Nutrition and Trying to Conceive
Trying to conceive? If you’re not already eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly, now is the best time to change your diet, and possibly even your lifestyle, to help insure not only a successful conception but a healthy pregnancy. By learning more about nutrition and developing good habits now, you’ll be in a good position to instill healthy eating habits in your child, too.
Pre-conception Doctor’s Appointment
You may even want to visit your doctor before you conceive. He or she can advise you on a healthy diet, evaluate your overall health, and let you know if you should lose or gain weight before you begin trying to conceive. You can find out your ideal healthy weight by calculating your BMI (body mass index). Being overweight can decrease your chances of conception by as much as 29 percent.
Eliminate Fast Food
For many people, step one toward a healthier diet is to eliminate fast food from your weekly menu. Pricey, fried, loaded with trans fats, and mostly devoid of nutrients, fast food offers few benefits beyond convenience. If you find yourself at a fast food restaurant, order a salad with grilled chicken on top, and use dressing sparingly. This is a lifestyle change that will benefit your unborn baby and your infant. Some of the benefits of breastfeeding are negated if you eat fast food more than once or twice a week while breastfeeding.
Eat a Balanced Diet
A balanced diet consists of plenty of whole grains, at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, at least three servings of non-fat or low-fat dairy products, and small portions of lean proteins, such as chicken and fish. Don’t forget the healthy fats, too, such as those found in olive oil (and other nut and seed oils) and foods like avocado.
You can find out more about the USDA Food Pyramid and smart food choices at www.mypyramid.gov.
Pregnant women and those TTC need more folic acid (otherwise known as Folate or vitamin B9) in their diets and should be sure they are getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. Taking in no less than 400 mcg of folic acid per day can reduce the risk of serious neural tube birth defects such as spinal bifida. You can get folic acid from sources such as dark leafy vegetables like spinach, citrus fruits, and fortified breads and cereals.
The Good and Bad of Fish: DHA and Mercury
Studies show that DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, is important in the development of the brains of fetuses as well as infants and toddlers. DHA can be found in foods such as flax, pumpkin seeds and avocado, but one of the best sources of DHA is coldwater fish, including tuna and salmon.
Unfortunately, fish also contain levels of mercury, which has been linked to nervous system disorders. So, what’s a woman who’s TTC, pregnant or breastfeeding to do? Eat fish shown to have the lowest levels of mercury in moderation by following the EPA guidelines for fish consumption in pregnant and lactating women.
As a general guideline, stay away from tuna steaks, swordfish, and shark, which are high in mercury and limit consumption of low-mercury level fish, including salmon, shrimp, chunk light tuna (not albacore) to 12 oz. per week.
Get the balance of your DHA by taking a pre-natal multivitamin enhanced with DHA or taking a separate DHA supplement.
Most people’s diets don’t contain enough Vitamin D, folic acid, or DHA, along with many other essential nutrients. Even if you eat a balanced diet, it can be challenging to get sufficient quantities of these vitamins and nutrients every day. Your doctor may prescribe a pre-natal vitamin during your pre-conception check-up, but you’ll probably find prescription pre-natals don’t differ much from over-the-counter supplements.
Pre-natal vitamins should contain:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B6
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin B12
Take pre-natal vitamins with a meal or a glass of milk, as they may cause nausea on an empty stomach. If your pre-natals are causing constipation or an upset stomach, you may want to experiment with different brands. Again, it is better to start your vitamins while you are TTC, so that you know that any side effects are caused by the vitamins and not by pregnancy.
Most doctors will tell you that it’s safe to continue almost any exercise program you were doing with proficiency before you conceived during your pregnancy. This includes bicycling, scuba diving, aerobics, yoga, tennis, weight training and countless other sports and activities. After you get pregnant, however, is not the time to learn a new sport or skill, which is why it’s a good idea to begin an exercise program you love while you are TTC. If you were not exercising regularly before you conceived—or did not have time to grow proficient in your chosen activities before you conceived–stick with walking and swimming, or even water aerobics if swimming is too taxing on your body, during pregnancy.
Author: Dawn Allcot
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