For most pregnant women, even those who pay little attention to their diet, pregnancy is a major “aha” moment – a time when you fully grasp the meaning of “you are what you eat.” But you don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant to start eating well for your baby. Following a healthy diet before you conceive can boost your fertility and help lower the risk of birth defects.
A recent series of articles published in The Lancet stressed the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle in the preconception period. According to the authors of this series, focusing on dietary needs and supplementation during pregnancy can correct any nutrient deficiencies in the mother, and reduce the risk of a low birth weight infant. Additionally, women who might be poorly nourished may be more susceptible to environmental toxins. So what are some of the key nutrients to focus on if you’re trying to get pregnant?
- Folic Acid/Folate:This B vitamin is one of the most important nutrients you can take before (and during) your pregnancy. Not only is folic acid necessary to form healthy cells, but it can also help prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
- Calcium:Calcium keeps your reproductive system functioning smoothly and some research shows it may even help you conceive faster. If your calcium stores are low when you’re pregnant, your body will take the calcium from your bones and give it to the developing fetus, which might put you at risk for developing osteoporosis (brittle bones) in the future.
- Iron: According to research, women with adequate iron stores have less trouble getting pregnant than women with lower levels. Plus, this mineral helps shuttle oxygen throughout the body, which will be vital when you’re delivering oxygen to your baby.
- Omegas-3 Fatty acids: These healthy fats may help regulate key ovulation-inducing hormones and may help increase blood flow to the reproductive organs.
- Iodine:This mineral helps your body make thyroid hormones, which work to control your metabolism.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary for proper collagen formation, a key to strengthening your membranes. One study found that women with a diet low in vitamin C had an increased risk of pre-term delivery.
Remember, it’s not necessary to follow a “perfect” diet, just do the best you can by choosing healthy foods every day and supplementing where you need to. Improving your diet now may help boost your fertility and improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. It will also make it much easier to stick to a healthy diet once you become pregnant.
(1) Barker, M., Dombrowski, S. U., Colbourn, T., Fall, C. H., Kriznik, N. M., Lawrence, W. T., . . . Stephenson, J. (2018). Intervention strategies to improve nutrition and health behaviours before conception. The Lancet, 391(10132), 1853-1864. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)30313-1
(2) Fleming, T. P., Watkins, A. J., Velazquez, M. A., Mathers, J. C., Prentice, A. M., Stephenson, J., . . . Godfrey, K. M. (2018). Origins of lifetime health around the time of conception: Causes and consequences. The Lancet,391(10132), 1842-1852. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)30312-x
(3) Stephenson, J., Heslehurst, N., Hall, J., Schoenaker, D. A., Hutchinson, J., Cade, J. E., . . . Mishra, G. D. (2018). Before the beginning: Nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period and its importance for future health. The Lancet,391(10132), 1830-1841. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(18)30311-8
(4) The Prepregnancy Diet. (2018, August 03). Retrieved from https://www.whattoexpect.com/getting-pregnant/health-and-wellness/foods-to-enjoy/prepregnancy-diet.aspx
(5) Peri, C. (n.d.). Get a Head Start on a Healthy Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/head-start-on-a-healthy-pregnancy
(6) Pepper, L. (n.d.). Your Pre-Conception Diet Makeover. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/getting-pregnant/pre-pregnancy-health/diet/pregnancy-nutrition-diet-health-plan/