Pregnancy is an incredibly special and unique experience for a woman. It is a time when women have many questions and concerns about what is good for them as well as their developing baby. Ideally, a healthy pregnancy begins before conception occurs as one of the strongest determinants is the woman’s overall state of health before she conceives. Having a good nutritional diet, being fit and at a healthy weight are all reasonable pre-pregnancy goals.
Prenatal care includes regular obstetric/medical visits beginning as early in the pregnancy as possible, as well as a healthy diet, regular exercise, not gaining excessive weight and judicious incorporation of additional supplements to help address any potential nutrient gaps and increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Here are important tips to support your healthy pregnancy:
It is always important to eat a balanced diet, choosing foods from all food groups. This includes plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables to supply various vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, as well as fiber to support healthy bowel function during pregnancy. Whole grains are a great source of energy, B vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so 3 to 5 servings per day are recommended. Try to minimize the “white flour/white sugar” foods, especially if you need to limit weight gain. Lean protein sources include poultry, fish, soy, legumes and egg whites, all of which contain high quality proteins, providing essential building blocks for fetal growth and development. Three servings of milk are recommended to supply calcium, vitamin D and protein to support bone health in mom and baby. If you avoid dairy, look for supplementation to supply these needs. Fish, such as salmon and anchovy, contain omega-3 fats (especially DHA) that are important for baby’s brain and eye development. Avoid the types of fish that may be high in mercury. You may consider a DHA supplement as a safer alternative to fish consumption due to the neurologic toxicity of mercury.
Optimal weight gain during pregnancy is in the range of 20-30 lbs. although this number may be adjusted up or down depending on certain factors including mom’s weight at the start of her pregnancy, if she’s carrying more than one baby, or if she has underlying health issues. Discuss with your doctor what is a good range for you. If you limit your additional calories to about 300 extra per day (on top of your regular calories) this will usually result in a reasonable weight gain.
In general, most obstetricians recommend continuing the exercise routine the woman has been doing prior to getting pregnant, assuming it is moderate and reasonable. Pregnancy is not the time to ramp up exercise and it may need to be modified as the pregnancy proceeds. Activities such as walking, light jogging, yoga and swimming are encouraged to build endurance, alleviate backaches, and increase overall energy and circulation for both mother and baby. This is a good topic of conversation with your physician.
Although a healthy diet plays an essential role, taking prenatal supplements can be a wise and prudent choice because we know that most adults may not be meeting their nutritional needs through their typical diet. Prenatal vitamin-mineral supplements are specially formulated to address the needs of pregnant women and for healthy growth and development of the baby.
Look for one that includes iodine, ideally 200 mcg to support thyroid development and function in both mom and baby.
Folate (vitamin B9) is especially essential for early fetal development and to prevent neural tube defects. The American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the CDC recommend 800 mcg folic acid.
Iron is another important nutrient of concern as iron requirements increase during pregnancy to support red blood cell production in both mom and baby. Iron deficiency is common in pregnant women because they don’t consume enough iron from their diet. Iron from animal sources, such as meat, is better absorbed than plant source iron, and vitamin C increases iron absorption. Taking iron and vitamin C supplements may help prevent iron-deficiency.
And as mentioned earlier, consider a potent and purified fish oil supplement to provide 200-300 mg of DHA to support eye and brain development.
Finally—be healthy and enjoy this miraculous process.