According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the first 1000 days of life is the most active period of brain development, which makes good nutrition during pregnancy and lactation very important.

You may not be sure what nutrients you need to focus on and how you can get them during your pregnancy. Recently, Kounsel brought on Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist Kirsten Davis to talk about nutrition during pregnancy. Here are seven key nutrients she says to make sure you are having during pregnancy and lactation.

1- Protein

Protein is a macronutrient (a nutrient needed in a large amount) that is very important in pregnancy. It helps growth of the fetal and maternal tissue, prevents low birth weight and intrauterine growth restriction, and prepares the body for lactation.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends anywhere from 75-100 grams a day of protein during pregnancy and 71 grams of protein during pregnancy. Food sources include:

2- Choline

Choline is a micronutrient (nutrient needed in a smaller amount) needed for normal brain development and growth. It helps the placenta, which feeds a fetus and gives it oxygen. Choline is also essential in epigenetic programming, meaning that “what you’re eating affects not only your baby, but your baby’s future generations,” Davis says.

Choline is not in most prenatal supplements, so it is particularly important to find food sources that have it. Some studies show that 90% of Americans fall below their recommended intakes of choline, which is 450 milligrams per day during pregnancy and 550 during lactation. Food sources include:


3- Iron

Iron supports an increase in red blood cell production, which doubles during pregnancy. Long-term cognitive delays in infants have been associated with a severe iron deficiency in their mothers.

Food sources of iron are split into two categories: heme and non-heme. Heme iron sources are meat-based and contain more iron that can be absorbed into the body. Non-heme iron sources are typically plant-based. In order to increase non-heme iron absorption, Davis suggests cooking with a cast-iron skillet and pairing non-heme iron sources with sources of vitamin C (such as spinach and citrus).

Suggested iron levels are 27 mg/day during pregnancy and 9 mg/day during lactation. Food sources include:

Heme iron

Non-heme iron


4- Folate/Folic Acid

Folate, or folic acid, is an important vitamin during conception and the first trimester. It supports the development of the fetal brain. The FDA has determined that certain foods need to be supplemented with folic acid, such as flour.

Some people have a gene that prevents the body from absorbing folic acid, so Davis recommends that you take prenatal supplements that contain an active form of folic acid called 5-MTHF. Some doctors recommend taking these supplements before conception.

The recommended amount of folic acid during pregnancy is 600 micrograms per day and 500 during lactation. Food sources include:


5- Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for your immune system. Vitamin D3 is the most biologically active form of vitamin D (and is what you get from the sun). It can protect against the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and low birth weight.

Recommended levels of vitamin D are 600 units a day during pregnancy and lactation, but if your vitamin D level is at or under 30, you may need 1000 units a day. Davis suggests getting your vitamin D levels checked by a doctor so you know exactly how much of it you need per day. Food sources include:


6- Iodine

A baby’s brain and nervous system is very dependent on iodine intake. Maternal iodine deficiency can cause developmental delays in the baby. Iodine needs increase during pregnancy.

The recommended intake of iodine is 220 mcg/day during pregnancy and 290 mcg during lactation. Food sources include:

7- Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 is essential for brain and retina development, anti-inflammatory response, and kidney function. A baby is totally dependent on the omega-3 intake of their mother, as they cannot make any in their developing body.

There are two active forms of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA. It is recommended that during pregnancy, you have 8-12 ounces of seafood (low in mercury) per week to get DHA fatty acids. EPA fatty acids are made from plant sources of omega-3.

The recommended amount of omega-3 per day is 600 mg. At least 300 mg should be DHA fatty acids. Food sources include:



About Kirsten Davis

Kirsten Davis is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) who obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Nutritional Sciences/Dietetics at The Pennsylvania State University. She completed her Dietetic Internship at The University of Virginia Health System specializing in pediatrics and nutrition support in a clinical setting. She has experience working in both Level III and IV Neonatal Intensive Care Units in New Orleans, LA, and Washington, DC, respectively. She holds active licensure in the state of Louisiana.
Reach out to Kirsten on Kounsel for breastfeeding, lactation, and nutrition support during preconception/pregnancy.