Eating healthy before you get pregnant improves your chances of having a healthy pregnancy. A healthy lifestyle while you’re young also improves your quality of life later on. If pregnancy is your goal, you need to make sure you get certain nutrients now so when your body undergoes the stress of pregnancy, you can have the healthiest baby possible, while maintaining your own health.
Maintaining a healthy weight by balancing your carbs, proteins and fats optimizes your body’s ability to provide the best environment for a baby to grow. A healthy weight also feels better and allows you to be more active. Women of childbearing age need between 1,800 and 2,400 calories daily, depending on their activity level. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that about half of your calories come from carbs, including fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and dairy products. Twenty to 35 percent of your calories should come from fats; however, limit your intake of saturated and trans-fats. The remaining calories should come from high-quality sources of protein such as meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that women build up stores of omega-3 fatty acids well before pregnancy. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, help the development of a baby’s retina, brain, immune and nervous system. When you become pregnant, your baby will take what it needs from your body, leaving you with what’s left. Breast milk also contains DHA so your baby can continue developing after he’s born. Eating adequate amounts of omega-3s will keep your body’s stores full and nourish your baby if you become pregnant. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, tuna and some varieties of trout. Some fish contain contaminants and heavy metals, so if you become pregnant, limit your intake of fish to two servings per week. You can also purchase omega-3 supplements, but check with your doctor before taking them. The recommended dietary allowance for omega-3 fats is around 1 gram per day.
Folic acid prevents birth defects known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or anencephaly. Most of these birth defects occur early in pregnancy before you know you are pregnant. Several government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, are reaching out to women of childbearing age to encourage them to get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, either from food or supplements or a combination of the two. Many cereals, breads and grain products are fortified with folic acid in the U.S.
Women of childbearing age are at higher risk for becoming anemic due to menstruation and an increased need for iron. Iron carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. Without it, you feel tired, have a hard time concentrating and may be more prone to illness. You need 18 milligrams of iron daily. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams daily. The best sources of iron include red meat, chicken, beans, fortified cereals and enriched grain products.
Kristin Mortensen began writing newspaper articles in 1992 for The Sierra Vista Herald. She has also been a registered dietitian since 1991, and has worked for hospitals, clinics and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. Mortensen has a bachelor of science in dietetics from Brigham Young University.