Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Good nutrition is especially important for women when they are thinking about getting pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnancy is a time when your nutritional needs are greater, in order to nourish both yourself and your growing baby. Good nutrition now will benefit your children throughout their lives.

You don’t need to change your diet drastically when you are preparing for pregnancy, are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should continue to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and keep active. However, there are a few extra things you need to be aware of in relation to certain vitamins and minerals, alcohol, and food safety.

Eating a Variety of Foods

Eating from each of the following food groups every day helps to ensure you have all the nutrients you need to nourish yourself and your baby.

  • Have at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit during pregnancy and at least 7 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit during breastfeeding.
  • Have at least 8 servings of grain foods during pregnancy and at least 9 servings during breastfeeding. These foods include bread, pasta, rice and breakfast cereal.  Whole grains varieties are best.
  • Have at least 2-3 servings of milk and milk products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese – or non-dairy alternatives – during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
  • Have at least 3 servings of legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and/or red meat with fat removed during pregnancy, and at least 2 servings during breastfeeding.

These are broad recommendations are based on Ministry of Health resources: Eating for Healthy Pregnant Women and Eating for Healthy Breastfeeding Women. For tailored recommendations, consult a dietitian or registered nutritionist.

With pregnancy, you may become constipated. Eat foods with fibre (fruit, vegetables and whole grains). Kiwifruit has laxative properties and is an excellent way to stay regular as it also is a nutritionally dense fruit.


It can get difficult to keep up with the servings you eat every day, especially when the recommended servings are as large as 7-9 servings. Some ways to try and reach these serving numbers are:

Vegetables and fruits:

  • Make sure that at least half of your plate every meal are vegetables
  • Keep them in plain insight! Having a vegetable/fruit basket in the corner of your kitchen will make you think about using it more.
  • Smoothies are a great way to have a variety of vegetables and fruits in one serving!
  • Turn your favourites into healthier versions of common foods: brussell sprouts, zucchini or kale chips instead of potato chips

Grain foods:

  • Replace white bread/rice/pasta/cereal/muesli bars with whole-grain options
  • Check the labels in the ingredient lists. Look for whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice
  • Add barley into your soups, stews, salads, casseroles
  • Use quinoa to coat fish, chicken or fritters instead of breadcrumbs

General tips:

  • Include a variety of food groups within one dish. For example, a blueberry bran muffin contains 1/2 serve of fruit and 1 serve of grains
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page for some examples of foods for each food group

Important minerals


Iron carries oxygen throughout the body, affecting energy levels. Lack of iron will make you feel tired and exhausted during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Animal products provide the most available form of ‘haem’ iron, for example, red meat, chicken, fish and eggs.

People who choose not to eat meat should eat larger amounts (at least two serves) of ‘non-haem’ iron-containing foods, such as tofu, whole-grain bread, nuts, seeds, dried beans, peas or lentils. Some women will also require iron supplements if iron levels are low.

Eating foods rich in Vitamin C at the same time as iron foods will increase the body’s absorption of iron – such as capsicum, tomato or fruit juice. Avoid drinking tea and coffee within an hour of meals – as they reduce the absorption of iron.


Pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra calcium for their growing baby as well as to keep their own bones strong. Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium, with calcium and B12-fortified soy milk, wholegrain breads, broccoli, canned salmon or sardines, spinach, baked beans and tofu also providing calcium – though in lower amounts.

Calcium requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding vary with age. Teenagers need an extra serve than adult women, as their own bones are still growing.


Pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra iodine, which is important for baby’s brain development.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to take a daily iodine supplement of 150 micrograms from the start of their pregnancy until they stop breastfeeding, as well as eating foods rich in iodine.

Good sources of iodine include low-fat milk and dairy products, eggs, fish and seafood. Choose iodised table salt for cooking, where used – and most commercial breads contain iodised salt. While seaweed is a good source of iodine, it is recommended that women avoid sushi during pregnancy.

Avoid seaweed and kelp tablets as the levels of iodine they contain are extremely variable and can be high enough to be toxic. Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their doctor before taking a supplement.

Important vitamins

Folic acid

Early pregnancy is a crucial time for baby’s neural tube development, which develops into their brain and spinal cord. This is formed in the first 27 days of pregnancy so it is important to have a diet high in folate before (preconception) and during the early stages of pregnancy.

Foods rich in folic acid include leafy green vegetables, fruit, wholegrain bread and cereals, yeast extracts, and foods fortified with folic acid (folate added in) , such as some breakfast cereals and bread.

In addition to food, women who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, are recommended to take a daily supplement of 800 mcg folic acid for at least one month before, and the first three months of pregnancy. If the pregnancy was unplanned, take it as soon as possible.

Vitamin A

While it’s important to get enough vitamin A, excessive levels of retinol (a form of vitamin A) during pregnancy can be harmful to a developing baby.

Liver (lamb’s fry), kidney, shellfish and some supplements are particularly high in retinol; limit liver to 100g once a week and do not take supplements containing vitamin A, including vitamin-A fish oils, unless advised by your doctor.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for normal blood and nerve function for pregnant women and their growing baby. B12 is only found in animal foods and fortified foods, so pregnant and breastfeeding women who follow vegan diets should consult the doctor for B12 supplements even if they are showing no signs of deficiency.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body to use calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth as well as mum’s and baby’s muscle function. Exposing skin to sunlight (at low risk times) is the best source of Vitamin D in New Zealand, with a few foods containing low levels (oily fish, fortified foods, full-fat milk and butter, egg yolk).

Women may be at risk of being Vitamin D deficient if:

  • They have darker skin
  • They completely avoid sun exposure for religious, personal or medicinal reasons
  • They have liver or kidney disease or take medications that affect Vitamin D levels

Women at risk of Vitamin D deficiency should consult a doctor for advice on supplements. 

Food Safety

Keeping food safe from contaminants is extremely important while you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Food poisoning can affect both yourself and your baby.  If you experience diarrhoea, vomiting, or flu-like illness it is important to contact your doctor or midwife immediately.

For complete information about food safety in pregnancy, click here to read the Ministry of Primary Industry’s guidelines which are regularly updated.

Here are some quick tips on handling food safely:

  • Always cook eggs until the yolk and white are solid.  Avoid undercooked or raw eggs and other raw animal products
  • Avoid buying pre-prepared sandwiches and salads from cafes or supermarkets. Freshly made homemade sandwiches are the best option.
  • Avoid foods containing raw fish, shellfish, or seafood, such as sushi
  • Wash and dry fruit and vegetables before you eat them. Cook frozen berries before you eat them.
  • Store chilled foods in a fridge below 4°C and always heat food thoroughly until it’s steaming hot, i.e. at least 70°C.
  • Avoid soft cheeses (such as brie and camembert) and unpasteurised milk


Plain water should be your first choice over other drinks. You need more water when you are pregnant – as your blood volume increases, and while breastfeeding – you need fluid to produce breast milk.

Pregnant women require 2.3L fluid (from all sources) each day (9x 250ml cups), and breastfeeding women require 2.6L per day (10 x 250ml cups). Keep in mind that these are broad guidelines, and will vary depending on the climate, your body size, and activity levels. The best way to ensure you are drinking enough is to listen to your thirst cues and aim for the colour of your urine (pee) to be pale yellow.  It may help to keep a water bottle nearby to remind you to drink regularly.

  • Some herbal teas may be harmful in pregnancy. Check teas for a pregnancy warning label or ask your midwife.
  • Fermented drinks such as Kombucha can contain low levels of alcohol and are best avoided.
  • Sugary drinks are low in nutrients and can replace better choices so keep to a minimum.


There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as it enters a baby’s bloodstream, where it can affect development. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) describes a spectrum of varied disabilities that can result when a developing baby is exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. The Ministry of Health strongly recommends women planning to become pregnant as well as pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol.

Breastfeeding mothers are also encouraged to avoid alcohol, especially during the first month after delivery. If you drink, the same amount of alcohol that gets into your bloodstream enters your breastmilk – and it will leave your breastmilk when it leaves your blood stream. Unless you’re doing it for comfort reasons, there’s not much point in expressing breastmilk and throwing it out (otherwise known as pumping and dumping). To learn more about breastfeeding and alcohol, visit Plunket’s webpage.

For more info on pregnancy and alcohol, visit Alcohol NZ | Hapūtanga: How alcohol affects your baby

For more advice on FASD, visit the Ministry of Health | FASD webpage


Pregnancy slows the metabolism of caffeine, so pregnant women are advised to limit caffeine to no more than 2 cups of coffee (<200mg caffeine) each day. It is also transferred into breastmilk and advice is for breastfeeding women to limit intake also.

Caffeine is a stimulant and can contribute to interrupted sleep – for women and babies – as well as irritability and indigestion. High caffeine levels have been linked to reduced fertility in women trying to conceive and low birth weights.

Whatever you choose to drink, be aware that the caffeine content can vary.


Average Caffeine Content (mg)

Coffee (cappuccino) (260ml)105
Energy drinks (250 ml can)80-120

Instant Coffee (1 cup)

Black tea (1 cup)47
Cola drinks (355ml can)35
Chocolate bar (50g)33
Green tea (1 cup)31
Decaffeinated long black coffee (130ml)19
Drinking chocolate (1 cup)5

Reference: Ministry of Health.2020.Eating & Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults, FSANZ, NZ Food Composition Database

Examples of food group servings


A standard serving of vegetables is about 75g (100-350kj) which is about the same as:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables (eg puha, watercress, silverbeet, kamokamo, carrot, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, taro leaves)
  • ½ cup canned vegetables (eg beetroot, tomato, sweet corn)
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • ½ medium potato or kumara, taewa, yam, taro, cassava
  • 1 medium tomato


A standard serving of fruit is about 150g (350kj) which is about the same as:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange, or pear
  • 2 small apricots, kiwifruits, plums
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (drained and with no added sugar) eg pineapple, papaya
  • 1 cup frozen fruit eg mango, berries

Grain foods, mostly wholegrain and those naturally high in fibre 

A standard serving (500kj) is about the same as:

  • 1 slice whole-grain bread
  • ½ medium wholegrain roll or flatbread
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa
  • ½ cup cooked porridge
  • ¼ cup muesli
  • 2 breakfast wheat biscuits
  • ⅔ cup cereal flakes (wholegrain where possible)
  • 3 crispbreads or crackers (wholegrain where possible)

Milk and milk products, mostly low and reduced fat 

A standard serving (500-600kj) is about the same as

  • 1 cup low or reduced-fat fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
  • 2 slices or a 4cm x 3cm x 2cm piece of cheese such as Edam
  • ¾ cup low or reduced-fat yoghurt
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives (eg soy, rice, almond, oat milk) (with at least 100 mg of added calcium per 100ml)

Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and/or red meat with the fat removed 

A standard serving (500-600kj) is about the same as

  • 1 cup cooked or canned beans, lentils, chickpeas, or split peas (preferably with no added salt)
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter, tahini or other nut or seed paste
  • 100g cooked fish fillet (about 115g raw) or one small can of fish
  • 2 large eggs
  • 80g cooked lean chicken (100g raw)
  • 65g cooked lean meat such as beef, lamb, pork, or veal (90-100g raw) – no more than 500g cooked red meat each week.

Reference: Ministry of Health.2020.Eating & Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults

Last modified: August 16, 2023