Adolescent pregnancies are higher risk than the pregnancies of healthy adult women. There are several reasons for this. First, teenage girls may not be completely through their own growth process. Adding pregnancy to a time of rapid personal growth will certainly increase nutritional demands. It will also challenge reproductive organs early in their development.
As a result, pregnant teens are more likely to deliver their babies early (premature) or have a baby with low birth weight. Complications of pregnancy such as anemia, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and preeclampsia are also more likely to develop. Because of higher risks, it is critical that pregnant teenagers seek prenatal care as soon as they find out they are pregnant. Enrolling in prenatal care early in pregnancy can help ensure a healthy pregnancy outcome. Good obstetrical care will ensure that problems are detected and treated early, protecting both mother and child. It is very important that pregnant teenage girls keep all their prenatal medical appointments and that they are educated about pregnancy needs and good health practices.
The nutritional needs of a pregnant teenage girl are high. Not only does she need a nutritionally-rich diet to support a growing baby, but her own nutritional needs are also high. Nutrient and calorie demands are greatest for girls who become pregnant soon after the onset of menarche (their first menstruation) as they are most likely to still be in a stage of rapid growth.
During pregnancy, the need for calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and water all increase. Each girl will require different amounts of foods providing key nutrients to achieve the desired pregnancy weight gain and pregnancy support. Age, weight, activity level, and metabolism all influence how much a teenage girl will need to eat.
The food guide below identifies important food groups to include in a teen pregnancy diet, and a minimum daily recommendation is listed for servings. This guide is not adjusted for calories, and there is not enough total food in this table to support a healthy pregnancy. The table only provides a quick screening for girls to see if they are eating the minimum amount of specific nutrient-rich foods. Additional calories will need to be added, but meeting these minimum servings will help ensure good nutrient intake.
Nutrient Rich Food Group
What equals a serving
Milk & High Calcium Foods
Choose 4 – 5 servings per day
1 cup milk or yogurt
2 cups cottage cheese
11/2 oz cheese
1 cup fortified soy beverage
11/2 cups ice cream
1 cup calcium-fortified fruit juice
Protein Foods Choose 2 – 3 servings per day
3 oz cooked meat, fish or poultry
1 cup cooked beans
4 tablespoons peanut butter
Breads and Grains
(whole grains are best)
Choose 6 or more per day
1 slice bread (1 oz)
1 small tortilla
1/2 cup cooked cereal
3/4 – 1 cup cold cereal
1/2 cup cooked pasta
1/3 cup cooked rice
1/2 English muffin
1/2 small bagel
Fruits and Vegetables Choose 5 or more servings per day
1 cup raw fruit or vegetables
1/2 cup cooked vegetable
1 medium piece fresh fruit
1 cup green salad
1/4 cup dried fruit
1/2 cup fruit juice
Unsaturated Fats and Oils Choose 2 -3 per day
1 tsp vegetable oil
(olive or canola oil are best)
1 tsp mayonnaise
6 almonds (1/4 oz nuts)
1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping well-hydrated is important when you are pregnant. You should be drinking at least 8 – 10 cups of water each day. Hot weather and physical activity can increase your fluid needs greatly. You should be urinating frequently and your urine will be pale or colorless if your fluid intake is adequate. Try to drink water instead of soda, fruit punch or caffeinated beverages. Many pregnant teens gain too much weight if they consume large volumes of calorie containing beverages.
Constipation can be a problem during pregnancy. Eating foods rich in fiber can help prevent it. Choose whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables several times each day to ensure your fiber intake is adequate. High fiber breakfast cereals can be helpful. Read labels to find a cereal that has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Again, water intake is important to help fiber keep intestines moving.
Vitamins and Minerals
Pregnancy increases your body’s need for many vitamins and minerals. A prenatal vitamin mineral supplement is often prescribed at your first prenatal visit. If you are already taking any nutritional supplements be sure to discuss this right away with your doctor as too much supplementation can be harmful.
Folic acid (folate) is an important vitamin during early pregnancy. An adequate amount of this nutrient reduces the risk of having a baby with birth defects of the spine and spinal cord. Ideally, all girls and women who are in their childbearing years consume at least 400 micrograms of folate daily. Once pregnant, 600 micrograms per day is needed.
Iron and calcium are two important minerals your body needs in extra amounts during the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. Your health care provider may prescribe extra iron in addition to the amount in your prenatal supplement if lab tests indicate you are anemic. If you don’t have enough dairy foods in your diet, you may need an additional calcium supplement. Iron and calcium supplements should not be taken together as calcium will interfere with the absorption of iron.
Some vitamins can be harmful if taken in excess amounts. Excess intake of vitamin A has been shown to increase the risks of certain birth defects. It is important to discuss any vitamin and mineral supplements you are taking with your health care provider.
Weight gain for a pregnant teen is very important. If your weight was within the recommended weight range for your height when you became pregnant, you should gain between 28 and 40 pounds (13 to 18 kilograms). If you are more than 2 years past your first menstrual cycle and overweight or under 62 inches (157.5 cm) in height, you should gain at the lower end of this range.
During the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy, you should be gaining about 1 pound each week. If you are gaining much more than this you can increase your chances of being overweight after your pregnancy. Weight gain at less than this rate could increase your risk of pregnancy complications. Be sure and discuss your weight gain with your doctor at each prenatal visit.
Your pregnancy is a time to take care of yourself and protect your unborn baby. Exposing your baby to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs can increase pregnancy risks and possibly do permanent harm to your baby. It is important to talk to your health care provider if you are using any substances.