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The Pregnancy Series - Part 1 - Role of Nutrition & Foods During Pre-Pregnancy

Thursday, May 21, 2009
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Nutrition During Pre-pregnancy / Foods during Pregnancy
Pregnancy is that critical a time, where even a tiny nutrient deficiency can wreck havoc with the development of the fetus. Sometimes a deficiency of a few nutrients can permanently stunt the development of a healthy baby, or cause irreversible spinal, brain or heart defects that are not life sustaining.

Preventing a majority of birth defects from occurring is not yet medically possible, but a lot of them can be prevented by being aware of what the mothers body needs nutritionally to conceive and carry a healthy fetus to term.

Nutrition During Pre-pregnancy
Planning to conceive starts with preparing your body to provide the best environment and nourishment for the fetus to grow and develop fully to term. That's why eating specific foods even before you become pregnant can help ensure that you and your baby start out with the nutrients you both need.
Significant nutrients: B-complex vitamins, especially folic acid but also calcium, iron and vitamin C

Dietary recommendations:             
  • If you are actively trying to conceive, folic acid assumes great significance during pre-pregnancy. Excellent sources of this vitamin include green, leafy vegetables, some breakfast cereals (Check the nutrition label for folic acid content), cowpeas, green peas, baked beans and Asparagus. You need a minimum of 400 mcg per day.
  • B-complex vitamins other than folic acid are also important nutrients during pre-pregnancy. Consume adequate servings of whole grains, lentils, fresh fruits and vegetables to get these vitamins.
  • Opt for low-fat dairy and dairy products like yogurt, paneer (cottage cheese) buttermilk and other non dairy sources like sardines, salmons, prunes, spinach, broccoli, nuts & seeds to fulfill your calcium needs.
  • Try and eat at least one serving of a citrus fruit everyday to get your dose of Vitamin C. This vitamin helps keep your defenses strong. Research has shown that adequate amounts of Vitamin C could help to trigger ovulation & in men, it can increase the sperm count by to a third.
  • Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, a component of blood. Include poultry, legumes, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, leafy veggies and rice flakes to get enough iron. Team up an iron-rich food with a Vitamin C-rich food to reap maximum benefits.
Fertility Foods / Foods during pre-pregnancy that help with conception

Foods During Pregnancy, Their Nutrients and Function
  • Almonds & all nuts in general & oily fish - Prime source of essential fatty acids are also good source of Zinc ; Increases fertility and reduces miscarriage
  • Strawberries, kiwi, peppers, & citrus fruits - A great source of Vitamin C. Triggers ovulation
  • Green leafy vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, garlic & whole grains - A good level of vitamin B6, folic acid & selenium. Regulates & maintains the level of sex hormones promotes healthy pregnancy
  • Sweet potato, eggs, cherries & apples - A comforting source of manganese.  Decreases the risk of birth abnormalities
  • Sunflower seeds, apricots, banana, brown rice & dairy products - A good source of magnesium. Increases the ability to conceive & maintains pregnancy
  • Avocados, sunflower, safflower oils - Good sources of vitamin E. Increases muscle strength, & hormone functions
  • Flax seeds Great for essential fatty acids. Regulates the reproductive hormones & boosts the baby's brain, eye & central Nervous development           
  • Lentils, eggs, soy, lean meats -  Good sources of protein for overall body strength

Overall, when planning to get pregnant, learn to eat healthy and include all food groups on a daily basis during the pre-pregnancy phase. Try a variety of foods, so you won't get bored.

Problems a couple may face: Sometimes getting pregnant does not happen as quickly as one would like. Often lack of adequate nutrition may be to blame. A man who eats healthy and leads an active, smoke and alcohol free lifestyle has not only a higher sperm count, but also stronger sperm! Both the man and the woman need to eat  the right foods during pre-pregnancy. A well balanced diet and exercise regimen helps the woman's body have the right chemical balances and nutrients for the critical first few weeks after conception.

Lifestyle tips for the couple during pre-pregnancy and immediately post conception:

  • Shed a few kilos if you are over weight or If you are smoker, quit NOW. 
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Never self-medicate. Talk to your physician about any medications that you may be taking.
  • Limit the consumption of caffeinated beverages and aerated drinks. Artificial sweeteners may have to be restricted and even avoided, in some cases.
  • Try and get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. Brisk walking is a safe, economical and beneficial option.
  • Stay happy and maintain a positive outlook.
Nutritionist - Kanchan Saggi

Related article: Could Folate Help Prevent A Broken Heart!

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User Comments

21 October, 2011 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar A healthy pre-pregnant state will help the mother to be, to have a healthy pregnancy. if a woman desires to be pregnant she should focus on eating a lot of spinach and folic acid rich food as its those vital few weeks before pregnancy is detected that the neural tube of the fetus starts forming which needs a good amount of folic acid.

09 August, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy It is good to have a healthy weight or reduce weight to healthy levels before planning a child. This will help in healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, healthy nuts, whole grains and pulses with adequate intake of water will help in weight management and also build maternal nutritional stores, preparing the body to support the new life.

09 August, 2010 | Geetanjali Kelkar | Reply

Geetanjali Kelkar A woman who has experienced miscarriage, the first question is how soon it will be possible to conceive? A new study suggests that there is no reason to delay pregnancy following miscarriage. Sooner a woman conceives better are her chances of having healthy pregnancy. Conceiving within 6 months prevents other pregnancy related complications compared to when women wait for longer duration. A woman must ensure that she has adequate intake of vitamins and minerals to prevent any risks. The present study is published in British Medical Journal online in July 2010 issue.

29 May, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain I completely agree with Kanchan.Though one should take healthy and balance diet throughout life, special attention must be paid when woman is either planning to conceive or has conceived.This would not only help her building up her own nutritional status but would also help in child's adequate growth and development during gestation period.

Kanika Jain

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