Healthy eating and good nutrition is important throughout life, but if you are considering becoming pregnant, you should pay particular attention to your diet.
Your preconception diet should be filled with the nutrients your body needs for energy and cell growth as well as those that will contribute to the health of your baby to be.
Preconception nutrition should be focused on an eating plan that includes foods from the five basic food groups: protein, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy. The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program provides information and helpful tools for following a balanced diet at www.choosemyplate.gov.
If you are overweight or underweight, talk with your obstetrician about steps you can take to reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. Underweight mothers are at an increased risk for having a low birth weight baby and premature labor.
Women who are overweight are more likely to develop high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. They are also at risk of preterm delivery and more likely to require a C-section. Babies born to women who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of macrosomia (larger than average birth weight), birth injury and birth defects.
Important Preconception Vitamins & Nutrients
Even if your preconception nutrition plan is based on a well-balanced diet, it can be difficult to consume all the vitamins and nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. For this reason, your obstetrician may recommend taking a prenatal vitamin.
Some key nutrients in a preconception diet include:
- Folic acid – One of the B vitamins, folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord). All women between 15 and 45 years of age should take a daily dose of 0.4 mg folic acid, in case of unplanned pregnancy. Since neural tube defects happen within 4 weeks after conception, it’s important to take supplemental folic acid before pregnancy.
- Iron – this important mineral plays an important role in the production of hemoglobin, the part of the blood responsible for carrying oxygen to your baby. Pregnant women should consume 30 mg of iron a day. Iron rich foods include lean meat, poultry and fish, as well as green leafy vegetables. Your OBGYN may also recommend an iron-containing supplement. Iron can also prevent anemia.
Substances to Eliminate from your Preconception Diet
Some habits and lifestyle choices can cause harm to your baby, even before you know you are pregnant. If you are trying to become pregnant, you should avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and drug use.