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.
Your pre-pregnancy weight directly influences your baby’s birthweight. 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.
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. Switch to 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 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 do not have chronic health conditions.
In addition to the MyPlate food groups, include the following nutrients in your pre-conception diet and continued into pregnancy:
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 do not 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 do not 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.
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 health care 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.
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 regarding your healthy diet and exercise needs.