Are you thinking about having a baby in the near future? Here’s what you need to know about your nutrition before you start trying.
BY: MCKENZIE CALDWELL, MPH, RDN, LDN
One of the most common questions that women ask as they’re thinking about getting pregnant is, “How far in advance should I start changing my diet before trying to conceive?”
And just like everything in nutrition and health, the answer won’t surprise you…it depends!
In general, most health professionals will recommend giving yourself at least 3 months to make dietary and lifestyle changes before getting pregnant. During this preconception period, you can build up your body’s stores of nutrients that help nourish a healthy pregnancy, including folate and iron, and decrease your exposure to toxins from habits such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol that may harm a growing baby.
In addition, people with hormonal conditions affecting fertility, such as PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea, will likely need at least 3 months to work with a health professional on lifestyle factors that can help them conceive.
If you are planning out your pregnancy, here are 3 nutrition tips to consider during the preconception phase.
1. Start taking a prenatal vitamin.
Even if you’re still on birth control, start taking your prenatal vitamin now so you can increase your intake of B vitamins and other micronutrients. B vitamins, especially folate, are the most critical in the very first few weeks of pregnancy when many people may not even know they are pregnant.
Plus, some hormonal birth control may actually deplete your body of B vitamins. That’s why taking a prenatal vitamin can be an easy way to give yourself a nutrition insurance policy. Talk with your doctor or registered dietitian to make sure your prenatal vitamin is meeting your personal nutrient needs.
2. Work on your relationship with food.
Pregnancy is a critical time period where everyone is paying attention to you, your weight, and your body – it can be really overwhelming. The preconception period gives you an opportunity to look inward and think about which aspects of your relationship with food and body can be improved before the chaos begins.
Intuitive Eating and body acceptance are important for your mental and physical health, but they’re also important so that you can help your child have a healthy relationship with food as they grow up.
3. Choose 1 to 3 gentle nutrition changes.
Everybody’s needs will differ as far as nutrition goes, but choosing 1 to 3 simple, sustainable changes at a time is the best way to do it. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with a complete diet overhaul.
Think about what small changes may help improve your well-being without causing your mental health to suffer – food stress is not healthy. Aim for foods that give you a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to help support your body’s needs.
Here are a few ideas of what you can add into your diet:
- A variety of fruits and veggies so you can get in different types of micronutrients
- More fish to provide DHA for your baby’s brain and other Omega-3s for your heart health
- Cook in a cast iron skillet to fortify your food with iron.
In the end, the changes you make are personal and should be based on what helps you. More fruits and veggies may not be the right choice for some folks who already consume enough, but may not be getting enough whole grains or fish. If you’re confused or if you have specific medical concerns including pre-diabetes or diabetes, meet with a registered dietitian to work through what changes make sense for your life.
And finally, while nutrition and physical health are often top of mind, it’s important to remember to relax and enjoy time together with your partner before bringing a child into this world.
After all, those are the changes that will last for a lifetime.
Adapted from the original post.
McKenzie Caldwell, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian based in Charlotte, NC who specializes in prenatal & postpartum nutrition. With an intuitive eating approach, McKenzie empowers new and expecting mothers to heal their relationships with food, recover from disordered eating, and manage conditions like gestational diabetes so they can achieve their health & life goals in pregnancy and beyond. Learn more at Feed Your Zest Nutrition & Wellness.