If you are thinking about having a baby, the best thing to do to prepare is to begin to nourish yourself mentally and physically. One of my specialties as a registered dietitian is fertility and prenatal nutrition, where I help both women and men improve fertility and prepare for a healthy, happy pregnancy. A thriving child starts with supportive prenatal care. Here are five tips for you as you begin your journey into parenthood.
1 | Feel free to complain.
Getting pregnant and being pregnant can be a great experience but also comes with a lot of anxiety, discomfort and fatigue. Many women feel like they can’t complain because they should feel lucky to be able to try and happy to be pregnant, and while that is not untrue, being honest about how you’re feeling, both good and bad, helps your mental health. Use your family and friends as confidantes, or find a pregnancy group or a therapist. Sometimes doing it all means asking for help and support.
2 | Take folic acid and increase folate in your diet.
Folic acid is an essential nutrient for expecting women, as it has been proven to prevent birth defects. It is important to take 600 to 800 mcg of folic acid every day as soon as you think about conceiving; it is never too early! Many prenatal vitamins have an adequate dose. Some breads and cereals have been fortified with folic acid, so check labels, you may be eating enough in your diet already. Adding dark, leafy greens, beans and asparagus to your meals is another great way to increase your intake.
3 | Pump up your iron.
You are creating life and that involves a whole new blood volume and so you especially need iron during pregnancy. Like folic acid, it is best to build your stores beforehand. For vegetarians and those who know they are iron deficient, it is important to pay even more attention to iron rich foods. Low iron levels will leave you fatigued, lower your mood and lower your immune system. The best sources are heme (iron from animals). For example: red meat, pork, lamb and the dark meat of turkey and chicken. For non-heme sources (vegetable iron) choose spinach and lentils; however, plant sources do not offer as much iron or as much bioavailable iron as from animals.
4 | Take calcium and vitamin D.
This duo works best together as they need each other to aid absorption in the body. As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D is best absorbed when fat is present in the food. Stay away from non-fat options when choosing your yogurt, kefir and milk. Aim for 2 to 3 servings of 2% yogurt, low-fat Kefir and 1% or 2% milk or cottage cheese. The nutrients build healthy bones for your baby, without them, you risk bone loss as calcium can leech over time. Get enough for both of you! For vegans, look for fortified nut milks, fortified grains and dark leafy greens.
5 | Stay active.
There is nothing better for weight maintenance during a pregnancy than keeping active. Not to mention the effects of the endorphins on your mental health. You can also use your activity time as alone time to sort your thoughts and relax. Before getting pregnant, your activity can be as intense as you’d like, but by the third trimester a low impact, pregnancy-safe routine is best. Try prenatal yoga or walks!