"During pregnancy, it is vital for women to take care of themselves and provide their baby with nutrients and vitamins that will aid their growth and development," says Bridget Swinney, a Texas-based registered dietitian and the author of "Eating Expectantly: The Practical and Tasty Guide to Prenatal Nutrition." Good nutrition keeps you healthy throughout your pregnancy, gives you that pregnancy glow that makes your skin shine and your eyes beam, and -- most importantly -- helps your little one get the best start in life. That's worth stocking up on spinach for.
Build up your baby's bones and teeth by adding more vitamin D to your daily diet and pregnancy regimen. According to Swinney, research shows a possible connection between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes and autism. "Getting enough vitamin D is especially important for women with darker skin tones, who are more often deficient," says Swinney. "Once the baby is born, vitamin D drops can be added to breast milk as a supplement."
Fish is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D. Get your taste buds ready for salmon, tuna, herring and catfish to fill up on your daily dose of D.
A necessary nutrient to keep mom and baby healthy during pregnancy is folic acid. Commonly found in supplements and prenatal vitamins, folic acid is essential for your baby's brain and organ development. "Folic acid helps with the production of red blood cells and assists in cell division," says Swinney. "It's a critical nutrient during early pregnancy when errors in cell division can lead to birth defects, specifically neural-tube defects, which involve incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord."
Enhance your diet with foods rich in folic acid, such as dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, beans, and seeds and nuts.
Keep your baby's eyes on the prize by supplementing your daily diet with lutein, a critical nutrient needed during pregnancy. "It protects a baby's eyes by absorbing potentially damaging light and helps defend against oxidative damage," explains Swinney. "Lutein is important because much of what babies learn is based on what they see, so the more we can do for their eyes, the better."
Get your daily dose of lutein by chomping on more spinach, kale and highly colored foods such as corn and egg yolks.
Pump up your daily nutrients during pregnancy with iron. "A mother's blood volume expands 30 percent during pregnancy, but the amount of hemoglobin doesn't always keep up," said Dr. Wendie Trubow, an obstetrician and quality director of Visions HealthCare in Massachusetts. "This has pregnant women presenting as anemic in their blood work."
An iron supplement will do the trick, but you can also incorporate iron into your daily diet. Bulk up brunch with spinach, kale and beans while serving up red meat, chicken and fish for dinner to avoid iron deficiency. To enhance its absorption, combine these foods with a food rich in vitamin C, says Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian. "If you have a spinach salad with a lime dressing or red bell peppers, the iron from the spinach is better absorbed."
Milk definitely does a body good -- for both you and your baby. In fact, aim for at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day during pregnancy, says Sheth. "Calcium is very important for the baby's development of bones and teeth. If you don't get adequate calcium in your diet during pregnancy, the baby might use calcium from your bones."
In addition to calcium supplements, increase your intake of low fat milk, yogurt, dairy alternatives and cheese to satisfy those cravings and provide you and your baby with a much-needed top nutrient.