Before getting pregnant, there are important things you can do to positively affect your preconception health. Here are the top seven must-dos for getting your body ready for its biggest challenge yet!
1. Get folic acid nutrition:Take at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily at least three months before getting pregnant to help prevent up to 70 percent of birth defects including spina bifida (a spine birth defect which could lead to paralysis). In fact, all women capable of becoming pregnant should take folic acid because half of pregnancies are unplanned.
2. Eat a balanced diet: Nutrition before getting pregnant is critical: Women who start off their pregnancies with low nutrition stores are at a disadvantage because nutrient needs rapidly increase after conception. Additionally, many women have trouble eating right during the first trimester of their pregnancy due to morning sickness. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide:
-Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (lower pesticide exposure by buying organic when necessary)
-include lean meats (for iron)
-include low-mercury fish twice a week such as salmon, trout, light tuna (DHA – omega-3 fatty acids)
-Eat non/low fat dairy 3 times a day or take a calcium supplement.
-Include a multivitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folic acid and 18g of iron.
-You may need to take additional vitamin D if levels are low (see below).
3. Make a date with your doctor, dentist or other healthcare professional: Now is the time to go for a physical. Let your doctor know you are concerned about preconception health. He or she can run some blood tests such as thyroid and vitamin D levels (make sure to ask about the vitamin D test) and help you keep any chronic illnesses under control. It’s also a good time to see your dentist and get any screening tests done like mammograms.
4. Manage your weight: Before getting pregnant work on achieving a healthy weight. Studies clearly show that weight at the start of pregnancy can predict undesirable prenatal outcomes. If you need to lose weight there are credible programs you can try such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. But I personally recommend Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works to also help you develop a healthier relationship with food.
5. Become active: An active lifestyle is an important part of preconception health so start exercising before getting pregnant. Having trouble getting to the gym? Go for walks during break time or hike with friends on the weekends. But above all, do something that fits with your life.
6. Watch caffeine consumption: While studies are mixed regarding the role of caffeine on fertility, there is growing evidence that caffeine increases the risk of miscarriage once a woman becomes pregnant. So cut back caffeine intake to 300mg or less per day. For more info on the caffeine in food and drink go to www.energyfiend.com/the-caffeine-database
7. Avoid these things:Drinking, drugs, chemicals and smoking are not compatible with conception. And because methyl mercury can take up to a year to leave the body, stay away from high-mercury fish including sword fish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark and consume no more than 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week including shrimp, salmon, catfish and light tuna with no more than 6 ounces of canned tuna per week.
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Next Page: Top Ten Foods for a Healthy Pregnancy Diet
ADA Position Paper: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:553-561.
Weng X, Odoulik, Li DK. Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008; 198(3):27-.e1-8.