Pre Conception Nutrition: Giving your Baby the Very Best Start
Most mothers-to-be are aware that once they become pregnant they must eat a balanced diet and live a healthy lifestyle including exercise. After all, your body is the habitat of a growing baby and it is essential that both of you get the nutrients that you need to thrive. What some mothers-to-be may not be aware of is that preparing the body for pregnancy is important in itself and the diet and lifestyle that you lead even before conception occurs can have a direct impact on the health of you and your baby during pregnancy. For women planning a pregnancy here are some of the things that you should be doing to prepare your body and make it the best possible place for your little one to grow.
Begin taking folic acid
Folic acid has been proven to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in growing foetuses. This most commonly includes spina bifida and other brain defects. It is thought to be most effective during the first 28 days following conception as this is when any potential problems tend to form. However many women will not realise that they are pregnant this quickly which is why it is important to begin taking folic acid when you actively start trying to conceive. In fact some experts recommend that all women of a childbearing age should take it ‘just in case’. Folic acid, or folate as it is otherwise known, can be found in green vegetables such as spinach, nuts and citrus fruits however it is mostly taken in supplement form as it can be hard to get the recommended daily amount of 400 micrograms through diet alone.
Becoming pregnant means that the body will undergo several changes and demands. Your body needs to have vast stores of vitamins and minerals to be able to cope with these demands and ensure that both you and your baby are getting sufficient amounts of nutrients. If you are not providing enough for both of you then the foetus may start drawing nutrients from its mother’s supply which can lead to health problems in later life. One of the most important nutrients to increase in your daily diet is calcium which can be found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurts and is imperative for building strong and healthy bones. Many women also have inadequate amounts of iron in their body so building these up before conception is particularly important. Iron is good for the blood as it helps create haemoglobin which carries oxygen through blood cells quickly. During pregnancy the amount of blood in the body can increase by up to 50% so haemoglobin levels also need to rise. Iron can be found in red meat, poultry and legumes although due to the serious possible consequences of iron deficiency during pregnancy (preterm birth and low birth weight to name a few) it is often prescribed in supplement form in the same way as folic acid.
Vitamin C found in fruits, complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and protein found in legumes are also vital for keeping the immune systems of both mother and baby fighting fit and giving the mother energy stores to make it through the day with baby on board.
Being at the ‘right weight’ before becoming pregnant is very important for both you and your baby. Some women may need to lose weight before becoming pregnant while others may need to put it on. You will need to consult a health care or fitness professional before attempting to conceive in order to find out what your body mass index (BMI) is and gain advice on whether you need to take action before conceiving. Many women don’t realise that the weight they are before pregnancy will directly affect their baby’s birth weight. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicated that underweight women will give birth to underweight, smaller babies that may in later life also have weight issues of their own. Overweight women, however, are also more likely to suffer from health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy. Being at the right weight may even increase your chances of becoming pregnant as being underweight or overweight can mean your ovulation is less regular. Remember that losing or adding weight should be done sensibly with the guidance of your doctor and fitness professional. Do not follow stereotypical weight loss myths and remember that according to the Australian Baby Centre the recommended additional 300 calories that a woman is supposed to take daily whilst pregnant does not include candy and cake.
Things to avoid
Obviously one of the first things you should cut out when attempting to become pregnant is smoking. Smoking can seriously damage your growing baby and may even result in miscarriage or stillbirth. It is widely debated about whether small amounts of alcohol are safe to drink during pregnancy but with kidney damage, behavioural problems and facial disfigurement all linked to drinking alcohol during pregnancy it is strongly recommended to avoid alcohol altogether. Again, because a woman may not realise she is pregnant it is best to give up drinking when you begin trying to become pregnant.
Certain foods can also harbour bacteria (listeria) that can make you more prone to food poisoning during pregnancy– this can cause problems for you and your baby so it is best to avoid them during pregnancy. Some of these foods include soft or blue cheeses, pate and shellfish such as oysters and prawns. For more information read the article Listeria and Food Safety during pregnancy.
This article has been written for The Pregnancy Centre by Melissa Hathaway. Melissa is a graduate of nutrition and food sciences and currently works as a writer providing content relating to health, fitness and nutrition. As a mother of two young girls she is keen to promote the importance of a healthy diet before and during pregnancy.
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