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6 Pre-Pregnancy Nutrition Tips

by Pam Martin of "Mamapedia"
Photo by: iStock

Most people know how important nutrition is during pregnancy, but less well-known is the fact that it is equally important when you are trying to conceive. Developing good eating habits prenatally also makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy and while nursing; it also means that you are providing your baby with all the essential nutrients before you even know you’re pregnant. So what recommendations do the experts offer?

1. Start Early

Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D., C.D.N, of Yummy Spoonfuls, suggests beginning to focus on healthy food choices three to four months before trying to conceive. Anna Mason, SoCal registered dietitian nutritionist, says, “Start your prenatal vitamin now. Prenatal vitamins are intentionally designed to cover any nutrient deficiencies throughout the entire duration of a pregnancy. A significant amount of a baby’s development can happen even before you realize you are pregnant.“ Diana Ramos, OB/GYN and co-chair of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, says “A balanced diet is important. This should be part of your daily eating habits, not something you do temporarily. Often times, restricting certain foods increases your craving for those foods you are avoiding, so make healthy, balanced eating a habit. Prepare your meals together; make it a bonding experience. Enjoy each other, because when the baby arrives, the opportunities to have one on one time, will be harder to juggle. Do what you can to make your home environment as safe, happy and healthy as you can before you little one arrives. “

2. Avoid the Alcohol

According to the experts at Aspire Fertility, “Men who drink alcohol may have less healthy sperm. It can affect how mobile their sperm are, the amount of sperm they have, and it can cause men to be impotent while under the influence.” They also point out that “Alcohol also affects the functioning of the adrenal glands, which regulate hormones, and this can directly cause poor egg quality and lowered sex drive.” They recommend avoiding alcohol altogether while trying to conceive, but, if that’s not going to work for you, they suggest limiting yourself to one or two drinks a week and choosing wine over liquor.

3. Eliminate “Recreational” Drugs

Ramos recommends eliminating all opioids, marijuana, and tobacco, as they interfere both with the quality of sperm and the ability to get pregnant. Aspire Fertility experts concur, pointing out that smoking, in particular, can cause damage to the reproductive organs and cause ovulation problems. They also report that smoking speeds the loss rate of eggs; since a woman is born with all the eggs she will have, and they are not replaced, so the accelerated loss makes pregnancy more difficult. Women who smoke may also enter menopause anywhere from one to four years earlier.

4. Add Folic Acid or Folate

To reduce the risk of neural tube defects, Dr. Sunny Jun, reproductive endocrinologist and co-medical director of CCRM-San Francisco, recommends adding at least 400 micrograms folic acid or folate daily to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the earliest days of pregnancy. Dr. Amos Grunebaum, director of obstetrics and chief of labor and delivery at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, reports that the 1996 Czeizel study found, among other results, that “ In this study, fertility was also improved after periconceptional multivitamin supplementation…To achieve a satisfactory folic acid level it is suggested to begin folic acid supplementation at least 1-2 months prior to conception. As many pregnancies are unplanned, experts even recommend that all women of childbearing age make increased amounts of folate (folic acid) a central and routine part of their diet.

If you prefer food sources to supplements, you can increase your folic acid intake by eating more dark, leafy vegetables, like collard greens, kale, and asparagus, along with whole grains, citrus, nuts, beans, peas, dairy, meat, poultry, and eggs.

While the experts agree that prenatal vitamins, especially those with folic acid, are important, Ramos points out that “Anything in excess should be avoided; one in particular is vitamin A” In the case of prenatal supplements, more is not necessarily better.

5. Cut the Caffeine

According to the Aspire experts, women who consume excessive amounts of caffeine are twice as likely to miscarry, so they recommend limiting coffee consumption to two 8-ounce cups a day. If you drink other caffeinated drinks, aim for no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day.

6. Boost Healthy Food Choices

Helene Byrne, prenatal and postpartum health and fitness expert, suggests that you stop eating canned foods at least a month before trying to conceive. She reports that many can linings contain BPA, a hormone disrupter that has been linked to fertility problems. She also points out that, although Americans tend to consume much, much more sodium than recommended, about one-third of women start their pregnancies with an iodine deficiency. Because iodine is critical to fetal brain development, she suggests limiting processed foods, which use the less-expensive uniodized salt, buying only iodized salt for use at home, and selecting a prenatal vitamin that contains iodine.

Mirchandani suggests an 80/20 rule for choosing foods: for 80% of meals, make the healthier choices, including going meatless one or more days a week and increasing plant proteins. She then says, “20% of the time, live your life.” She also encourages a low-stress lifestyle, pointing out that “Your nutrition efforts could go awry with stress.”

Experts agree that women trying to conceive need to avoid high-mercury fish, such as albacore tuna, swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel. Jun points out, though, that “occasional intake of low mercury containing fish, i.e. wild salmon, provides a good source of omega 3 fatty acid.”

Fertility experts also encourage couples trying to conceive to avoid unpasteurized food, including cheeses, eggs, dairy, and deli meats. They also recommend eating at least six servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and they emphasize the importance of staying adequately hydrated. Ramos brings it down to simple terms: “Do your best to eat a balanced diet. Planning ahead, when you can. Remember: all the food groups and in moderation.”

Pam Martin has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, on a wide variety of topics. She brings 20 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience to the party, including early elementary classes and courses in writing, reading and literature, history, geography and government at middle and high schools. She is also accomplished in crafting and in writing about projects, including her blogs, Roots and Wings From the Village, The Corner Classroom, and Sassy Scribbler, which encompass crafting, cooking, lesson plans, and professional writing advice.

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