Scientific evidence highlighting the importance of eating well before conception is growing, making it a rather hot topic. The healthier you (and your partner) are going into pregnancy, the more it will benefit you and the baby’s health during pregnancy and in the future.
So if becoming pregnant is something that may happen, having a look at your diet and lifestyle to see if there is room for any healthy changes.
Achieving a healthy weight
A priority before pregnancy is achieving a healthy weight... not underweight or overweight. This helps increase your chances of conceiving and reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy, benefiting you and your baby after the pregnancy. Being overweight in pregnancy increases the risk of complications like high blood pressure, back pain and gestational diabetes as well as caesarean section and pre-term labour. Whereas being underweight can reduce your chances of conceiving, and if you do become pregnant, can increase the risk of having a low birth weight baby. If you need help losing or gaining weight, seek guidance from your GP or a registered dietitian.
Regular activity is imperative for all aspects of your health, at all stages of life. Exercise is great for your mood and helps you reach a healthy weight. Creating healthy exercise habits before becoming pregnant, makes it easier to keep up a routine once pregnant.
Researchers have found that expectant mothers who performed the most vigorous exercise in the year before pregnancy were 81% less likely to develop gestational diabetes, while moderate exercisers had a 59% lower risk.
Aim for 30-60 minutes of activity everyday.
Once you start thinking about pregnancy it can be a good time to cut out or dramatically reduce your alcohol. Alcohol is high in calories yet offers no nutritional benefit.
When a woman is trying to conceive she may not know that she is pregnant until the 5th week. It is best to cut down or cut out alcohol when considering pregnancy. For support, encourage your partner to reduce his alcohol intake too as alcohol can impact on male fertility.
Caffeine in large quantities can affect your chances of conception and too much during pregnancy is not good for your baby. Caffeine is found in tea and coffee but also found in some energy boosting drinks, cola drinks and chocolate. It is recommended by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that a woman should not consume more than 200mg of caffeine (or one cup of strong coffee) per day during pregnancy. Planning your pregnancy may be a good time to get your caffeine intake down to safer limits for when you are pregnant.
How much is 200mg of caffeine?
is a B vitamin that is important for the development of your baby’s healthy spine and brain. Once you consider having a baby you need to start taking a folic acid supplement daily and continue taking it for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is because we do not get enough folic acid from our diet alone. A supplement of 400 micrograms per day is recommended. It’s still important to include rich food sources of folic acid like dark green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, citrus fruit, and fortified milk and cereals. If you are overweight, have epilepsy or diabetes you will have to take a higher dose, please consult your GP about this.
Iron is another key nutrient both before and during pregnancy. Lean red meat, eggs, dark green vegetables, peas, beans and lentils are good dietary sources of iron so ensure to have one or more of these daily. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from plant sources so make sure to include some vitamin C rich foods such as richly coloured fruits and vegetables every day, particularly with your meals.
Calcium is vital too. Although we don’t realise it, bone is living tissue, it grows and renews itself continuously, therefore, in order to keep bones strong and healthy, make sure to keep supplying your body with calcium rich foods! You need 800mg of calcium which is the equivalent to three servings. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, tinned fish, fortified soya products and tofu are all considered rich sources of calcium.
Vitamin D and calcium come hand in hand, it is required for the absorption of calcium from food. Few foods contain vitamin D such as oily fish, fortified milk and eggs, but you would need to eat these foods very regularly to get enough vitamin D and sadly in Ireland, for six months of the year the sun isn’t strong enough for us to be able to make vitamin D ourselves. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland now recommends that we should all take a daily supplement to ensure we don’t run short, speak to your GP, dietitian or pharmacist about how much to take.
So, to ensure that you’re eating right for both of you, start focusing on achieving a healthy diet and lifestyle while there is still one of you! This article is sponsored by Pregnacare