Why is it so important to focus on nutrition before conception? Trust me, it will make all the difference for you and your baby if you focus on what you eat now.
Let’s imagine you and your partner try to have a baby. You’re successful! The problem is you won’t know whether you’ve got a baby growing inside you until week 4 or 5 (some women don’t know they’re pregnant until week 8). That’s at least 4 weeks of rapid fetal development – your baby’s eyes, ears, spine, nervous system and brain – growing based off of your diet. If you’ve been snacking on pizza and skipping out on the leafy greens your snuggly bundle has as well.
Eating well improves your baby’s chances of being born with a healthy birth weight. Your body holds a small store of whatever nutrients you’ve been eating over the past few months. For the first few weeks after conception this “nutrient reserve” where your baby will be getting their nutrition from.
You want “Mommy’s Store” to look like an organic farmer’s market – not a vending machine. Why? The vitamins and minerals in a balanced diet (one with a variety of vegetables) lower your baby’s chances of forming birth defects. A healthy diet will lay the foundation for your healthy baby to grow into a healthy adult. Plus, your baby might not be such a picky eater once they are born (which is such a huge perk).
What are the benefits for you? You’ll have a much healthier and more comfortable pregnancy. Eating quality foods lowers your risk of preeclampsia, anemia and gestational diabetes – all of which can affect the health and term of your pregnancy. You’ll also suffer less from morning sickness, heartburn, mood swings, body swelling and crushing fatigue. These symptoms are uncomfortable. They are zero fun. If you can do anything to lower the chances of developing these symptoms during your pregnancy, I highly recommend it.
So What Do You Mean By “Eat Like You’re Pregnant”?
I’m going to clear this up right now. I’m not asking you to eat 300 extra calories a day. That’s something you should begin in your second trimester. I’m asking you to focus on the quality of what you’re eating. This is the same advice I give women in their first trimester. You don’t want to blow up like a balloon. The goal is simply to create a store of nutrients for your baby to draw from. Think of this as practice for when you successfully conceive.
The daily nutritional requirements for pregnant women include:
3 (4-ounce) servings of protein
You probably get this in your diet anyway (most American’s do with no problem). The average steak weighs way more than 4 ounces. Here are some ideas to help you along:
- 1 cup of nuts (almonds instead of peanuts)
- 4 T peanut butter
- 4 ounces of fish or meat
- 2 cups of yogurt
- 3 ounces hard cheese
3 – 4 servings of dairy
Dairy is important because it gives you calcium, which you need to build strong bones. Calcium also prevents blood clots from forming. If you do not have enough calcium stored in your body the baby will draw it’s calcium requirements from your bones. Guess who loses in that situation? You’ll stand a good chance of developing osteoporosis later in life if you let that happen. You need about 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium a day. This was really daunting for me before I became pregnant. Once I realized how many foods had calcium it was an easy serving to fill.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 ounce hard cheese
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1 cup cooked greens (chard/kale)
3 servings of fruit
Fruit is important because it gives you vitamin C. Vitamin C helps our babies grow strong teeth and bones. It also helps us maintain and heal our bodies as we change throughout pregnancy. It’s really important to eat fresh fruit everyday but be careful not to eat too much. Eating more than 5 pieces of fruit could raise your blood sugar and put you at risk for diseases during pregnancy.
- 1/2 piece of fruit
- 1/2 cup fruit juice
- 2/3 cup berries
- 1 tomato
- 1/2 cup broccoli or kale
3 – 4 servings of leafy greens
It’s easy not to eat too much fruit when you’re eating a lot of leafy greens. During your first trimester there’s a chance that leafy greens will make you nauseous. If that’s the case substitute mellow, yellow vegetables and eat leafy greens when you can. They offer an important source of iron, vitamin A, calcium and phytonutrients. These promote cell growth and help both of you fight off disease.
- 1 cup raw spinach
- 1 cup of lettuce (romaine/arugula)
- 1/2 cup broccoli or kale
- 1/2 sweet potato
6 – 11 servings of whole grains
This has always been the most difficult requirement for me. My diet never consisted of a lot of grains before I became pregnant. Today, I try to get some with every meal or snack (even if it’s homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies). Grains have valuable fiber that can help promote regularity, something that becomes very important when you’re taking supplements. It becomes even more important when your digestion slows during pregnancy. You’ll notice I don’t include white bread or white rice in this list. Whole wheat has a lot of B vitamins that are essential for your baby’s development. They are also good sources of iron, selenium and zinc, which boost fertility. If you aren’t a fan of whole wheat, try baking or buying products made with white whole wheat.
- 1/2 cup granola
- 1 ounce crackers
- 1 slice whole wheat bread
- 1/2 cup rice (brown/black/wild)
4-5 servings of vegetables
Vegetables contain a plethora of vitamins. You can usually tell what the dominant vitamin is by the color. Vegetables with orange insides (sweet potato/carrot) contain a high amount of beta carotene. Red vegetables are high in antioxidants. Green snacks like avocado are rich in beneficial fats and phytonutrients. It’s a good idea to eat a rainbow every day.
- 1/2 sweet potato
- 1/4 winter squash
- 2 tomatoes
- 1/2 avocado
The Bottom Line
The recommendation is to eat six small meals, three main courses and three snacks, as well as drink twelve to thirteen 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you cook and work at home, this is simple. Shop organic and build up your nutrition following these guidelines.
If you work outside of home, or you travel on the road frequently, look for ways that you can incorporate a nutrient-rich diet into your schedule. Do you have time to make some meals in advance, taking the leftovers to work? If you have to eat out, can you “shop around” for healthier lunch alternatives?
Take a look at my post about juicing! Juicing is a great way to get hydration and nutrients to your body. It also extracts extra trace minerals from fruits and vegetables that your body wouldn’t normally be able to access. Alternatively, you can make a raw food smoothie to give your diet a boost of fiber.
The most important thing to remember? Nutrition is nothing to stress out over. You will find a way to create a nutritious system for yourself before conception. Whatever problems you might perceive, look at them as solutions that have not yet presented themselves to you. My husband and I worked on our nutrition together and found a solution that worked for us.
What nutrition solution works for you? Chat about it in the comment section!