Don't wait until you're pregnant to improve your lifestyle. It’s important to consider your health and nutrition status as soon as you start planning your first or next pregnancy. Even if you’re not planning to become pregnant, it’s wise to be ready in case the stork visits you unexpectedly.
Every woman of reproductive age (15 to 44 years old) must take care of the following nutrition aspects before getting pregnant:
Body weight: A healthy weight increases the chance of getting pregnant, while overweight and obesity interfere with fertility, altering the menstrual cycles. In addition, overweight and obesity during pregnancy can affect your own health and that of your growing baby, increasing the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
Diet: Eating correctly is important for you to get all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy during pregnancy. Some of the most important nutrients during this life stage are: iron, calcium, vitamin D, and folic acid.
Iron: If you have low levels of iron at conception, the risks of anemia and premature birth increase. To meet your nutritional needs of iron, be sure to eat enough animal-origin foods, such as lean meats, eggs, and low-fat dairy products; dark green leaves like spinach, watercress, and chard, fortified breakfast cereals, and legumes. It’s very important that the consumption of high-iron foods, especially those of vegetable origin, include foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, to improve the absorption of iron.
Body levels of folate,or folic acid, should be adequate at the time of conception, since this nutrient is essential for the growing baby during the first four weeks of gestation, a time at which most women are not even aware that they’re pregnant. A deficiency of folic acid may increase the risk of neural tube defects (such as cleft lip or cleft palate) in your baby. The ideal consumption of folic acid during reproductive ages is 400 micrograms per day, preferably from foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits (or fruit juices), nuts, and legumes. Some cereals, like crackers, breakfast cereals, grains, pasta, and rice, are fortified with folic acid.
Caffeine: Excessive consumption of caffeine from coffee, tea, certain soft drinks, or chocolate can decrease the chance of conception. Studies have shown that high levels of caffeine can cause spontaneous abortion.
Alcohol: Don’t wait until you’re pregnant to quit drinking; alcohol consumption can impede conception. Moreover, alcohol during pregnancy can be hazardous to fetal development. Often you may be ingesting alcohol without knowing you're pregnant. Therefore, cutting down on your alcohol consumption is essential when preparing your body for pregnancy.
Exercise: An exercise routine is part of a healthy lifestyle, since it provides great benefits to people’s health and wellness at all life stages, including pregnancy and childhood. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Don’t stop while you’re pregnant! Staying physically active helps to prevent complications during pregnancy or delivery.
Remember it’s essential to maintain contact with your doctor or healthcare provider, having regular visits during your pregnancy. This way, you’ll achieve a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery.
Larson, R. (2006) American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 3 rdedition, revised & updated. Pages 438-441
Ward, E. (2008). Prime the Body for Pregnancy. Today’s Dietitian. Volume 10 Number 12. United States of America. Pages 26-30
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