Even before you begin eating for two, it is important to take a close look at your diet and make changes to ensure your baby has the healthiest start.
The Importance of a Healthy Weight
Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will help you make sure you are gaining the proper amount of weight for each phase of your pregnancy. This weight gain helps provide your baby with the nutrition he or she needs to develop. The average weight gain for pregnancy is between 15 and 40 pounds.
Starting your pregnancy at a healthy weight affects your health as well as that of your baby. A study published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Nursing for Women's Health found that obese women also increase the chances of the child becoming obese later in life as well as a higher likelihood of the child having a neural tube defect or heart defects than women with a normal BMI.
And while overweight and underweight women can have normal, healthy pregnancies, you reduce your risk of complications by starting at a healthy weight.
If you are overweight:
- Your doctor may have difficulties hearing the heartbeat and measuring the size of the uterus.
- You may have challenges with vaginal delivery if the fetus is much larger than average.
- You are at a higher risk for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you are underweight:
- You will need to gain more weight during pregnancy than the average woman in order to provide enough nourishment for the baby.
- If you start your pregnancy underweight and do not gain enough weight during your pregnancy, you are at a higher risk for a low-birth-weight baby or early delivery.
- If you are not eating enough to get the nutrients you and your baby need, your baby's risk for birth defects may increase.
Pre-conception Diet Changes
To give your baby the best start, make sure you're getting the right nutrients even before you conceive.
1. Seek help for eating disorders. Disorders like anorexia and bulimia need to be treated before conception to ensure you're in the best health for both you and your baby.
2. Makeover your diet. If you're not already following a healthy, balanced diet, the sooner you start, the better. This will make it easier to keep up the habit when you learn you are pregnant. Kiss fatty foods and refined grains good-bye and opt for healthy veggies, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. And if you are following a restrictive program, such as a vegan or no-carb diet, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about ways to modify your regimen for when you are eating for two. You can also see how your food pyramid recommendations from the U.S. government change during pregnancy and beyond.
3. Start taking folic acid now. This naturally occurring B vitamin helps the baby's neural tube, and ultimately brain and spinal cord, to develop. It is important to note that folic acid only works if you take it before you conceive and during the early weeks of your pregnancy. Folic acid can be found in a multivitamin - make sure your vitamin contains 400 micrograms. Once you get pregnant, increase your intake to 600 micrograms daily. If you have ever conceived a child with brain or spine defects, talk to your doctor about whether you need more folic acid than the average woman.
4. Up your omega-3 intake. Studies have found that mom's intake of omega-3 helps develop the baby's brain. You can find omega-3s in fish like salmon, herring, sardines and trout; the March of Dimes suggests that 12 ounces of these fish per week is safe. Meanwhile, limit yourself to just 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week in order to protect against possible mercury poisoning. If you aren't getting enough omega-3s from your diet, you can opt for a supplement or prenatal vitamins that contain omega-3s. Talk to your doctor first about the safest choices.
What Not to Eat or Drink During Pregnancy
Alcohol. When it's in your bloodstream, alcohol gets into your baby's body via the umbilical cord and can cause birth defects. And, of course, stay away from illegal drugs.
Certain fish. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises that you not eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because of their high levels of mercury. Limit your albacore tuna intake to six ounces per week, and don't eat more than 12 ounces total of fish per week.
Caffeine. Large amounts of this stimulant can lead to low-birth-weight babies. Plus, because it's a diuretic, it can dehydrate you. Studies differ on the safe levels of caffeine during pregnancy, but most experts agree that it's best not to have more than one serving (that's 300 milligrams) of caffeine a day. Talk to your doctor about what's right for you.
Undercooked/raw meats, fish and eggs. Avoiding these foods lowers your risk of exposure to salmonella and other bacteria.
Deli meats and pates. These meats can be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage.
Soft imported cheeses. Like deli meats, certain cheeses may contain listeria. Stay away from soft, imported cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, feta, Gorgonzola and Mexican-style cheeses like queso blanco and queso fresco -unless they clearly state that they are made from pasteurized milk. Likewise, avoid unpasteurized milk.
Herbal Supplements. Even though herbs are natural, they might not be safe during pregnancy. Some can induce labor, affect hormone levels or cause other side effects. Some herbs may be safe during pregnancy, but talk to your doctor about what is right for you. You can learn more about herbal supplements on our site as well.