For many mothers-to-be, pregnancy is all and only about preparing for the newborn: the clothes, the crib, the stroller, the diapers—the list goes on. However, many mothers are unaware of how to best prepare their bodies for pregnancy. This article lists a few nutrients which are key to maintaining a healthy body before and during pregnancy.
WAIT—I have to watch what I eat BEFORE I conceive?
Regardless of whether you are trying to conceive or not, maintaining a healthy diet is critical in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, a healthy diet becomes particularly important when trying to conceive. Many of a baby’s nutrients come from the nutrient reserves of his or her mother. This means that if the mother does not have sufficient reserves or high enough nutrient levels, the baby might not receive the nutrients it needs. Such deficiency can have significant impacts on the embryo’s or fetus’s development, or worse, survival.
In order to ensure that you are consuming enough food, you must ensure you are consuming enough food with enough nutrients.
How many servings do I eat BEFORE and DURING pregnancy?
The recommended amount of food women should be consuming is the same amount non-pregnant women should be consuming (see Figure 1 and Serving Sizes: Have you got them right? to find out how many servings you need in your diet and how much of different foods constitute one serving). The only difference comes in the second and third trimester where pregnant women are recommended to eat 2-3 additional servings of any food group each day. (You might be eating for two, but do not forget that that your baby does not need as much as you!)
Alright, so which nutrients should I look for?
Here are a few key examples of nutrient/foods to look out for.
One nutrient key for preparing the body for pregnancy is vitamin B9, otherwise known as folate. Folate is critical in neural tube development, a process responsible for the establishment and development of one’s brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. Folate deficiency can lead to spina bifida, a condition where the babies spinal cord is not completely wrapped in backbone and other tissues, leaving the spinal cord to protrudes his/her back. Folate deficiency can also lead to anencephaly, a condition where a large portion of the brain, skull and scalp is missing from the newborn. In order to avoid such conditions, the body naturally tries to abort the embryo or fetus leading to a miscarriage. It is for this reason that the Canada’s Food Guide recommends all women of child-bearing age and pregnant women to take a daily multivitamin with folate.
Iron is particularly important before and during pregnancy as it is key in building new red blood cells required to carry oxygen to the fetus. Throughout pregnancy, the fetus often uses the iron reserves of the mother. Thus, it is key that the mother consumes sufficient amounts of iron before conceiving. If the mother does not take in enough iron, that puts both the child and her at risk of developing anemia.
(Note that, while iron is healthy is necessary, consuming too much can be toxic. The guidelines of how much to consume can be found in the chart below.)
3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
In addition to being essential for many bodily functions, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to improve fertility (1). These “healthy” fats are found in many fish, a very nutrient rich food. It is for that reason Health Canada recommend that all Canadians, including women of child-bearing age and pregnant women, are recommended to eat at least 150 grams of cooked fish a week (2). While many pregnant women avoid eating fish in fear of mercury contamination, most fish sold in Canada contain less that the allowed and non-harmful mercury limit (3, 4). To be safe, researchers suggest consuming foods known to contain fewer contaminants such as salmon, anchovy, light tuna, sole, and trout (4).
So HOW MUCH of each nutrient do I need and WHAT FOODS can I eat to get them?
Here are the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intakes of folate, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
DAILY REQUIRMENT BEFORE PREGNANCY: 0.4-1 mg/day
DAILY REQUIRMENT DURING PREGNANCY: 0.6-1 mg/day
Spinach (1/2 cup cooked contains 0.121- 0.139 mg)
Edamame (1/2 cup cooked contains 0.106- 0.255 mg)
Asparagus (4 spears cooked contains 0.128-0.141 mg)
Artichoke (1/2 cup cooked contains 0.079-0.106 mg)
Okra (½ cup frozen, cooked contains 0.097 mg)
Broccoli (1/2 cup cooked contains 0.089 mg)
Romaine Lettuce (1 cup contains 0.065-0.080 mg)
Orange Juice ( ½ cup contains 0.025-0.039 mg)
For more information about the amounts of folate in foods, go to:
DAILY REQUIRMENT BEFORE PREGNANCY: 18-45 mg/day
DAILY REQUIRMENT DURING PREGNANCY: 27-45 mg/day
Spinach (1/2 cup cooked contains 2.0-3.4 mg)
Tomato puree ( ½ cup contains 2.4 mg)
Edamame (1/2 cup cooked contains 1.9-2.4 mg)
Cereals (30 g dry contains 4.0-4.3 mg)
Cream of Wheat (3/4 cup cooked contains 5.7-5.8 mg)
Oatmeal (3/4 cup cooked contains 4.5-6.6 mg)
Pork liver ( 75 g cooked contains 13.4 mg)
Lentils( ¾ cups cooked contains 4.1-4.9 mg)
Tofu ( ¾ cup cooked contains 2.4-8.0 mg)
*Note: Sources of vitamin C (e.g., lemon juice) helps with the release, and thus absorption of plant-based iron. ( e.g., adding lemon juice to spinach allows for more plant-based iron to be absorbed).
For more information about the amounts of iron in foods, go to:
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
DAILY REQUIRMENT BEFORE PREGNANCY: 1.1 g/day
DAILY REQUIRMENT DURING PREGNANCY: 1.4 g/day
Atlantic Salmon (75 g contains 1.69-2.00 g)
Anchovies (75 g canned with oil contains 1.55 g)
light tuna (75g canned with water contains 0.21 g)
sole (75 g cooked contains 0.23 g)
trout (75 g cooked contains 0.72- 0.0.88 g)
Edamame ( ½ cup cooked contains 0.29-0.34 g)
Eggs ( 2 eggs cooked contains 0.13- 0.35 g)
For more information about the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in foods, go to:
A Multivitamin a day
In order to ensure pregnant women are consuming enough of each of the vitamins mentioned, many health care professionals recommend taking a multivitamin which includes the recommended values for the nutrients described. However, it is important to ensure that the vitamin A levels in the multivitamin do not surpass the daily maximal limit (called the upper limit) of 10, 000 international units (IU’s). Surpassing this amount of vitamin A could cause congenital birth defects.
HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO PREPARE YOUR BODY FOR PREGNANCY?
VISIT YOUR DIETITIAN TODAY!