Nutrition Before Pregnancy

Nutrition Before Pregnancy

Becoming healthy before becoming pregnant

Pre-conception nutrition is a vital part of preparing for pregnancy. Factors such as your weight compared with your height and what you eat can play an important role in your health during pregnancy and the health of your developing fetus.

Pre-pregnancy weight

Your pre-pregnancy weight directly
influences your baby’s birth weight. Studies show that underweight women are more likely
to give birth to small babies, even though they may gain the same amount in pregnancy as
normal weight women. Overweight women have increased risks for problem in pregnancy such
as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Talk with your healthcare provider about
whether you need to lose or gain weight before becoming pregnant.

Choose My Plate icon

Pre-pregnancy nutrition

Many women don’t eat a well-balanced diet before pregnancy and may not have the proper nutritional status for the demands of pregnancy. Generally, a pregnant woman needs to add about 300 extra calories daily after the first trimester to meet the needs of her body and her developing fetus. But those calories, as well as her entire diet, need to be healthy, balanced, and nutritious.

The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you eat a healthy diet by encouraging a variety of foods while getting the right number of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared this food plate to help you select a variety of healthy foods. MyPlate is available for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories:

  • Grains. Foods that are made
    from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain
    products. Make at least half of your grains whole-grains. Examples of whole-grains
    include whole-wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas), and starchy vegetables. Healthier options include buying fresh, canned (low-sodium or no-salt-added versions) or plain frozen (without added sauces or seasonings) vegetables.

  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned (packed in 100% juice or water), frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.

  • Dairy. Milk products and many
    foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Use fat-free or
    low-fat dairy products that are high in calcium.

  • Protein. Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group, yet
some, such as nut oils, contain key nutrients and should be included in the diet in
moderation. Others, such as animal fats, are solid at room temperature and should be
avoided.

Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan. 

To find more information about the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans
2015–2020
 and to determine the recommendations for your age, sex, and physical
activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov
and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed
for people over the age of 2 who don’t have chronic health conditions.

In addition to the MyPlate food groups, include the following nutrients in your pre-conception diet and continued into pregnancy:

Folic acid

All women of childbearing age
need 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid is a nutrient found
in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast
cereals, and some vitamin supplements. It can help reduce the risk of birth defects
of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). The most common neural
tube defect is spina bifida, in which the vertebrae don’t fuse together properly,
causing the spinal cord to be exposed. This can lead to varying degrees of paralysis,
incontinence, and, sometimes, intellectual disability.

Folic acid is most beneficial
during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur.
Unfortunately, many women don’t realize they are pregnant before 28 days. This is why
it’s important to start folic acid before conception and continue through pregnancy.
Your healthcare provider will recommend the right amount of folic acid to meet your
needs.

Most healthcare providers will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure all of your nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.

Iron

Many women have low iron stores as a result of monthly menstruation and diets low in iron. Building iron stores helps prepare a mother’s body for the needs of the fetus during pregnancy. Good sources of iron include the following:

  • Meats such as beef, pork, lamb, liver, and other organ meats.

  • Poultry such as chicken, duck, and turkey (especially dark meat).

  • Fish and shellfish
    including sardines, anchovies, clams, mussels, and oysters. Check with your
    healthcare provider before consuming other types of fish as some may
    contain high levels of mercury.

  • Leafy greens of the cabbage family such as broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collards.

  • Legumes such as lima beans and green peas, dry beans and peas such as pinto beans and black-eyed peas, and canned baked beans.

  • Whole-grain breads and iron-enriched white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals.

Calcium

Preparing for pregnancy includes building healthy bones. If there is not enough calcium in the pregnancy diet, the fetus may draw calcium from the mother’s bones, which can put women at risk for osteoporosis later in life. The recommended calcium intake for women is 1,000 milligrams. Three servings of milk or other dairy products each day equals about 1,000 milligrams of calcium.

Always talk with your healthcare
provider about your healthy diet and exercise needs.

Anatomy of Female Pelvic Area

Anatomy of Female Pelvic Area


Anatomy of the female pelvic area

  • Endometrium. The lining of the uterus.

  • Uterus. Also called the womb, the uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman’s lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum.

  • Ovaries. Two female reproductive organs located in the pelvis.

  • Fallopian tubes. Carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.

  • Cervix. The lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) located between the bladder and the rectum. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.

  • Vagina. The passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods. It is also called the “birth canal.” The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb, or uterus) and the vulva (the external genitalia).

  • Vulva. The external portion of the female genital organs.

Menstrual Cycle: An Overview

The Menstrual Cycle: An Overview

Illustration demonstrating the menstrual cycle

What is ovulation?

When a young woman reaches puberty, she starts to ovulate. This is when a mature egg or ovum is released from one of the ovaries. The ovaries are the two female reproductive organs found in the pelvis. If the egg is fertilized by a sperm as it travels down the fallopian tube, then pregnancy occurs. The fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. The placenta then develops. The placenta transfers nutrition and oxygen to the fetus from mother. If the egg does not become fertilized, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) is shed during menstruation.

The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. The cycle starts with the first day of one period and ends with the first day of the next period. The average woman ovulates on day 14. At this time, some women have minor discomfort in their lower abdomen, spotting, or bleeding, while others do not have any symptoms at all.

A woman is generally most likely to get pregnant (fertile) if she has sex a few days before, and during ovulation.

What is menstruation?

Menstruation is one part of a woman’s cycle when the lining of the uterus (endometrium) is shed. This occurs throughout a woman’s reproductive life. With each monthly cycle, the endometrium prepares itself to nourish a fetus. Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone help thicken its walls. If fertilization does not occur, the endometrium, along with blood and mucus from the vagina and cervix make up the menstrual flow that leaves the body through the vagina during the period.

When does menstruation start?

On average, a young woman in the U.S. has her first menstrual period at about age 12. This is generally 2 to 3 years after her breasts start to grow. This is also soon after she notices pubic and underarm hair. Stress, strenuous exercise, and diet can affect when a girl first has her period.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a young woman consult her healthcare provider if she has not started to menstruate by the age of 15, or if she has not begun to develop breast buds, pubic hair, or underarm hair by the age of 13.

How long is a menstrual cycle?

For menstruating women, an average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. It starts with the first day of the last period and ends with the first day of the next menstrual period. However, the length of women’s cycles varies, particularly for the first year or 2 after a young woman has her first period. Women may have cycles as short as 21 days, or as long as 45 days during the first few years. However, anything outside of this range may require medical attention.