By Nancy Owais
Pre-conception nutrition is defined as the diet and lifestyle choices before trying to conceive a child. The period before conception is critical for the development of the egg and sperm and for preparing the body for pregnancy. Good nutrition during this time can help to reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, such as preterm birth, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Additionally, a healthy diet can help to support the development of the baby's brain, immune system, and other organs.
Although it may seem daunting, helping to prepare your body with nutrients before conceiving is easier than you may think.
- Starting with a balanced diet is essential for good health and especially important before conception. A healthy diet should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This can help ensure that the body gets all the necessary vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Women who are planning to conceive should aim to get 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day, either through supplements or by eating foods such as leafy greens, fortified cereals, and beans. Folic acid is a B vitamin that is essential for the development of the neural tube, which eventually becomes the baby's brain and spinal cord.
- Iron is important for the development of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the baby. Women planning to conceive should aim to get 27 milligrams of iron per day through lean meats, beans, fortified cereals, and leafy greens.
- Prenatal vitamins are designed to provide essential vitamins and minerals for pregnancy. They can help fill any nutrient gaps in the diet and ensure the body is prepared for pregnancy. Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
- Being underweight or overweight can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. Women who are planning to conceive should aim to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
A balanced diet is key to pre-conception nutrition. Here are some foods that are particularly beneficial:
- Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for overall health and can help reduce pregnancy complications. Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day.
- Whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal are good sources of fiber and important vitamins and minerals. They can help to regulate blood sugar levels and provide sustained energy throughout the day.
- Lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and tofu are important for building and repairing tissues. They can also help to regulate hormone levels and support a healthy immune system.
- Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium and vitamin D for the baby’s bone and teeth health.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are good sources of protein and fiber. They can also help to regulate blood sugar levels and support a healthy digestive system.
In addition to a balanced diet, women planning to conceive may benefit from taking certain supplements when their diets lack all the necessary nutrients or just need a boost in vitamins. These vitamins and minerals include folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
There are certain foods that should be avoided before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications. These include:
- Alcohol as it can increase the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause birth defects and developmental delays.
- Certain types of fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to the developing baby's nervous system. Women who are planning to conceive should opt for low-mercury options such as salmon and shrimp.
- Raw or undercooked meat can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, which can cause food poisoning and potentially harm the developing baby. Make sure to cook meat thoroughly before eating.
- Processed foods such as chips, cookies, and sugary drinks are often high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats. These foods should be limited or even eliminated before and during pregnancy to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of complications.
Losing weight before trying to conceive has many benefits, including getting your hormones back to normal, lowering your insulin levels, reducing the risk of complications, regulating menstruation, and increasing your chance of a healthy pregnancy and birth. The right nutrients are also key. These methods to get your body ready for pregnancy are the same methods you can use after having your baby, as your body is readjusting and your hormones are returning to pre-pregnancy levels.