Optimal Nutrition Before Pregnancy [Learn This]

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Susan Watson

By Susan Watson, a Registered Dietitian

Before you start a family, you want to make sure that you check in with your own health first, this is the ultimate guide to nutrition whilst trying to conceive to make sure that you are going to be as healthy as possible to raise your baby.

Obtaining a Healthy Weight

Your family doctor will use a tool called Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine whether your weight is within its ideal range for your age.

Obtaining a healthy weight prior to getting pregnant is very important as you may find it harder to become pregnant if you have a low or a high BMI.

BMI Ranges:

Current evidence also suggests that a woman entering pregnancy within a normal BMI range (18.5 - 24.9) will have better health and less chance of disease for both herself, and her baby (Health Canada, 2014).

Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. BMI = kg/m2. You can calculate your BMI online here.

As we are all unique, there are many flaws with using the BMI to determine an individual's healthy body weight range. BMI does not take into account whether your weight is carried as muscle or fat. Those who have a higher amount of muscle mass or are very athletic may have a higher BMI, but not be at a greater health risk because muscle weighs more than fat. BMI is also not used during pregnancy or lactation because a woman's body composition changes to accommodate the baby and his or her needs (Canadian Diabetes Association, 2013).

For now, BMI is still used to determine weight-related health risks, as it is easy to calculate. It is, however, only one assessment tool used in a physical exam. Talk to your health care provider for a full assessment and the best ways to achieving and maintaining your weight goal.

Achieving Optimal Nutrition: Balanced Meals

Before you conceive, you will want to ensure that your body is thriving with the nutrients it needs. Forming important eating habits now, such as consuming well-balanced meals, will help set you and your baby on the course to a healthy pregnancy.

You should aim to have three main meals a day with 2-3 snacks in between meals. This will help prevent you from getting over hungry, as it is really hard to make healthy food choices when we are ravenous. The key to avoid getting over hungry is to not let more than 4-hours pass between eating.

aim to have three main meals a day with 2-3 snacks in between meals

What you choose to eat is just as important as the frequency you choose to eat. The best way to balance your meals is to have 3-4 food groups in each meal and 1-2 food groups in each snack (usually a protein and carbohydrate source). We should also aim to have 2 cups of vegetables at lunch and supper.

Food Groups:

Food groups, balanced diet

1-day example of healthy balanced meals:

Portion sizes

Another way to ensure your meals are well balanced is by using the Plate Method:


Plate of grilled salmon, potatoes and vegetables

To control portion sizes, downsize your plate to a standard 9-inch dinner plate rather than the trendy oversized 12 or 14-inch plate. Your meal will look larger on a smaller plate.

It is very easy to overeat if you are not watching your portion sizes. Here are some examples of servings sizes to help you out:

Vegetables and fruit Grains/starches/carbohydrates per meal Protein per meal Dairy or dairy alternatives per meal

More Great Nutrition Tips

Measure out tempting treats:

Some treats are hard to resist. Put them in a bowl and tuck the bag or package back into the cupboard. Out of site, out of mind! This makes it easier to enjoy the treats we like without unconsciously over indulging!

Do not eat while distracted:

Eating while texting, checking emails, or watching TV can lead to overeating. We may not feel full because our mind is distracted and not recognizing our body's signals of fullness. Put the distractions away during meals and practice eating your meal mindfully.

Think before you drink:

Watch your liquid calories. Beverages can be consumed fast and calories from them can add up quickly. Aim to eat your calories, not drink them! Choose plain or carbonated water to hydrate yourself frequently.

Eating out:

Select the smaller size meal if available or order from the kids or seniors menu. Many restaurants provide more than the recommended meal sizes and are higher in calories than home cooked meals. You can also opt to share your plate with a friend or eat only half the meal and take the rest home with you. If you ask, most restaurants will even prepackage half for you. This way, you don't have to feel overfull and you get to enjoy the food again the next day!

Use a plate or a bowl:

Do not eat from the bag or container. This will allow you to see the amount of food you are taking in, and be better able to judge what is the right amount for you.

Avoid processed foods:

Prepare homemade versions of your favorites instead, such as homemade macaroni and cheese instead of the store bought box version.

Limit white refined grains:

Opt to eat whole grains and starches such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats instead. These provide you with more fiber and other nutrients that your body needs, and can be more flavorful than their white refined counterparts.

Beware of added sugar:

Flavored yogurts and milk can be very high in added sugar, and can be almost like eating liquid ice cream. Choose yogurts with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving or opt for unflavored options and add fresh or frozen fruit to sweeten it instead.

Nutrition Advice for Improving Conception Opportunities

There are plenty of myths, and non-scientifically backed advice on the Internet. Maybe one day some of it will be proven true, but to date, there is very little sound evidence that supports specific food or individual nutrients to improve fertility. More and more research is being done on lifestyle and nutrition factors, but right now, evidence is still emerging. The following tips are what have been well studied and documented to help improve your ability to conceive:

Did you know you can keep track of your daily intake, as well as your cycle details, in Ovulation Calculator? If you're not already, start tracking with Ovulation Calculator.

Take prenatal vitamins:

Prenatal vitamins

Take them daily for a least 3 months before conception and continue taking it during pregnancy (PEN, 2014). Look for one with 0.4 mg folic acid, as well as added iron and Vitamin B 12. You may find the iron is hard to digest. Try taking it with a meal or before bed to ease its effect on your stomach.

Learn why you need to be taking prenatal vitamins BEFORE conception

Don't smoke:

Cigarette smoke starves your growing baby of oxygen and can increase your risk of a miscarriage (Government of Canada, 2012).

Stay hydrated:

Drink at least 1.5 to 2 liters of fluids per day. The best option for hydration is always water, but fluid can also come from other beverages and liquids such as milk, juice, tea, broth, and soup.

Limit your alcohol consumption to the recommended amount or less:

For women this is 1 standard drink per day. A standard drink = 1 beer, 1 oz. hard liquor, or 5 oz. wine. If you have trouble cutting down your alcohol consumption, ask your doctor for advice.

Limit your caffeine intake to the daily-recommended amount:

The daily-recommended amount of caffeine is 400 mg per day. 1 cup of coffee (250 ml) has approximately 100 mg of caffeine.

Choose low glycemic index (GI) foods:

Examples of low GI foods are whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. These foods are packed with protein and fiber, and help you stay fuller for longer. Visit http://www.glycemicindex.com for a full list of foods. Consuming low glycemic index foods more often, and high glycemic index foods less often can help you achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Eliminate trans fats:

There are no recommended safe levels of consumptions of these fats. Read the nutrition facts table, and ingredient lists of packaged foods to make sure you are choosing trans fat free options.

Limit saturated fats to 10% of your daily caloric intake:

Saturated fats are typically from animal sources, and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil. Lower your intake of these by replacing them with healthy plant-based oils such as, olive oil and switch from butter to a non-hydrogenated margarine.

Keep your iron stores high:

During your menstrual cycle, a lot of iron is lost through blood loss. Replenish this by eating iron rich foods like meat, fish, poultry, firm tofu, legumes, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Some grain products such as bread, pasta, and cereals are also fortified with iron, read the labels to find out which ones are high in iron.

Make sure you are getting enough zinc:

Zinc supports normal growth and development, which is great for follicular development. A deficiency in zinc can also lead to reduced fertility. The best sources of zinc are seafood, meat, seeds, and cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils.

Aim to get enough antioxidants:

such as vitamins C and E, folate, and carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Antioxidants protect against free radical damage. Good sources of antioxidants are fruits, dark green and orange vegetables and walnuts.

Question: Should I eat warm foods like soup or stews during the luteal phase to help hold a pregnancy?

At this time, there are no evidence-based studies to confirm or disprove this idea. More research is needed before following this recommendation.

Question: Why is Folic Acid important?

Folic acid (folate) is a B vitamin that is plays a role in the development of your baby's spine, brain and skull, especially during the first 4-weeks of your pregnancy. It is important to take a vitamin supplement with 0.4 mg folic acid before you become pregnant because you may not discover you are pregnant until a few weeks into your pregnancy (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008).

Taking a supplement with enough folic acid will reduce your baby's risk of developing neural tube defect (NTD). NTD occurs when the neural tube fails to close properly. This happens during the early weeks of pregnancy. Failure of the closure of the neural tube can lead to abnormalities of the spine, brain, or skull and result in stillbirth or lifelong disability (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008). The most common NDT is spina bifida.

How many meals and snacks are you eating a day? Please leave a comment below.

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  1. Natalya Sep 05, 2016
    I am eating meals 2 or 3 times a day. Also now I am taking a prenatal multivitamin with DHA to reduce chances of eye and spinal cord issues and it's good for her brain.
    1. Christina (OC Team): That's great. Nutrition is very important! - (Sep 05, 2016)
  2. Winifred Nov 03, 2016
    I am eating 2 to 3 meals a day. I am taking multivitamins and folic acid.
  3. Angel Nov 14, 2016
    I eat twice a day, only lunch and dinner. I don't eat breakfast. I didn't take any prenatal vitamins. Do you think it will be hard for me to get pregnant?
  4. Uwabunkeonye Nov 17, 2016
    I eat twice a day, though I do take fruits before or after dinner. I rarely take milk or tea, and I stopped taking prenatal vitamins. I have yet to conceive.
  5. Onyediregrace Nov 23, 2016

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