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Dietary Advice for Moms to Be

Dietary Advice for Moms to Be

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Food Safety for Moms-To-Be Main Page


Nutritionists recommend that everyone consume a balanced diet, including:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas) and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils
In addition to this general dietary advice, there are three key dietary tips for Moms-to-Be to follow for their developing baby’s health. These three tips matter even before you become pregnant, since some nutrients or unwanted elements may accumulate before you are pregnant or realize you are pregnant.

On this page:

Dietary Tip #1: Folic Acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin and essential nutrient that helps prevent birth defects, such as neural tube defects, when taken before and during pregnancy. The neural tube begins developing into an unborn baby’s spinal cord and brain during the first month of pregnancy, when a woman might not even know she is pregnant. Moms-to-Be can get adequate folic acid by eating the following foods:

  • Leafy, dark green vegetables
  • Legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Most berries
  • Whole grains
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Fortified corn masa

Women who are or who may become pregnant should consume 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily.

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Dietary Tip #2: Advice About Eating Fish

Fish and other protein-rich foods have nutrients that can help a child’s growth and development. Due to the evidence of benefits from eating fish, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish, from choices that are lower in methylmercury. In January 2017, FDA and EPA issued final advice regarding fish consumption based on levels of methylmercury in fish.  This advice is specifically for women who are pregnant, might become pregnant, or are breastfeeding…and for young children.

Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the environment and is also released to the environment through many types of human activity. It can collect in streams, lakes, and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water or sediment. It is this type of mercury that is present in fish. Methylmercury can be harmful to the developing brain and nervous system. The highest methylmercury levels are found in large, long-lived fish, such as king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (from the Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna.  So, Moms-to-Be should avoid these seven fish.

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Palm of your hand

Goal: Moms-to-Be should eat 2 to 3 servings of a variety of fish each week from the “Best Choices” list below or 1 serving a week from the “Good Choices” list below. If you eat fish caught by family or friends, check for fish advisories. If there is no advisory, eat only 1 serving and no other fish that week.

Lists of servings of a variety of fish each week from the Best Choices or Good Choices

THIS ADVICE REFERS TO FISH AND SHELLFISH COLLECTIVELY AS “FISH.” / ADVICE UPDATED JANUARY 2017

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Dietary Tip #3: Grains

Moms-to-Be should consume a variety of foods, including varied grains (including wheat, oats, and barley), for good nutrition. Rice, which is a major global food source, is also a leading dietary source of a naturally-occurring form of arsenic that may have developmental effects on infants and lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes. By varying their grains, Moms-to-Be can promote better health for their babies.

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