Learn What to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy

Thinking about pregnancy? Whether you’re aiming to get pregnant next year or in the next few months, you should be getting ready now. This is the time to take inventory of your nutrition habits and make necessary changes that will promote good health for you and a healthy environment for your baby.

Do you drink a lot of coffee? Skip meals? Do you avoid food groups like fruits? Are you avoiding carbs? Using the following guide will help in evaluating your food choices. Are you getting the recommended number of servings from each group? This guide shows a range of daily servings for each food group. The number of servings that is right for you depends on how many calories you need. Calories are a way to measure energy. The energy your body needs depends on your age, gender, body structure and activity level.

If you have lower calorie needs, select the lower number of servings. If you have higher calorie needs, select the higher number of servings. The amount of food that is considered to be one serving is also listed. If you eat a larger portion, it is more than one serving. For example, a hamburger bun is two servings. If you have a combination food like pizza, estimate the food groups that it represents – bread group (crust), milk group (cheese), vegetable group (tomato sauce).

Bread, Grains and Pasta (6-11 servings)
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 pancake
  • 1 tortilla
  • 1/2 bun
  • 1 bagel or English muffin
  • 1 small muffin
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal
  • 1 roll
Vegetable Group (3-5 servings)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw or cooked vegetable
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetable
  • 1/2 cup vegetable soup
  • 10 french fries
  • 1 medium potato
Fruit Group (2-4 servings)
  • 1 piece fruit
  • 1/2 cup juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1/4 cantaloupe
Protein and Meat Group (2-3 servings)
  • 3 ounces cooked meat
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup nuts
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
Dairy Group (2-3 servings)
  • 1 cup milk or yogurt
  • 1 ounce cheese
  • 1/2 cup pudding
  • 1/2 cup ice cream
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
A nutritious diet will provide you with the 40 or so essential nutrients needed by your body and for your baby’s health.

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.

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.

Supplement Savvy

Even if you are eating a healthy diet, your doctor may recommend a prenatal supplement two to three 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 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.