Pregnancy. It’s an amazing, joyous, exciting and often emotional time in any women’s life. You are now responsible not only for your own health, but for the growth and development of a new life. An amazing yet daunting prospect.

Being the best Mum starts well before birth.  In fact even before you conceive you are already nurturing and nourishing the genetic material that will become your future baby.  If you are in the conception phase of your journey the Conceive Baby website can provide more important information to help you conceive and carry a healthy baby.  The nutritional support you provide throughout pregnancy will impact both the development and the long term health of your newborn child.

So how do you know what’s best? Here we summarise the most important nutrients to support the progression of a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Vital Nutrients for a healthy pregnancy

Back to Top


Folate is involved in the production of our DNA and is therefore vital during the rapid development occurring during pregnancy. Folate is especially important during the first 4 weeks of pregnancy when the neural tube, which connects the brain and spinal cord, develops and closes. This process relies heavily on adequate folate for proper development. Insufficient folate levels during these crucial first 4 weeks of pregnancy greatly increases the risk of neural tube defects. However, a recent Canadian study showed that 40% of women of reproductive age are still not achieving sufficient systemic levels of folate to prevent neural tube defects. 1

The terms folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably, however folate is the nutrient utilised by the body and folic acid is the synthetic supplemental form of folate.

It’s also good to make sure you consume a good folate rich diet, especially during these first stages of pregnancy. For more information you may be interested in this article and be sure to check out our nutritious recipes for plenty of dietary folate too.


Back to Top


Choline works alongside folate in the development of the neural tube, which is especially important during the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Adequate intake of choline throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding is vital to help feed the rapid brain development occurring during this time.

Australian guidelines recommend a minimum adequate intake of 440mg/day.

This video further explains the new research into the importance of choline.


Back to Top


The rapid fetal growth occurring during the 9 months of pregnancy, increases the demand for many essential nutrients. Growing cells take up biotin at a rate five times faster than normal cells, therefore demand for this nutrient greatly increases during pregnancy. Optimising biotin intake prior to conception helps ensure adequate levels are immediately available to support healthy growth and development.

Back to Top


Iodine plays a major role in the brain health of newborns. Deficiency of iodine is the most common cause of preventable intellectual impairment worldwide. Studies have shown iodine deficiency to be prevalent in pregnant women across Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) along with Australian and New Zealand guidelines, strongly support iodine supplementation during pregnancy. The only exception is those with thyroid disease or high iodine intake from other sources.  Please consult your health care provider if you have thyroid issues.

Back to Top

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is vital for the development of healthy teeth and bones. Insufficient vitamin D levels have been linked to low birth weight and growth retardation as well as affecting immune function and fetal bone development through to adulthood. Low maternal vitamin D levels are also linked to an increased prevalence and severity of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and premature labour.

Vitamin D deficiency is an increasingly common condition found up to 80% of pregnant mothers and their infants, even in those already consuming prenatal vitamins. This indicates a greater requirement for vitamin D than currently provided by many prenatal supplements. Studies recommend at least 600IU of vitamin D, with some women requiring 1500IU to meet an adequate blood levels.

Back to Top

Vitamin A

It’s also just as important to ensure you are not consuming too much of some nutrients during pregnancy. Vitamin A is required for fetal development however excess vitamin A can cause birth defects. Therefore vitamin A supplements should be avoided during pregnancy. Betacarotene is a better source of Vitamin A if supplementation is required.

Back to Top


Iron is also important for healthy fetal development and demand increases during pregnancy. However, iron is a heavy metal and is not excreted from the body, therefore it’s also important not to consume too much iron.  It’s very difficult to consume excess via dietary sources however high dose supplementation should be avoided unless clinical deficiency has been diagnosed.  In this case small divided doses are best for optimal absorption and avoidance of side effects including gastric upset and constipation.  The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for pregnancy is 27mg per day and 18mg per day during conception. With the average dietary intake being 15mg of Iron per day, supplementation can be beneficial to help bridge this gap. However the Upper Safe Limit (UL) for pregnancy is 45mcg per day. Doses greater than this should not be consumed unless under medical supervision.

Back to Top

Taking Zycia Natal Nutrients daily throughout your pregnancy will help ensure you and your growing child received a balance of essential nutrients to support healthy growth and development. With Zycia, you can be sure that your little bundle of joy is receiving optimal nutrition to give them the best start in life.

Foods that are off limits

The hormonal changes which are occurring during pregnancy combined with the increased nutritional demands can make it harder to fight infection. Therefore any foods which carry a risk of bacterial infection such as

  • deli meats
  • raw meat
  • raw seafood
  • sushi
  • soft and semi-soft cheeses
  • raw sprouts

should be avoided during pregnancy, as they can carry harmful bacteria, including listeria. The contraction of a bacterial infection, particularly listeria during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, newborn infection or stillbirth.

Preparing, cooking and storing food

All meat should be cooked thoroughly and fruits and vegetables washed well before consumption. Salads should only be eaten fresh and all leaves well washed. Packaged or preprepared deli salads should be avoided. Any leftovers should be kept in the fridge and consumed within a day, you should also reheat any leftovers until steaming hot before eating. Basically all food which should be kept cold should be kept refrigerated, any food which should be eaten hot, should be eaten well cooked and steaming hot. Keep a close eye on used by dates and adhere to them.


The full effects of caffeine on human development during pregnancy are not yet fully understood. However a number of studies have shown that as little as 2 or 3 cups of brewed coffee every day during pregnancy can result in lowered infant birth weight.

Studies have also linked caffeine consumption during pregnancy to miscarriage, premature birth, poorer reflexes and neuromuscular development.

Caffeine easily crossed into the placenta during pregnancy. Therefore maternal caffeine intake will be directly transferred to the growing foetus. A baby who is exposed to a consistent supply of caffeine during pregnancy may experience withdrawal once this supply stops. These babies may cry more, have more difficulty sleeping, they may be more agitated and restless and may sweat more. Withdrawal has also been associated with breathing difficulties.

It’s recommended to keep caffeine intake under 200mg per day, which is equivalent to around 2 cups of regular coffee. It’s also important to remember that chocolate, hot chocolate and some soft drinks also contain caffeine.


It’s difficult to establish the exact level of safe alcohol consumption in pregnancy therefore alcohol should be avoided. Limited evidence suggests that consumption below 1 standard drink per day, does not show any measurable harmful effects, however there may still be subtle immeasurable effects. Therefore, not drinking at all during pregnancy is the safest option. Alcohol consumption beyond this amount has been associated with foetal death, congenital malformation, growth retardation, and behavioural deficits. High levels of drinking are associated with gross congenital abnormalities and foetal alcohol syndrome (which includes physical abnormalities, growth retardation and neurological dysfunction with developmental delay).


You should avoid consuming excess sugar during pregnancy, as this can increase the risk of gestational diabetes. Eating a good balance of low GI foods will help prevent the development of diabetes and well as helping to reduce sugar cravings and excess weight gain during pregnancy.


Excess salt consumption during pregnancy can exacerbate fluid retention and high blood pressure, which are common pregnancy complications, so salt consumption should be monitored.

Foods you should be eating more of

Fruits and Vegetables

Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and wholegrains. This will help ensure you are getting a broad spectrum of essential pregnancy nutrients. Especially your dark green leafy vegetables which are a good source of folate, iron and B12 for healthy growth and development.


Cooked fish is an excellent source of important Omega 3 fatty acids for healthy development of the brain and nervous system. However it’s best to avoid fish high in mercury. The larger the fish, the higher the mercury content, so best to stick with small fish.

Avoid (less than one serve per week)
Good sources
  • sword fish
  • flake
  • marlin
  • orange roughy
  • snapper
  • kingfish
  • whiting
  • flat head
  • trevally
  • tuna
  • salmon
  • sardines

Red Meat

Lean red meat is a good source of protein, iron and B12 for healthy growth and development during pregnancy. Eating 1 – 3 serves per week can help boost your levels of these important nutrients and can help boost energy levels.


Legumes are a good source of folate and B12 as well as a great vegetarian source of protein and iron.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are one of natures ‘superfoods’. They are jam-packed with important nutrients such as protein, omega 3, folate, calcium and a range of other essential nutrients and antioxidants. A handful of nuts and seeds per day is a great way to enrich your diet.


A healthy intake of water helps to avoid many of the common symptoms experienced during pregnancy such as constipation, haemorrhoids, bladder infections and fluid retention. The more water you drink to help flush your system, the less you will retain around your feet and ankles. Adequate hydration during pregnancy has the additional benefits of aiding healthy skin and helping to reduce hormonal acne.

Staying well hydrated is particularly important during the later stages of pregnancy as dehydration can stimulate unwanted contractions.
It’s recommended to drink at least 8 glasses or 2 litres of water a day to ensure optimal hydration.

1. Koren G, Goh I, Klieger C. Folic Acid – The Right Dose, Mother Risk Update – Canadian Family Physician Vol 54: Nov 2008; 1545 – 1547