Posted on May 10th, 2021by Dara Godfrey, RDin Nutrition

Priming Your Body for Pregnancy

There’s never a more perfect time to work on your health than right now.

Focusing on healthy habits going into a pregnancy means not just thinking about your own personal health, but also the health of a potential growing baby. This can often be the catalyst for making habits that better serve you (and ultimately your little one), especially since maternal dietary patterns can negatively impact fetal development. In the long run, this means that lifestyle habits can have a lifelong impact on an offspring’s susceptibility to diseases. Take some small steps to ensure that your body is healthy leading up to (and during) a pregnancy:

  1. Start taking a prenatal vitamin (if you haven’t already). Although prenatal vitamins aren’t the panacea for well-rounded health, many nutrient needs increase during pregnancy and some women are not able to meet those with diet alone. Think of your prenatal vitamins as a backup for days when you’re not able to eat all of your fruits, vegetables, and other vitamin and mineral-rich foods.

  2. Aim for a healthy BMI range. To prevent unnecessary complications for mom and baby during pregnancy, make an effort to be at a healthy weight prior to conceiving – ideally having a BMI in the range of 18.5-24.9. Both underweight and overweight have their potential risks:
    • overweight/obesity is associated with an increased maternal risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension and cesarean delivery along with a baby’s risk of being born preterm or stillbirth
    • underweight women are at risk for anemia, miscarriages, obstetric complications, and postpartum depression along with low birth weight for baby.

  3. Focus on protein, protein and more protein. As proteins are, in essence, the building blocks of human life, they should be a main component of mealtime. Get into the habit of including protein at EVERY meal (including snacks) as the demand for protein increases consistently as a pregnancy progresses AND since proteins are naturally filling and can aid in stabilizing one’s blood sugar levels. Good animal sources include grass-fed/pasture-raised beef, lamb, bison, pork, venison, chicken, turkey, bone broth, and, ideally, wild fish and seafood. Eggs and grass-fed dairy, nuts, nut butters, seeds, beans and legumes are nice vegetarian sources.

  4. Don’t skip meals. Skipping a meal can have detrimental effects on hormone balance, negatively affecting health and ultimately disrupting fertility. Regularly making the habit of skipping meals (most often breakfast) can not only slow down one’s metabolism (as your body can go into ‘starvation mode’ holding onto calories as opposed to burning them off efficiently), but can also alter various hormones connected to fertility including cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones.

  5. Focus on getting some important nutrients from food. Pregnancy is quite taxing on your nutrition stores. Although your baby will likely get all of the nutrients it needs, a woman can often be more at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Although there are many nutrients that could be beneficial when preparing for a pregnancy, it’s important to focus on:
    • FOLATE (the food form of folic-acid) – this B-vitamin is vital for early fetal development, notably the neural tube.
      Great sources include: leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, legumes, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruits, nuts/seeds
    • OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – help to support fetal growth including brain and eyes.
      Great sources include: salmon, sardines, oysters, anchovies, chia & flaxseeds, walnuts
    • IRON – important to prevent iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy as a pregnant woman’s body requires the use of extra iron to make extra blood (hemoglobin) and oxygen for baby and mom.
      Great sources include: meat, pork, poultry, beans, dark leafy greens, dried fruit, peas (pair these foods with vitamin C rich foods like peppers or citrus)
    • CALCIUM – crucial to support musculoskeletal, nervous, and circulatory systems and ultimately to prevent osteoporosis in the mother later in life.
      Great sources include: cheese yogurt, seeds, sardines and canned salmon, beans and lentils, almonds (pair these foods ALSO with vitamin C rich foods like peppers or citrus)

  6. Get moving daily, but don’t overdo it. Being active prior to pregnancy can make it easier to get into a pregnancy-friendly exercise routine. Moderate exercise has been shown to be connected to more favorable outcomes for mother and baby. On the other hand, vigorous exercise (especially for those women are already underweight) prior to a pregnancy may be harmful.

  7. Go to bed earlier and focus on your mental health. Both reproductive and sleep hormones are linked, and as such, good sleep habits are an important component of prepping for a pregnancy. Sleep deprivation can not only make it more challenging to lose weight (if you’re overweight or obese), but can also negatively impact your emotional health and lead to more overall stress. Like most things, it’s about finding a balance. On average, getting 7-9 hours of shut eye AND getting to bed before midnight is optimal.

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