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Healthy eating in your third trimester

By Jane Harrison, R.D., Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth

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Are you in the last “stretch” of your pregnancy? A healthy diet is still a very important part of the game plan. Good nutrition can continue to make a difference not only in the health of your baby, but in your own health as well.

By the third trimester, a developing fetus will take all the nutrition it needs from your body with only the remaining nutrition being available for you. This can leave you depleted if you do not give attention to your eating habits.

Check out the following tips to make sure you are on the right track:

Increase calories wisely. Dipping into pints of ice cream will quickly add unwanted pounds (not to mention the excess sugar and saturated fat). This weight will be hard to shed postpartum.

Pregnancy requires only about 300 extra high-quality calories per day. Some examples are:

  • Low-fat yogurt with 1/4 cup of nuts
  • Two slices of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and a smear of jam
  • A bowl of whole-grain cereal with skim milk and a small banana

Eat often. By the third trimester, eating large meals may cause gas, heartburn, belching and digestive discomfort (due to crowding issues).

  • Spread your calories out as evenly as possible during the course of the day.
  • Eat breakfast within one to two hours of waking up. Follow with mini meals about every three hours.

Eat lean protein. Protein is important for proper development of breast milk as well as your growing baby. Protein is found in all meat, fish, chicken, dairy, beans, nuts, seeds and tofu.

  • Aim for two to three servings of lean meat or a substitute per day. A serving equals:
    •  2-3 ounces of fish, chicken or lean meat
    • 1/2 a cup of beans, cottage cheese or tofu
  • That, along with three servings of low-fat milk or yogurt (1 cup equals a serving) and/or low-fat cheese (1 ounce equals a serving) will meet your protein requirements.
  • Certain fish can be high in mercury and harmful to the fetus. Stay away from swordfish, tilefish and King mackerel. The FDA recommends that pregnant women can safely eat up to twelve ounces a week of other types of cooked fish. Talk to your doctor before you eat any fish.

Eat healthy fats. Fats are important to help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. They also keep your brain and nervous system healthy.

  • Aim for 25 percent to 30 percent of your calories to come from healthy fats, such as olive or canola oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, natural peanut butter and canola mayonnaise.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats from high-fat cheese, ice cream, chips, and processed and fried foods.

Focus on fiber. Constipation is common in the third trimester, and can lead to hemorrhoids. Aim for at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Choose:

  • Whole grains such as 100 percent whole-wheat breads, cereals, crackers, pastas, brown rice, barley
  • Sweet potatoes, peas, corn and winter squash
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes such as black beans, kidney, lima, chickpeas, split peas and lentils

Keeping well hydrated will also help stave off constipation.

Concentrate on calcium. Your baby’s teeth and bones grow during the third trimester. If your diet falls short, your baby will pull calcium from your bones to meet her growing needs. This can raise your risk for osteoporosis in later years.

  • Calcium can also keep blood pressure normal and may lower the risk of pre-term delivery.
  • Aim for about 1,200 mg per day, from food and/or supplements, if advised by your doctor.
  • Low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese; calcium-fortified orange juice and soymilk; green vegetables such as broccoli and kale, tofu and beans are all good food sources.

Get enough iron. Iron needs typically double during pregnancy, going from the required 15 mg to 30mg a day. This is due to increased blood volume as the body starts to make more red blood cells. Most prenatal vitamins contain iron.

  • Along with prenatal vitamins, look for food sources from lean meat, poultry, eggs, soybeans and tofu, nuts, seeds and beans.
  • Calcium can interfere with iron absorption. If you have been told to use them, take these supplements separately.  
  • Iron is better absorbed when taken with a food high in vitamin C (orange juice, bell peppers, tomatoes and broccoli).

View the original Healthy eating in your third trimester article on myOptumHealth.com 


  • National Anemia Action Council. Women and anemia – increased need for iron during pregnancy. Accessed: 05/12/2009
    • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Nutrition during pregnancy. Accessed: 05/12/2009
      • American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy nutrition. Accessed: 05/12/2009


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