Nutritional Health before and during Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body is your baby’s first environment. Just as you would prepare the outside world for your baby by purchasing a baby crib, installing a car seat, or prepping your home for safety with outlet plugs, you should also prepare your body for pregnancy by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Eating nutritious foods and avoiding other foods and substances is important for you and your baby. Remember, many factors, including your own health, safety, and the choices you make, affect your body and your baby.

If you are considering conception, planning for the pregnancy, and preparing your body can improve your chances of having a healthy full-term baby. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can increase your overall health and improve your chances of conception. Research indicates diets high in folic acid, polyunsaturated fats, and plant-based foods can positively impact fertility (Panth, et al., 2018). If you are planning to become pregnant or if you are already pregnant, you may want to consider some of the following nutritional health tips.

Learn what to eat. Eating nutritious foods and learning about appropriate food choices during pregnancy is essential for your health and the health of your growing fetus. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), and these guidelines offer information about healthy foods you may want to consider eating while you are pregnant. Some of those foods include the following:

  • Dairy products are sources of calcium, protein, vitamin D, and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for your baby’s developing bones, teeth, heart, and nerves.
    • milk, cheese, yogurt.
  • Protein can positively affect the growth of fetal tissue and the brain, and it can increase the mother’s blood supply:
    • beef, pork, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts.
  • Carbohydrates are a source of energy, so they help the mother support and grow the baby:
    • whole-grain bread and pasta, rice, oatmeal, corn, potatoes.
  • Healthy fats, which are called unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, help improve the heart and how it functions:
    • olives, nuts, avocados, meats (HHS, 2020).

Know the benefits. There are many benefits to consuming nutritious foods and eating a balanced diet of protein, fat, and fiber while you are pregnant. Eating healthy foods can help you maintain your health; give you more energy; help reduce stress, either while trying to conceive or during pregnancy; and help decrease fatigue, nausea, or anemia. Eating the appropriate foods can help ensure a healthy birth weight for your baby and support his or her brain development and reduce birth defects (HHS, 2020).

Follow safe food practices. Pregnant bodies are more sensitive to food-borne illnesses. Good food safety practices should be followed and include the following:

  • Ensure food has been cooked to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Wash all fresh produce.
  • Avoid raw dairy and eggs and raw sprouts.
  • Check that food like milk, cheese, and juice say pasteurized on the label.
  • Consume fish with some caution. Fish can have mercury, which is a heavy metal that can make you sick and harm your baby’s development. Shark, swordfish, tuna, and marlin often contain mercury. Smaller fish like sardines, cod, flounder, tilapia, and canned light tuna are nutrient-dense and provide many benefits.
  • Avoid raw fish and raw shellfish.
  • Stay away from deli luncheon meats, and hotdogs should be reheated to steaming hot to kill Listeria (a foodborne illness that can be serious during pregnancy).
  • Avoid organ meat, like liver, as it may have too much vitamin A.
  • Minimize your caffeine intake. A little caffeine is fine but aim for no more than 300 milligrams or 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day.
  • Avoid sweetened beverages and junk foods. These foods are not nutrient-dense, and they contain significant added sugars or sugar substitutes.
  • Avoid alcohol; there is no known amount of alcohol that is considered safe during pregnancy (HHS, 2020).

Some pregnancies may have more health challenges than others. However, you can improve your baby’s first environment by making healthy nutrition choices and regularly visiting your pregnancy healthcare provider. Preparing your body, making appropriate food choices, and maintaining your overall health will help you give your baby the best start possible.

Visit your healthcare provider if you plan to become pregnant or if you are pregnant and talk about your health history and your partner’s health history. You and your partner may need to make changes to your nutrition, medications, and lifestyles. Healthychildren.org provides additional tips (e.g., exercise, stress reduction, family planning, healthy relationships) on taking care of yourself before and during pregnancy.

Additional Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). Prenatal decisions to make. Healthy children. https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/decisions-to-make/Pages/default.aspx

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. (2020). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

References

Panth, N., Gavarkovs, A., Tamez, M., & Mattei, J. (2018). The influence of diet on fertility and the implications for public health nutrition in the United States. Front Public Health, 6, 211. https://www.doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00211

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

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