If your diet is low in nutrients, start to improve your eating habits several months before you plan to become pregnant. Eating well prior to pregnancy helps prepare your body for the nutritional demands of nurturing a baby over the next nine months.
Must-have nutrients before planning a pregnancy Folic acid
Sometimes called folacin or folate, folic acid is a vitamin that helps prevent the development of birth defects, especially spina bifida - a defect where the spinal cord doesn’t fully fuse together. Because your little one’s nervous system is being developed during the first few weeks of pregnancy, it’s important that you get an adequate amount of folic acid in the initial stages.
You can reach the daily requirement of 400 micrograms (mcg) by taking a supplement and eating these folic acid-rich foods:
- Orange juice
- Dark green leafy vegetables: Spinach, mustard greens, methi, radish leaves, etc.
- Dried peas and beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ
Folic acid in pill form
Vitamin B comes in pill form and most multi-vitamins contain folic acid. But since it’s difficult to eat enough of folic acid rich foods to get optimal folate benefits, doctors recommend that any woman in the child bearing age should take a daily supplement containing 500 ug. or 5 mg. of synthetic folic acid.
When to increase folic acid intake
You should increase your folic acid intake at least one month before attempting to become pregnant. Timing is important because folic acid can prevent certain birth defects within the first four weeks after conception.
Once you’re pregnant, your doctor is likely to encourage an increase of folic acid. But check with your doctor before you decide on your own to increase your dose - doubling up on a multi-vitamin could be dangerous.
Most women often lack iron because it’s lost every month during menstruation and most women don’t consume enough iron-rich foods to replace these monthly losses. If your iron reserves have become depleted, you’re starting a pregnancy at a nutritional disadvantage. If you want to know your iron status, your doctor can do a serum ferritin test (a reliable indicator of iron deficiency) or a hemoglobin or hematocrit test that identifies anemia.
During pregnancy, your developing baby and expanding blood volume will decrease the iron stores in your body. If you enter pregnancy already depleted, it’s difficult to reach optimum iron levels. You run the risk of developing anemia or a constant feeling of tiredness.
You can avoid these problems if you consume the daily recommendation of 30 milligrams (mg) of iron by taking a supplement with iron and eating these iron-rich foods:
- Red meats
- Dried beans and peas
- Dark green leafy vegetables: spinach, methi, mustard greens, radish leaves
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Jaggery or gur
Iron from animal products is more readily absorbed by your body than the iron from plant foods. You also can increase iron absorption by consuming vitamin C-rich foods with foods that are good sources of iron. For example, drink a glass of orange juice with an iron-fortified cereal. Note: Iron supplementation is started after 3 months of pregnancy.