Baby building nutrients
Is your body ready for having a baby? Being in good nutritional shape is the best way to start your pregnancy. If your diet has been less than ideal, start to improve your eating habits several months before you plan to become pregnant. Eating well prior to pregnancy helps prepare your body for the nutritional demands of nurturing a baby over the next nine months.
Sometimes called folacin or folate, folic acid is a vitamin that helps prevent the development of birth defects, especially spina bifida—a defect where the spinal cord doesn’t fully fuse together. Because your little one’s nervous system is being developed during the first few weeks of pregnancy, it’s important that you get an adequate amount of folic acid.
You can reach the daily requirement of 400 micrograms (mcg) by taking a supplement and eating these folic acid-rich foods:
- Orange juice
- Dark green leafy vegetables: asparagus, avocado, chard, collards, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens
- Dried peas and beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ
Most women often lack iron because it’s lost every month during menstruation and most women don’t consume enough iron-rich foods to replace these monthly losses. If your iron reserves have become depleted, you’re starting a pregnancy at a nutritional disadvantage. If you want to know your iron status, your doctor can do a serum ferritin test (a reliable indicator of iron deficiency) or a hemoglobin or hematocrit test that identifies anemia.
During pregnancy, your developing baby and expanding blood volume will decrease the iron stores you may have on hand. If you enter pregnancy already depleted, it’s difficult to reach optimum iron levels. You run the risk of developing anemia or a constant feeling of tiredness.
You can avoid these problems if you consume the daily recommendation of 30 milligrams (mg) of iron by taking a supplement with iron and eating these iron-rich foods:
- Red meats, organ meats, and poultry
- Dried beans and peas
- Dark green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, mustard greens
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
Iron from animal products is more readily absorbed by your body than the iron from plant foods. You also can increase iron absorption by consuming vitamin C-rich foods with foods that are good sources of iron. For example, eat a chili that includes both vitamin C-rich tomatoes and high-iron red beans. Or, drink a glass of orange juice with an iron-fortified cereal.