Nutrition and Exercise

Australia currently has two food selection models to guide your nutrition choices. These are the traditional ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’ and the ‘Food Plate’. Both models represent the core food groups and provide an accurate guide to the proportions that each group should contribute to our diet on a day-to-day basis. This way, we can achieve a balanced diet and maintain healthy body weight. Whichever model works better for you, the proportions are about the same.

We can group foods by the amounts of key nutrients they provide. For example, the fruit group is a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin C. An excellent guide to natural foods is their colour. Different coloured foods are an indicator of various nutrients. If you aim for a colourful diet, you will be close to the balance you need. These colours indicate variety both within groups and between them. To meet your nutritional requirements and enjoy good health, you need to eat a varied diet. You need the recommended number of serves from each of the five food groups every day.

Your diet

A healthy, varied and balanced diet is essential for everybody, especially when you are pregnant. Your diet should include (from most to least)(9):

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Protein (lean red meat is the best source of dietary iron; oily fish for omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Dairy
  • Healthy fats
  • Water

Folic acid and other supplements

Daily folate supplements in the 12 weeks before and the first 12 weeks of pregnancy has proven effective in the prevention of neural tube disorders, including spina bifida (10). You should commence folic acid supplements from the time you stop contraception and continue until the end of your first trimester. Women may need a higher dose in some situations. These include pre-existing diabetes, coeliac disease or a family history of neural tube disorders.


Getting into the habit of regular exercise will help keep your pregnancy weight gain within the recommended range. It will also assist with getting back to a healthier version of the pre-pregnancy you after your baby is born.

Nutrition Australia recommends 30 minutes of moderate to intense activity most – if not all – days of the week. Why not aim to get out for a walk or swim three times a week? It’s a great start and is sustainable throughout pregnancy, and into the demands of new motherhood. Keep it simple (e.g. swimming and brisk walking) and adjust your activity to how you are feeling on the day.

Exercise during pregnancy is usually safe and recommended. However, your exercise routine may need to be modified or stopped if you have underlying risk factors and as your pregnancy progresses.

Please discuss your activity levels with your doctor or midwife.

Dr Janelle McAlpine (PhD), Clinical Midwife
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