The Importance of Nutrition During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding is essential for the good development and growth of the baby and the health of the mother.
The Importance of Nutrition During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Last update: 02 August, 2023

Nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding is essential for the good development and growth of the baby and the health of the mother. On the contrary, an inadequate diet could jeopardize the health of both. For example, a calcium deficiency can cause bone formation problems in the baby and cause preeclampsia in the mother. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

The impact of nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding

To better understand the relationship between nutrition and pregnancy and breastfeeding, we must know that the nutritional requirements of the mother increase in both stages. Therefore, to cover them, they have to have an adequate intake of energy and nutrients. Below, we’ll review the impact of nutrition in these periods of life.

It’s key for the proper development of the baby

A balanced diet in terms of nutrients and energy during pregnancy is essential for the proper development of babies. A review supported by the National Library of Medicine highlights that adequate folic acid intake in pregnant women prevents neural tube defects in the fetus. It’s also related to a lower incidence of miscarriages and a greater expansion of the placental blood vessels.

In the same vein, a group of experts states that iron intake prevents anemia in the mother and ensures an adequate oxygen supply to the fetus.

Ensures better infant growth

Kramer and Kakuma, when studying the optimal time for breastfeeding, confirmed that adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation ensures good growth of babies. In addition, those children who were breastfed for 6 months presented less risk of contracting gastrointestinal diseases.

Prevents pregnancy complications

A 2018 review on the use of calcium supplements explains that an adequate intake of this nutrient prevents risks of pregnancy complications. For example, the risk of suffering from preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

A pregnant woman eating fruit salad.
A balanced protein and energy supplementation significantly improves the baby’s birth weight.

Nutrition affects the quality of breast milk

What a mother eats can influence the composition of breast milk and the development of her child. For example, the fat she consumes affects the fatty acid composition of the milk. In this regard, a study shared by the journal Nutrients, in 2019, ensures that regular consumption of foods that are a source of omega-3, which is essential for the visual and cognitive development of babies, increases its concentration in breast milk.

At the same time, an observational study also published by Nutrients, highlighted that the content of vitamins A and E in breast milk is sensitive to the nutritional status of the mother and the intake of these nutrients in her diet.

Nutrients to look out for during pregnancy and breastfeeding

According to Stephenson, in an article published in the Lancet, good nutrition is so important for a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding that it should start even before conception.


The journal Nutrition & Metabolism states that a group of Chinese pregnant women with a low protein intake managed to increase their baby’s birth weight significantly. This occurred when they ate more animal protein from different types of meat and dairy products.

However, the benefits of the protein source aren’t very clear. Another study published in the journal Nutrients in 2022 concluded that red and white meat proteins increase the risk of gestational diabetes. This conclusion was reached by comparing them with vegetable protein, dairy, and eggs.

The recommendation for pregnancy is 0.88 to 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For infants, it’s 1.05 grams per kilogram. However, some authors such as Elango and Ball and their team suggest higher intakes.

Folic acid

Folic acid supplementation during pregnancy prevents birth defects in babies and promotes better growth and development. In addition to this, a publication in the journal Biomedicines also links it to the effective prevention of preeclampsia.

The National Library of Medicine reminds us that this vitamin is found naturally in breast milk. Therefore, 500 micrograms per day are recommended during breastfeeding. For pregnancy, 400 micrograms are recommended during the first 3 months.


In general, about 1000 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended, as it promotes bone growth in the baby. However, a review in the Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences suggests further research.

A woman breastfeeding her baby.
Calcium is essential for promoting bone growth in babies and for maintaining the health of the mother’s bones.


The Cochrane review of data from Peña’s team suggests that iron supplementation during pregnancy reduces anemia by 70% and iron deficiency by 57%. 27 milligrams per day are recommended during pregnancy and 20 milligrams during breastfeeding.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and for maintaining the bone health of both mother and baby. The Peruvian Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics stated in 2021 that for those areas that don’t receive enough sunlight, 2000 international units per day are recommended.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Of this group of fatty acids, DHA is the most important for pregnancy and lactation. It’s involved in visual health and proper psychomotor development in the first years of life. 600 milligrams per day are recommended.

Can nutritionists detect health conditions?

Nutritionists are able to identify and address nutrition-related health problems during pregnancy and lactation. This specialist can detect nutritional deficiencies or food intolerances and recommend dietary changes to ensure adequate nutrient intake. In addition, they can provide guidance to address problems such as gestational diabetes or pregnancy-related anemia.

Proper nutrition leads to a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding

It’s clear, and science is clear, that pregnancy and breastfeeding require increased energy and nutrient intake. Therefore, it’s key to keep proper nutrition and nutritional supplements up to date. This will guarantee a good state of health in the mother and optimal growth and development of the baby.

It’s crucial to go to an attending physician and nutritionist so that they can indicate and adjust each nutrient according to the month of pregnancy. The recommendations for energy, protein, calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamin D, and omega-3 should be personalized for each case. Remember also that a sufficient, varied, and balanced diet will guarantee a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.