Pregnancy is a time where women should pay particular attention to the nutritional needs of their body. Here, Allison Tallman, MS RD (in collaboration with Katie Szakal PA-C), outlines the vital elements of this wellness journey, in order for women to remain in the best health.
Pre-conception nutrition is a crucial part of preparing for your pregnancy. Factors such as nutrition and weight status play an important role in not only becoming pregnant but also the health of your developing fetus.
Your pre-pregnancy weight directly affects your baby’s birth weight. Studies demonstrate that underweight women are more likely to give weight to smaller babies, putting them at risk. Overweight women have increased risk of problems with birth such as gestational diabetes – when the mother is first diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy – or high blood pressure. This puts a fetus at risk for neonatal hypoglycemia, trauma, jaundice, premature birth, or even reduced oxygen flow to the baby’s brain. Minimizing the risk of the above and other factors are vital, which is why pre-pregnant weight is significant.
Pre-pregnancy general nutrition guidelines
Women who do not eat a properly balanced and nutritious diet before pregnancy may not be able to meet the demands and requirements of pregnancy. A diet in pre-pregnancy should be healthy, balanced, and nutritious. Below are some general tips on how to eat a healthy diet.
Grains: Make at least half of your grains whole-grains. Examples include whole-wheat, brown rice, oats.
Vegetables: Choose a variety of vegetables including dark green, red, and orange, as well as legumes and starchy vegetables. When purchasing canned, choose low-sodium or no-salt-added versions or plain (no added sauces) vegetables when buying frozen.
Fruits: Fruits can be fresh, canned, or frozen. Choose real fruit and not just partial fruit juice.
Dairy: Use fat-free or low-fat dairy products that are high in calcium. Consume dairy daily, but in moderation.
Protein: Choose lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans. A typical serving size will be around the palm of your hand.
Fun fact: pregnant women only needs to add 300 extra calories a day after the first trimester to meet the needs of her body and developing fetus!
All women of childbearing age are recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, and fortified breakfast cereals. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord in the fetus (also known as neural tube defects).
Folic acid is most beneficial for a female during the first 28 days after conception. Since many women do not realize that they are pregnant until after 28 days of conception, it is important to start folic acid before conception and continue through pregnancy.
Due to menstruation levels, women may have low iron stores as iron is lost in blood. Building up iron stores in the body helps to prepare a women’s body for iron needed during pregnancy. Quality iron sources include meat, fish, leafy greens, legumes, and whole-grain bread. Inadequate iron during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby, and postpartum depression. During pregnancy, you need 27 mg of iron per day.
Healthy bones are also important when preparing for pregnancy. This is where calcium comes in, as a fetus may draw calcium stores from its mother’s bones; this can put a female at risk of osteoporosis later in life. The recommended calcium intake for women is 1000 micrograms, and the best calcium sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, seeds, beans, lentils, and almonds.
Other pre-pregnancy considerations
Many factors of your health can affect your pregnancy. Seeing a doctor before you decide to conceive can be very helpful in identifying what factors of your health might put you at risk during pregnancy. Early intervention and testing can ensure you and your baby are not at risk.
Factors to consider before you get pregnant
Chronic diseases. Diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, etc. should be well-managed before deciding to get pregnant. Make sure you are up-to-date with your primary healthcare provider with labs and other general health testing.
Vaccinations. During infancy, many people receive vaccinations to protect you and your pregnancy, however, it may be useful to have your immune status assessed even if you have been previously vaccinated. If you don’t know your vaccination status, talk to your healthcare provider or contact your state health department to see what vaccinations you need.
Current Medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can be dangerous during pregnancy. You should talk to your provider before conception to make sure they are safe during pregnancy and make any necessary changes before you are actually pregnant.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Being screened for sexually transmitted infections is very important prior to pregnancy due to the many detrimental effects they can have on you and the fetus.
Drugs and Alcohol. Smoking and other recreational drug use should be stopped prior to conception. Ask your provider for help or other counseling resources if you need help to quit.
Environment. Do you work with lots of chemicals or toxins? Is your work environment very stressful? All these things can impact your pregnancy and are important to consider when trying to conceive.
Eating a varied, healthy diet is vital for the wellbeing of not only a mother but her fetus as well. The above guidelines are recommended for the general population, and those seeking individualized assistance in nutrition should seek out a registered dietitian. For supplement dosing, see your primary care provider.
Join registered dietitians Allison Tallman and Leah Baker from Nourished Routes on Sunday, March 8th at a Ladies Self-care Brunch as they discuss female nutrition including body image, an anti-diet culture, and female-specific nutrition needs. Click here for tickets.
Nourished Routes, a nutrition consulting company, aims to enrich your lifestyle with interactive experiences and education. When it comes to providing nutrition therapy, they believe in a whole foods approach, 100% transparency with clients, and applying evidence-based information. Some of the nutrition services of Nourished Routes includes nutrition counseling, meal plans, workshops, and much more! Check out their website at www.nourishedroutes.com for more information and to schedule a free consultation.
References and further reading:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Pregnancy. www.eatright.org
USDA. MyPlate. www.choosemyplate.gov.
Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy Week by Week. www.mayoclinic.org.
Stanford Children’s Health. Nutrition Before Pregnancy. www.standofrdchildrens.org.