veggies and Whole Wheat Pita:
    • Hummus (Protein, Iron)
    • Carrot sticks or bell pepper slices (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fiber)
    • Whole wheat pita bread (Folate, Fiber)
    • Broccoli florets (Folate, Calcium)
    • Cherry tomatoes (Vitamin C, Fiber)

    Dip your favorite veggies and whole wheat pita into a serving of hummus. This snack provides a mix of vitamins, minerals, and protein, making it a nutritious choice.


  • Trail Mix:
    • Almonds or cashews (Folate, Healthy fats)
    • Dried apricots (Iron, Fiber)
    • Pumpkin seeds (Iron, Protein)
    • Dark chocolate chips (Magnesium, Antioxidants)
    • Raisins (Iron, Fiber)

    Create a custom trail mix with these ingredients, adjusting the quantities to your preference. It offers a balance of essential nutrients and a satisfying blend of sweet and savory flavors.


Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and consult with your healthcare provider or a nutritionist to ensure you are meeting your specific nutrient needs during pregnancy.