It’s well known that there are specific nutrition guidelines for pregnant women and even unique needs for new, breastfeeding mothers. But what about before a woman is pregnant? It may be less widely known, but there are specific dietary choices mom-to-be can make and nutrition guidelines that can be followed to prepare for pregnancy.
The connection between folic acid and the potential for neural tube defects was first established in the 1960s. The understanding of the influence of folic acid on pregnancy outcome, as well as greater understanding of the need to increase the amount consumed in the typical American diet, eventually led to the fortification of grains such as bread, cereal, flour, cornmeal, pasta, and rice, with folic acid in 1998. Today, CDC guidelines recommend that women who are capable of becoming pregnant consume at least 400mcg of folic acid per day, and that women who are planning to become pregnant emphasize adequate folic acid intake one month prior to pregnancy. In addition to consuming fortified grains and taking folic acid supplements, women planning to become pregnant should seek other folate-rich foods such as beans, peas, oranges/orange juice and dark-green leafy vegetables.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important at any stage of life. But, when one is preparing to gain 25-35 pounds (ideally), then the need to be at an optimal weight is even greater. Achieving an ideal body weight prior to pregnancy, through balanced eating and moderate exercise, aids in reducing risk of gestational diabetes, and likely makes it easier to a return to a proper weight following pregnancy.
It’s critically important for women planning to become pregnant to consume a balanced diet rich in a variety of nutrients to ensure that her body is prepared to nourish baby. Learning how to follow a balanced diet is not only helpful for keeping both mom and baby healthy, it’s also a skill that will come in handy following pregnancy when mom has less time to make meals, but needs adequate daily nutrition. It’s also important to note that during pregnancy, when calories need to be increased, a prior awareness of how to follow a nutritious diet will ensure that this calorie increase is appropriate and not imbalanced (with too much sugar, for example).
During pregnancy, blood volume has to dramatically increase to support a healthy baby. For this reason, and others, it’s very important for moms-to-be to have adequate iron stores. Prior to becoming pregnant, women should be sure to consume iron rich foods (or supplements if needed and recommended) to ensure they aren’t anemic or suffering from low iron. Seek iron rich foods like beef, pork, poultry (dark meat), anchovies, sardines, clams, mussels and oysters, as well as leafy greens, legumes, beans, whole grain breads and enriched pasta, rice and cereal.
Women planning to become pregnant should make emphasizing calcium intake and building healthy bones part of their planning. What happens if they don’t? A growing fetus may draw calcium from the mother’s bones, which could put her at greater risk of osteoporosis following pregnancy. Women planning to become pregnant should aim for 1,000mg of calcium a day either by supplement or via about three servings of dairy products per day.