Maternal Nutrition

by Dr Louise Santhanam, General Practitioner

All new mums need to eat well for their own health now and in the future, and to make sure they are nutritionally ready for any future pregnancy. The human body is designed to breastfeed babies and you will be able to make milk for your baby without needing a special diet.

extract from Eating Well for New Mums, First Steps Nutrition Trust (2017)

Breastfeeding and Diet

First Steps Nutrition Trust: Eating Well for New Mums A guide for professionals, new mothers and anyone caring for them. Includes dietary guidance for breastfeeding mothers.

The NHS Website: Breastfeeding and Diet

Healthy Start

Healthy Start Website of Healthy Start, a UK-wide government scheme to improve the health of low-income pregnant women and families on benefits and tax credits. The scheme provides weekly vouchers to spend on milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, infant formula milk (if required) and vitamins.

Healthy Start: For Health Professionals Simply explains what the Healthy Start scheme is and eligibility criteria.

First Steps Nutrition Trust: Healthy Start Includes links to the Healthy Start Scheme and a recipe book to support budget cooking and the use of ingredients which can be bought using Healthy Start vouchers.

Maternal Vitamin Supplementation

Maternal Folic Acid Supplementation

The couple’s risk for a neural tube defect in pregnancy should be assessed- see NICE CKS: Pre-conception- Advice and Management (August 2017)

  • All women are advised to take 400mcg of folic acid per day while trying to conceive until 12 weeks pregnant.
  • Women at higher risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect are advised to take a higher dose of 5mg of folic acid daily until the 12th week of pregnancy. Women have an increased risk if:
    • either partner has a neural tube defect
    • they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
    • they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects
    • the woman has type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus
    • the woman has coeliac disease
    • the woman is obese (BMI ≥ 30kg/m²)
    • the woman is taking anti-epileptic medication
  • Women with sickle cell disease, thalassaemia, or thalassaemia trait should take folic acid 5 mg daily throughout pregnancy (seek specialist advice). 

The NHS Website: Vitamins, Supplements and Nutrition in Pregnancy

NICE CKS: Preconception Advice and Management Last Revised August 2017- Includes information on the recommendation for folic acid to be taken by all pregnant women, and the basis for recommending high dose supplementation for women at high risk of neural tube defects.

Maternal Vitamin D Supplementation

For more detail see also our webpage on ‘Vitamin D Supplementation‘.

Currently all UK Health Departments recommend:

  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D (400IU), to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate fetal stores for early infancy. 

NICE CKS: Vitamin D Deficiency in Adults- Treatment and Prevention Last Revised September 2018

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Vitamin D and Health Report July 2016

The NHS Website: The new guidelines on Vitamin D- what you need to know simple article outlining the changes to vitamin D recommendations from July 2016.

Maternal Healthy Start Vitamins

Women who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing the standard recommended amount of folic acid and vitamin D.

Healthy Start: Vitamins Information on Healthy Start vitamins, and accessibility to the vitamins across the UK.

The NHS Website: Find Healthy Start Vitamins Services  Postcode locator for Healthy Start vitamins services in England.

Pregnancy and Diet

First Steps Nutrition Trust: Eating Well in Pregnancy Resources for healthcare professionals and parents on the importance and principles of healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy meal recipes, ideas for snacks and eating well on a budget.

British Dietetic Association (BDA): Food Fact Sheet- Pregnancy Includes information on healthy eating, weight gain in pregnancy, foods to avoid and vitamin supplements.

Start4Life: Healthy Eating During Pregnancy Information for patients on healthy eating in pregnancy.

The NHS Website: Have a Healthy Diet in Pregnancy Includes information on healthy eating and food preparation.

The NHS Website: Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy

Maternal Oral Health

Women can be more vulnerable to gum disease in pregnancy, hence the provision of free NHS dental care for pregnant and postnatal women in the UK.

The NHS Website: Teeth and Gums in Pregnancy

The NHS Website: Find Dentists Services

Further Reading

NICE Guideline PH11 Maternal and Child Nutrition Updated November 2014- Includes information on folic acid, vitamin D and diet in pregnancy.

WHO Europe Region: Good Maternal Nutrition – The best start in life A report featuring a systematic review of the most recent evidence on maternal nutrition, the prevention of obesity and noncommunicable diseases. The report reviews existing national maternal recommendations in European member states and possible actions for improvement.

Published April 2017, Updated October 15th 2019