Why wait until we are pregnant to start improving our diet? In fact, we should START NOW. A healthy balanced diet not only helps us to stay well throughout the 3 trimesters of pregnancy, but also it is vital for our baby’s health and development.
KEY MESSAGES WHEN PLANNING A PREGNANCY
1. Weight Matters
Becoming pregnant is difficult if we are underweight or overweight. A healthy body weight improves our chances to get pregnant. Overweight with excessive body fat may affect our hormone levels and makes it harder to get pregnant; Underweight is no good either as it may increase the risk for pre-term delivery or a low birthweight baby.
Try to maintain our body weight close to ideal body weight is the best. If we start our pregnancy with a healthy body weight, it reduces possible complications for both the mother and baby throughout pregnancy e.g. gestational diabetes, hypertension, preterm labour etc.
Be physically active for at least 30 mins 3 days per week - simple regular exercise like doing house chores and brisk walking around neighbourhood are good too.
2. Eat A Well Balanced Healthy Diet
Multivitamin and mineral supplement cannot replace a balanced healthy diet. Most doctors would recommend prenatal supplements and we should take it in addition to eating a well balanced healthy diet by encouraging a variety of foods:
- Whole Grains - Make at least half of our grains whole-grains e.g. brown rice, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, cereal, quinoa. Cut down on refined sugar.
- Protein - Suggest to take 0.8g protein/kg body weight per day. Go for lean meat, poultry, fish, egg, nuts, seeds, peas, beans, tofu, and tempeh.
- Dairy - Try to get about 1,000 mg of calcium each day. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products that are high in calcium e.g. milk, yogurt, cheese.
- Fruits - Try to achieve 2-3 servings of fruits a day from a wide variety of fruit choices. It is important to obtain 25-30g fiber per day.
- Vegetables - Try to aim 2-3 servings of vegetables including dark green leafy, red/orange veggies, legumes or starchy veggies.
3. Careful of Caffeine
Giving up caffeine completely is hard. Try to keep it below 200 milligrams per day is reasonable (this is around 2 cups 8 ounce of instant coffee).
Caffeine is found naturally in tea, coffee, soft drink, and chocolate. The amount of caffeine in these foods as below:
- 1 cup 8 ounce of tea: 80 mg
- 1 cup 8 ounce of instant coffee : 100mg
- 1 cup 8 ounce of filtered coffee : 140 mg
- 1 can of coca cola: 40 mg
- 1 bar 50g chocolate: 10-30 mg
4. Manage Stress Adequately
Stress may impact our eating habits, e.g. some people overeat when they are in stress, and some other lose their appetite - which in turns affect our nutritional status. Regular exercise and getting enough rest may help us better deal with stress in a healthful way.
5. Don’t Forget Folic Acid
Folic Acid is important in prevention of neural tube defects or spinal bifida. Our neural tube develops usually during the first month of pregnancy (the 3-4 weeks after conception) - this is the time where most of us didn’t even realize we are pregnant! Therefore, it is important to consume at least 400 micrograms folic acid daily if we are planning to get pregnant - either from supplements or foods such as dark green leafy vegetables. The recommendation for folic acid requirements as below:
- Pre-pregnancy - 400mcg/day
- Pregnant women - 600mcg/day
- Nursing women - 500mcg/day
- Women with family history of neural tube defects - 4 mg/day
- Upper Limit of Folic Acid Supplementation - 1 mg/day
6. Be Mindful of Traditional Remedies/Supplements Over the Counter
Make sure we know the active ingredient of the supplements and the effect of the contents on our ability to conceive.
Seek your doctor’s advice and get a dietitian on board if you need more information about pre-pregnancy nutrition.
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- American Pregnancy Association
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ChooseMyPlate
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Office on Women’s Health