What can I do to prepare my body for a healthy pregnancy?
By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN
August 17, 2016
There is no more important time to pay special attention to nutrition than pre-conception and pregnancy. Eating well while planning to have a baby will not only increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant, but also will lower the risk of pregnancy complications and improve the health of your future child. The standard American diet, high in processed foods and low in nutrients, is a setup for sub-optimal nutrition at the time of conception.
Eat Balanced and Ditch the Trans-Fats
A smart eating plan contains high quality proteins such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy; carbohydrates coming from lots of fresh vegetables and fruit; and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, butter, nuts, avocados and olives. Organic foods are a better choice because they do not contain pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, and are not genetically modified. Remember, the baby eats whatever mom eats. Also, managing blood sugar before pregnancy will reduce the risk of gestational diabetes which occurs in eighteen percent of pregnancies (American Diabetes Association). To balance blood sugar, moms-to-be should eat balanced meals with protein, carbohydrates, and fat every few hours.
Now is a great time to do a kitchen inventory and go through your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards. If you see ingredient labels that contain hydrogenated oils, stop consuming these products. Otherwise known as trans-fats—hydrogenated oils are detrimental to your health and to your baby. You'll find trans-fats in chips, crackers, cookies, coffee creamer, peanut butter, fast food, and several other foods. According to Dr. Chavarro at the Harvard Public School of Health, trans-fats lower fertility rates, and interfere with the production of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Key Supplements will Help Prepare Your Body
Most people are extremely deficient in Omega-3 fats and planning a pregnancy makes it that much more important to obtain an adequate supply. DHA is an Omega-3 fat that supports fetal brain and eye development. It is found naturally in fatty fish like salmon or sardines, free range eggs, and grass-fed meat. A wonderful way to supplement with extra DHA is in a vegetarian algae form. This is helpful before pregnancy and even more so during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Many women who are thinking about getting pregnant take a prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins make up for any nutritional deficiencies in your diet. Folic acid is one B vitamin that is especially important during this time. It's critical in the prevention of neural tube defects of the brain such as spina bifida and anencephaly. These commonly occur within the first month of pregnancy, when many women don't even know they are pregnant, so it's a good idea to take a prenatal even if you're just thinking about having a baby. Not all prenatal vitamins are the same, and a good quality prenatal will have more vitamins and minerals in absorbable forms that do not cause nausea and constipation. One that we often recommend to our clients is Fem Prenatal.
Use Caution with Beverages
Food and supplements are not the only things to be aware of—what you drink has an effect on your body as well. It's easy to unintentionally consume excess sugar from beverages. One sweetened 12-ounce soda contains 11 teaspoons of sugar, and energy drinks typically have 10-20 teaspoons of sugar. Diet sodas are not a better option because the artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, are neurotoxins (toxic to the brain). In addition, you should abstain from alcohol because it decreases fertility and can have negative consequences on the fetus. Studies are mixed with regard to caffeine, but it has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight in babies, so use caution. The best thing for you to drink is lots of water. Try adding lemon or cucumber slices for extra flavor.
Start Preparing Now
It's never too early to prepare yourself for pregnancy and childbirth. The nutritional choices you make now will impact the health of you and your baby. These recommendations may seem overwhelming, and you may be concerned about how to put them into practice. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we believe that preparing for pregnancy is one of the best times in your life to meet with one of our nutritionists. Not only will you correct some of your eating habits, but you'll also give your baby the best nutrition possible.