When you are planning to become pregnant, even if it is not the first time, you are embarking on a journey that can sometimes feel overwhelming. The good news is that with proper nutritional and lifestyle choices, you can positively affect your pregnancy and the growing life within you.
Ideally, the pursuit of optimal health for both parents should occur at least 3-4 months prior to conception. Everybody knows that it takes two to produce a bouncing baby, so the mother and father's health influences the ability for conception and provides the starting blocks for the health of the growing baby. A preconception protocol can be formulated by your naturopath or other health care practitioner to make certain you are doing all you can to ensure a healthy baby.
If you are pregnant already, it's never too late to improve your diet and eliminate unhealthy habits because any improvements you make to your health will also benefit your baby. Healthy eating habits such as a nutritious breakfast, and avoiding foods high in sugar and fat (as well as alcohol) can greatly affect the outcome of your pregnancy. Proper weight gain is also very important; low pre-pregnancy weight and inadequate weight gain during pregnancy are contributing factors in retardation and low birth weight. In contrast, gaining too much weight can also cause problems such as gestational diabetes, especially if the woman's pre-pregnancy weight falls into the obese category.
Some tips include:
- Eat the correct amount of kilojoules. On average, a normal pregnancy requires an extra 850-1200 kilojoules per day (for example, a glass of milk or extra sandwich) during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Discuss proper weight gain with your health care practitioner.
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat.
- Eat 3 to 4 servings of protein daily. 60-75 g per day from animal and non-animal sources is recommended as protein is particularly important for a growing baby.
- Drink plenty of water (ideally eight 250 mL glasses/day). Your water requirements increase as your baby is growing.
- Reduce foods high in salt such as potato chips and nuts. Salty foods can cause water retention which can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Eat iron rich foods daily for an increasing blood supply.
- Eat 3-4 servings of calcium rich foods daily from non-dairy and dairy sources. Your baby needs calcium to grow healthy bones, teeth, muscles and the nervous system.
- Eat 4 serves of green leafy and yellow fruit and vegetables. These are high in beta carotene, a nutrient vital for cell growth as well as healthy skin, eyes and bones.
- Eat at least 6 servings of whole grains and legumes (such as lentils etc) daily. These are a great source of nutrients such as B vitamins, minerals and also fibre.
- Reduce trans-fatty acids (often found in processed, fast food, and fried food). Research has found that trans-fats interfere with essential fatty acids that are vital for growth and development of the nervous system.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol. No amount is considered safe during pregnancy and studies have demonstrated a variety of negative outcomes if these substances are consumed, including preterm delivery and developmental disorders.
- Take prenatal vitamins/minerals to complement a healthy diet. Even with the best intentions, getting all the nutrients you need for your growing baby can be difficult with diet alone. Folic acid at 400 mcg per day has shown to reduce the risk of women having a baby with neural tube defect, such as spina bifida and should be taken before and during pregnancy. A prenatal multivitamin has been associated with a reduced risk of preterm birth.
- Possibly the most essential nutrient in pregnancy and lactation are the omega 3 essential fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Significant sources are mainly deep sea oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, anchovies and sardines. DHA is necessary for healthy brain and liver development and for placental growth.
- DHA has an excellent safety profile and is therefore safe to take in higher doses during pregnancy and lactation; it is important, however, you discuss your optimal dose with your health care practitioner.
- Foods to avoid during pregnancy include foods with excessive amounts of sugar- these can cause excessive weight gain and can increase the risk of gestational diabetes; shellfish; raw meat, chicken and seafood; precooked foods that are not heated before eating (deli meats, smoked, salted or cured foods, pates); soft cheeses (blue, brie, camembert)- due to the risk of listeria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella and large fish with potentially high levels of mercury (sword fish, shark, tuna).
In regards to exercise, experts agree that keeping a regular exercise schedule can be extremely beneficial throughout your pregnancy. Unless you are in a high risk category that prohibits you from exercising (always check with your health care professional before embarking on an exercise routine), moderate physical activity, such as yoga, can improve your energy levels, keep your muscles toned, increase endurance, improve sleep, prevent constipation and reduce back aches, just to name a few benefits.
If you attend exercise classes, be sure to inform your instructor as soon as you know you are pregnant. Avoid exercises that involve bouncing, ball sports, martial arts or the risk of falling. Ask your health care practitioner/naturopath for an exercise regimen that's right for you.
Pregnancy should be a happy and exciting time. Parents aim for a healthy, trouble free pregnancy and a happy, healthy child. The information provided above can give you the best head start possible to achieve these aims.