What to Eat BEFORE You're Expecting

Julie Ryan Evans
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blueberriesWe all know that what we eat -- or don't eat -- while we're pregnant can have a lasting effect on our baby.

There are lists of what we must avoid and abstain from as well as countless checklists of highly beneficial foods we should be ingesting with gusto.

But what about before you even see two lines on a stick? What should you eat if you're trying to get pregnant or are just starting to think about  it? Does it matter?

I caught up with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, a nationally recognized expert and the diet and nutrition editor for the TODAY show, to talk about pre-pregnancy nutrition.

How important is diet before you even get pregnant?

Diet is extremely important before you even get pregnant. The new baby is forming its brain and nervous system and other vital organ systems long before you even suspect you're pregnant. You need to be in robust nutritional status to help optimize your developing baby's development. When you learn you're pregnant, most of the systems are already well underway.

How far in advance do you need to start preparing?

At least six months before you start to try to become pregnant, it's a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin (not just a multi). It is perfectly safe to take one when you are not pregnant. While all prenatal vitamins have the basics to support good health of the developing baby, some newer versions contain added DHA -- an essential fat -- thought to provide additional support for the brain and nervous system.

For a prenatal supplement with added DHA, try One a Day Women's Prenatal, or Spring Valley With DHA (Walmart brand). Other popular brands include Nature Made and Rainbow Light prenatal.

What if you don't prepare nutritionally, and you have a "surprise" baby? Can you make up for it by eating healthy once you know?

No, you can't make up for this, but that's why it's a good idea to be taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement pregnant or not. Don't worry if you didn't take a vitamin though, mother nature is smart -- and what your baby needs will be taken from the mother's "nutritional storage." However, that can put the mom as risk for a deficiency!

What are the most important things a woman can eat pre-pregnancy?

Folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and essential fatty acids (EFA) are the top five most important nutrients you need before and during pregnancy. The best way to get these is from food:

  • Whole grains for folic acid (grains are fortified now).
  • Red meat is ideal source of B12, but okay to get from a supplement.
  • Calcium and vitamin D -- the best is low or non-fat dairy.
  • Calcium also from dark greens -- but you need a few cups of broccoli to equal the calcium in a glass of skim milk.
  • Essential fatty acids -- from fish, sardines, walnuts. Stick with low-mercury fish (skip the swordfish and tilefish), 2 servings a week.

Check with your doctor to make sure your needs are met! In the case of pregnancy (before and after) -- a daily prenatal vitamin is good insurance to support healthy eating.

Did you/have you changed your diet in anticipation of becoming pregnant?


Image via Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr


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