Carbohydrates, and their importance during pregnancy

Bread in a basket

Carbohydrate foods provide essential fuel for both you and your baby during pregnancy. They are broken down into simple sugars like glucose. The brain requires glucose as the main source of energy. Glucose easily moves through the placenta and is required for the development, growth and metabolism of maternal and foetal tissues. The glucose provided by carbohydrates is the optimal fuel for the maintenance of maternal and foetal brain function. Additionally, carbohydrates are an important source of folate, a B group vitamin needed for the healthy development of babies in early pregnancy.

Choosing healthy carbohydrates during pregnancy

Foods that contain carbohydrates include breads and cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes, kumara/sweet potato, fruit, milk, yoghurt, cakes, biscuits and lollies. The digestive system will break these carbohydrate foods down into simple sugars, mainly glucose.

Some carbohydrates are broken down quickly and can cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and some carbohydrates are broken down slowly and release energy over a longer period of time.

For a steady supply of energy during pregnancy, and satiety (feeling of fullness) it is a good idea to eat plenty of wholegrain breads and cereals, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain crackers, oats and brown rice as well as lentils and legumes. These carbohydrates will provide a slow release of energy (glucose) and are an important source of vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fibre.

You should limit carbohydrates that produce a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and have little nutritional value, such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate, lollies and other refined foods. A healthy immune system allows a child to build resilience

The importance of fibre

Fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods, and potatoes, particularly when eaten with their skin on, are all sources of fibre. Also a carbohydrate, fibre helps to keep your digestive system healthy and regular. This is especially important during pregnancy, when constipation can be a problem.

A note about hygiene with rice and grains

Cooked rice and grains left at room temperature can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can make you ill. To minimise any risk, cook these foods ready for when you need them, rather than preparing them ahead of time and avoid store brought sushi while you are pregnant.

Read more from our experts

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Gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy can impact you and your baby’s health. Learn what is the appropriate and healthy way to manage your weight.

Folic acid in pregnancy

Folate supports your baby’s earliest development. Learn which foods are stacked with folate and when to take a folic acid supplement to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

Pregnancy nutrition and your baby’s immune system

Nutrition during pregnancy is likely to influence an unborn baby’s developing immune system and their risk of developing an allergy later in life.