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Nutrition & Exercise in Pregnancy

nutrition and exercise recommendations for pregnant patients

Healthy eating should be a part of your plan from the start. Eating a balanced diet and one rich in healthy foods can help improve pregnancy outcomes and decrease the risk of complications with your pregnancy. Your provider may have individualized recommendations based on your needs.

  • Gain an appropriate amount of weight during your pregnancy
  • Grow a baby appropriately sized for your body and pelvis
  • Minimize nausea and dizziness by keeping your blood sugar at an even level
  • Expand your blood volume to allow optimal circulation for you and your baby
  • Calculate your BMI using the CDC BMI Calculator

Eating Right and Getting Plenty of Fluids During Pregnancy Each Day

  • High in protein
  • Low in fat
  • Low in sugar
  • Contains calcium and vitamin D
  • Contains iron (prevents anemia)
  • Plenty of water (at least a quart a day)
  • Folic acid (reduces the risk of neural tube defects in baby)

Your Diet Should Include:

  • Whole grains foods (2-4 servings per day): whole grain bread, cereal, brown/wild rice
  • Vegetables (3-4 servings per day): lettuce, spinach, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli,
  • Fruits (3-4 servings per day): apples, bananas, pears, peaches, melon, prunes, mangoes tomatoes
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese (2-4 servings per day): milk (skim or 1%), yogurt and cheese (fat free or low fat)
  • Meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts (2-4 servings per day): fish, eggs, chicken, beans
  • Fats and oils (limited quantities): in cooking ingredients
  • If you follow a special diet such as vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, or gluten-free, you should talk with your provider or care team about healthy food choices to ensure proper nutrition for you and your baby. Dieting to lose weight is not recommended during pregnancy.


  • Prenatal vitamin with at least 400 - 800 mcg of folic acid.
  • Fish Oil (DHA): 200-300 mg per day. This is often available in combined prenatal vitamins.


  • Caffeine: No more than 1 - 8 oz cup or 200 mg daily of coffee
  • Sugary foods: soda, juice, cookies, cakes, ice cream
  • White Foods: white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta
  • Junk Foods: chips, fries, fried foods


  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Illicit drugs

If you are currently using any of these, please discuss ways to decrease or stop use with your provider


  • Foods that may carry listeria or toxoplasmosis (things that can harm the pregnancy).
  • Unpasteurized milk/soft cheeses, any unpasteurized beverages like coldpress juices, milk, and certain organic juices
  • Deli meats (unless prepackaged or heated prior to eating)
  • Smoked fish
  • Raw or undercooked meats (all meat should be cooked to above medium temperature)

Fish and Seafood

We recommend eating seafood 2 to 3 times per week. Seafood is an excellent protein source and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help with your baby’s neurological development and lowers your risk of heart disease. However some seafood is high in mercury, which can pose a risk to brain development in fetuses.

Below are basic recommendations:GW Seafood and Fish Intake Recommendations



Exercise everyday: for at least 30 minutes. We want to encourage you, as much as possible to stay active

Excellent options include:

  • Any routine exercise you were doing prior to pregnancy
  • Brisk walking in fresh air: ideal for building the strong legs you will need for labor
  • Swimming, elliptical, jogging, stationary biking
  • Prenatal yoga
  • Light weights (5-10 lb. hand-held weights) - will help you maintain appropriate muscle mass and strength in pregnancy


Drink lots of water, pay attention to your body and how you feel. Stop your activity and call your provider or care team if you have any of the following:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain or swelling in your lower legs
  • Contractions
  • Leaking amniotic fluid
  • Your baby stops moving


Not everyone should exercise during pregnancy. Your provider will discuss avoiding exercise if you have:

  • Heart problems that affect blood flow
  • Preterm labor – preterm labor is labor that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • An insufficient cervix – this is a cervix that opens and/or shortens too early, before the baby is full term
  • Lung disease
  • Vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimester (from 4 months of pregnancy on) that doesn’t go away
  • Ruptured membranes (when your water breaks)
  • Preeclampsia – this is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a person has high blood pressure and signs that some of their organs, like kidneys and liver may not be working properly.
  • Placenta previa – this is when the placenta sits low in the uterus and covers all or part of, the cervix.


  • Any activity that may hurt you or cause you to fall, such as horseback riding, downhill skiing, gymnastics, surfing, or bike riding
  • Any activity or sport in which you may get hit in the belly, such as ice hockey, kickboxing, soccer, diving, basketball, or baseball
  • Any exercise that makes you lie flat on your back, like sit-ups, after the 3rd month of pregnancy. Lying on your back can limit the flow of blood to your baby
  • Scuba diving
  • Exercise at high altitudes, (more than 6,000 feet)
  • Activities or exercise in heated environments or hot, humid days to avoid overheating
  • Stay out of saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms
Conveniently Located

Clinical Trials

  • This study is looking at the relationship between sleep and perinatal mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Participants will wear a wrist monitor like a fit bit for 10 days to help researchers gain information into sleep patterns during pregnancy and postpartum and will answer questionnaires about their mood.
  • Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality. One of the most significant risk factors is a history of a prior spontaneous preterm birth. Intramuscular progesterone is the only FDA approved medication for the prevention of recurrent preterm birth. Vaginal progesterone is not FDA approved for the prevention of recurrent preterm birth, but has been found to beneficial. Given the presence of trials demonstrating efficacy for both intramuscular and vaginal progesterone in the prevention of recurrent preterm birth, but limited information one being more superior to the other, we are performing a trial comparing vaginal progesterone and intramuscular progesterone for the prevention of recurrent spontaneous preterm birth in women with a history of prior spontaneous preterm birth.
  • [This study is no longer recruiting.] The SONATA Study is an FDA-approved clinical study designed to establish the safety and effectiveness of a new, investigational device to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding caused by uterine fibroids. The device, called the SONATA System, targets fibroids rather than treatment or removing the entire uterus. If effective, this device will provide an alternative to hysterectomy that is: incision-free, preserves the uterus, does not require general anesthesia and is an outpatient procedure.
  • Women with twin pregnancy who have a dilated (open) cervix detected on physical exam before 24 weeks are at increased risk for delivering their babies preterm (before 37 weeks gestation). Prematurity is associated with many complications for the babies including respiratory (breathing) problems, bleeding inside of the brain (a form of stroke), increased risk of infection, kidney, temperature and feeding problems. The primary objective of this study is to determine if physical exam indicated cerclage use reduces the incidence of spontaneous PTB in asymptomatic women with twin gestations with cervical dilation diagnosed on pelvic exam before 24 weeks of gestation.
  • Tranexamic acid was shown to significantly reduce risk of mortality when given to women with diagnosed postpartum hemorrhage in the recent Lancet WOMAN Trial.* The purpose of this study is to determine the optimal dose for using tranexamic acid to prevent postpartum hemorrhage during routine cesarean section. Women undergoing cesarean section will be eligible and must not have a history of blood clots or a known clotting condition. *
  • In this study, we are developing non-invasive tools to identify early signs of abnormalities of the placental function using arterial spin labeling (ASL) based on fetal MRI. ASL is a particularly attractive method for early and safe monitoring during pregnancy given that ASL is completely non-invasive and does not require contrast agents or exposure to ionizing radiation. Our specific aim is to develop and validate placental perfusion imaging with substantially improved image quality and sensitivity to abnormalities.
  • This study is being performed at Children's National Health System. We are trying to understand how the normal fetus controls blood flow to the different parts of the body such as the lungs and brain. We will measure your baby's blood flow using the same ultrasound approach used by your obstetrician. We will test your baby's control of blood flow by measuring the responses to changes in your (the mom's), levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. We will make these changes by asking you to breathe extra oxygen for short periods of time. If your obstetrician determines that your pregnancy is uncomplicated, you and your baby are eligible for this study.