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Many women planning on becoming pregnant want to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs to provide the best possible health outcomes for their unborn child. Poor dietary quality, chronic dieting, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours (such as sedentary lifestyle, stress, alcohol, smoking) and a diet lacking key nutrients, all compromise the health of an unborn child. Today’s article will highlight my top 5 dietary pregnancy planning considerations for women. I will also address dad’s diet in part two of this series since he plays a vital role as well.
Healthy body weight is one of the most important factors affecting fertility (impacts ovulation, hormones and pregnancy rates).
WHY: If you are underweight or overweight this is associated with negative health outcomes such as increased risk of preterm birth, low/high birth weight baby, increased caesarean delivery, gestational diabetes.
TIPS: Incorporate healthy, sustainable strategies to achieve a desirable weight through diet and lifestyle. If aiming for weight loss, avoid crash diets, which compromise nutrients in your body. You can also work one-on-one with a dietitian for assistance in reaching a healthy weight.
Health Canada states that all women who could become pregnant and those who are pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing 0.4 mg (400mcg) of folic acid.
WHY: Folic acid is important before conception (and during pregnancy) because it reduces the risk of neural tube defects and spina bifida. Folic acid also makes healthy blood cells for mom, which is very important during pregnancy.
TIPS: Ensure you are receiving folic acid in supplement and include foods rich in folates in your diet such as leafy veggies, fruit, beans and fortified grains. Also, it is a good idea to ensure that your multivitamin supplement also contains vitamin B12.
Health Canada states that all women who could become pregnant (and those who are pregnant) should ensure their multivitamin contains 16-20 mg of iron.
WHY: Iron is the most common type of nutritional deficiency and there is an increase in demand during pregnancy due to expanding blood volume. Therefore, it is a good idea to ensure that iron stores are built up before becoming pregnant.
TIP: Ask your doctor to check your iron levels before becoming pregnant and speak to a registered dietitian if needing to increase dietary iron or if you require a supplement.
Women planning on becoming pregnant should be encouraged to consume foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Instead of avoiding fish when planning on becoming pregnant, Health Canada states, “the benefits of eating fish are greater than not eating fish, when pregnant women choose the recommended types and amounts.” Therefore, women do not need to limit consumption of fish in general, but they should limit amounts of fish high in mercury.
WHY: Research supports the positive association between fish consumption and increased gestational length as well as brain development (Haugen et al, 2008). However, high levels of mercury exposure in utero when the baby’s brain is still developing can lead to irreversible neurological problems.
TIPS: Consume fish low in mercury such as: salmon, trout, herring, haddock, canned light tuna, pollock (Boston bluefish), sole, flounder, anchovy, char, hake, mullet, smelt, Atlantic mackerel, shrimp, clam, mussel and oysters.
The “sunshine vitamin” gets a lot of attention and is also a crucial in the diets of women wanting to become pregnant.
WHY: Vitamin D is needed to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous which help build bones and teeth for baby. A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can cause growth retardation and skeletal deformities (such as rickets). It may also have a negative impact on birth weight. Researchers believe that a vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect immune function from birth through adulthood.
TIPS: Women who are pregnant, lactating or planning on becoming pregnant are advised to take a vitamin D supplement 600IU (15 mcg) once daily as recommended by Health Canada.
Healthy eating is crucial for a healthy body and a healthy baby. Mothers-to-be should be mindful of leading a healthy lifestyle and ensuring their diets meet all nutritional requirements when planning on having a little one!