A healthy diet is one that includes nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein, while limiting the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol. If you are eating a healthy diet before you become pregnant, you may only need to make a few changes to meet the special nutritional needs of pregnancy. You should discuss nutrition and other issues with your healthcare provider during your initial prenatal care visits.
During pregnancy, your body needs more nutrients in order to provide a baby with what it needs. But, according to the National Women's Health Information Center, most pregnant women need to consume only an extra 300 calories a day. That may not seem like a lot, so during pregnancy, it's more important than ever to avoid "empty" calories.
Among the nutrients that are especially important during pregnancy:
* Calcium - According to the National Institutes of Health, pregnant or lactating women need 1,500 mg/day of calcium. Since most women don't get enough calcium even when they're not pregnant, it's important to pay attention to this need in your diet. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, tofu and salmon. The Food and Drug Administration says getting enough calcium can help prevent a new mother from losing her own bone density as the fetus uses the mineral for bone growth. Depending on your diet, your doctor or healthcare provider may recommend a calcium supplement.
* Iron - Foods rich in iron include many meats, fish and poultry (especially red meat and liver). Iron is also found in leafy green vegetables, eggs and enriched grains, although this form of iron is not as easily absorbed by the body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says iron helps both the mother and baby's blood carry oxygen. Iron supplements can be used on a doctor's advice. However, be careful to store iron containing products safely out of the reach of children.
* Folic acid - The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women who could possibly become pregnant get 400 micrograms (or 0.4 mg) of folic acid every day. This could prevent up to 70 percent of a type of serious birth defect called neural tube defects. But for folic acid to work in this way, women need to be getting enough before they get pregnant. That's why women should always get enough folic acid every day, but especially if they're thinking about becoming pregnant. Foods that are high in folic acid include liver, dark green leafy vegetables, lean meat, oranges, grains and legumes (lima beans, black beans, etc.) Folic acid is also found in certain fortified foods. Depending on your diet and personal history, your doctor or healthcare provider may also recommend folic acid supplements. Most pregnant women are placed on prenatal vitamins so check with your healthcare provider to see how much folic acid is in your vitamins.
Although supplements and fortified foods can be useful in helping a woman get adequate amounts of the nutritional elements she needs, excess consumption of vitamins and minerals can cause health problems. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health, getting 2,000 mg/day or more of calcium can produce adverse health effects. Therefore, use of supplements should always be discussed with a doctor or healthcare provider first.
In addition to foods a pregnant woman should consume, there are also foods she should avoid. Undercooked meat can be contaminated with a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, the infection can be transferred to the fetus, potentially resulting in a miscarriage. In addition, FDA says pregnant women, nursing mothers, and women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should be aware of the hazards of eating certain kinds of fish, specifically shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, because these fish may contain high levels of methyl mercury which may harm an unborn baby's developing nervous system. FDA says pregnant and nursing women should not eat more than six ounces of "white" or "albacore" tuna or tuna steak each week, and should not eat more than 2 servings or 12 ounces total of fish per week.
Finally, for pregnant women as for most everyone else, it's important to remember that a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is always a good idea, setting the stage for good health now and in the years to come.
* Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or improving your diet and exercise habits.
* Physical exams for both prospective parents, to ensure that overall health is good
* Losing any excess weight before getting pregnant, so you can start the pregnancy at a weight that's as close to normal as possible (Since pregnancy is a time of increased caloric needs, restricting calories once you become pregnant can be harmful)
If you are diabetic, getting your blood glucose under control (in the goal range) is crucial to ensure the healthy development of the baby in the earliest months, even before you know you are pregnant.
Giving up alcohol is important too, especially once you become pregnant. drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to you and your baby, so the best course is not to drink at all during pregnancy.
In general, women who start with a healthy weight can gain an average of a pound a week during the second and third trimesters , according to the March of Dimes. Individual weight gain, of course, varies depending on the mother's pre-pregnancy weight as well as her age, so always talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about what's right for you.