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Nutrition Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Getting Ready to Eat for Two

Learn What to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietician
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Don’t Forget the Folate
One nutrient worth special consideration when you are preparing your body for pregnancy is folate or folic acid. This vitamin has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, a defect in the spinal column.

Folate helps develop the neural tube that becomes the baby’s spine. The neural tube starts to develop shortly after conception and is closed at 28 days. The recommended intake of folate prior to conception is 0.4 milligrams, or 400 micrograms every day. Foods rich in folate include citrus fruits and juice; dark, green, leafy vegetables like spinach; whole grain and fortified breads and cereals; wheat germ; nuts; legumes; lentils; and lima beans. To read more about folate, click here.

Iron out anemia
Your doctor may recommend that you have a blood test to find out if you are deficient in iron before you get pregnant. Women who have iron-deficiency anemia are at an increased risk for preterm delivery and low birth-weight babies. Therefore, if it is determined that you have iron deficiency, you will probably start taking an iron supplement. To read more about iron, click here.

Supplement savvy
Even if you are eating a healthy diet, your doctor may recommend a prenatal supplement 2-3 months before conception. This supplement will contain additional necessary nutrients including folate, iron, and calcium. Some women experience less morning sickness complications such as nausea and vomiting if they begin a prenatal supplement before conception. The nutrient zinc, also found in the supplement, may help with fertility.

Once you begin taking the prenatal supplement, you should STOP taking other supplements. Excessive amounts of certain nutrients can be toxic and hazardous to your health and the baby’s development. Now is also the time to discuss with your doctor any herbal supplements, teas, or products that you may be taking. Some of these products may be harmful to your baby.

Aim for a healthy weight
Ask your doctor what your healthy weight should be and then do your best to reach that target before getting pregnant. Being overweight or underweight can reduce your chances of conception. It can also increase the risk of pregnancy complications.

Underweight? Women who are underweight have a higher chance of having a preterm delivery or giving birth to a smaller baby. To gain weight, you will need to eat more. Here are some tips:
  • Eat more often. Eat something every hour or two.
  • Keep snacks handy, such as nuts, cheese and crackers, snack mixes, granola, dried fruit, pudding cups, yogurt, ice cream, cookies, and meat spreads.
  • Make your drinks count. Try milk, shakes, hot chocolate, pasteurized eggnog, juices, or fruit-yogurt smoothies.
  • Top vegetables, casseroles, soups and salads with cheese.
  • Add extra butter, margarine, oil, salad dressings, and mayonnaise to your foods.
  • Add sour cream, cream cheese or whipped cream to your favorite recipes.
  • Add nuts and seeds to vegetables and salads.
Overweight? Overweight women tend to have larger babies and more difficult deliveries. The extra weight can also put you at higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and back pain. While being overweight during pregnancy can cause problems, you never want to crash diet or lose weight all at once. If you are overweight and not yet pregnant, talk to your doctor about a safe and sensible weight loss plan.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I think this article should have also addressed the "eating for two" mindset. Eating for two should involve eating about 85 extra calories per day the first trimester, 285 calories per day with the second, and 475 calories per day the third (for an average of 285 extra calories per day). The eating for two mindset has GOT TO GO. - 5/8/2013 2:56:05 PM
  • MRS-OCTOBER
    This is useful info. I am hoping to TTC later on this year and would like to lose some weight before then. I was concerned about getting weight during pregnancy and al ready being overweight. My hope is that I get to a healthy size, and learn how to improve my diet so that when I start eating for two I won't gain an exorbitant amount of unneccessary weight. - 4/14/2009 9:49:16 AM
  • MRS-OCTOBER
    This is useful info. I am hoping to TTC later on this year and would like to lose some weight before then. I was concerned about getting weight during pregnancy and al ready being overweight. My hope is that I get to a healthy size, and learn how to improve my diet so that when I start eating for two I won't gain an exorbitant amount of unneccessary weight. - 4/14/2009 9:49:12 AM
  • Thanks for this article! We are planning to TTC next year and that's one of the reasons I am aiming to lose some weight. :) - 9/8/2008 9:26:56 AM
  • when i was pregnant last year the doc put me on a prenatal vitamin and told me to try to lose/maintain my weight for the first few months. well i ended up having a miscarriage and we're not entirely sure how but the doc thinks it may have something to do with my weight. so now i am working to lose a few lbs and get the right nutrients on a daily basis before i get pregnant again. - 8/30/2008 12:41:43 AM
  • I have five children and before each one I was very careful to be healthy. When we were planning to get pregnant the first time, I even had my husband taking vitamins and drinking protein shakes for several months in advance. Our children are all healthy, so it paid off, plus my recovery time after the delivery went well. - 5/21/2008 9:23:11 PM
  • Thanks for this article - when we conceived our daughter, I was obese, and no one could really tell I was pregnant. It was heart-breaking. I want to get healthy before we start working on Baby #2, and I will be keeping this article close at hand. - 2/16/2008 8:27:09 PM