If you (or your girlfriend, sister, friend, daughter,..) are thinking about having a child in the (near) future and would like to increase your chance of a healthy pregnancy & child then this post might be of interest to you.
Does it really make a difference? YES!
Good nutrition is the best way to prevent complications.
Attention to nutrition, balanced food choices and a solid level of fitness can almost completely prevent prematurity, low birth weight, long hard labor, premature rupture of membranes, placenta abruption, and fetal growth restriction.
Although sound nutrition is important during pregnancy, what you eat or don’t eat, your body fat percentage, level of fitness as well as other health- and lifestyle parameters, such as nicotine and alcohol intake, level of stress, and sleep habits influence not only your chance of getting pregnant but also how you will experience pregnancy and your baby’s well-being at birth as well as for his or her entire lifetime.
Dear women, optimize your health
and that of your child – now!
Given that many pregnancies are unexpected, it makes sense to always be prepared, kinda along the lines „hope for the best but prep for the worst“. I’m NOT saying getting pregnant is the worst (definitely one of the most life-changing, exciting things in life) but if unexpected it can throw nearly anyone of us for a loop. Thus, to assure we will give our child a healthy start into their life, our current lifestyle choices matter.
During the first 8 weeks, some of us (women) might not realize we are pregnant. While this is a crucial period during which a developing fetus is highly susceptible to birth defects and other problems, some might still engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices, potentially putting the health of the child at risk. One more reason to make health and a healthy, balanced, active lifestyle a priority.
Moms to be – improve your preconception health
- regular screening for health risks such as diabetes and hypertension
- review your medications (best to check with your doctor)
- healthy weight (if you are underweight or overweight, try to achieve healthy weight…yes, you can have too low – as well as too high- body fat!)
- abstain from unhealthy behaviors (toxic environments, smoking, too much alcohol & caffeine, sugar and salt, stress,…..)
Why healthy weight (and I mean body fat %) matters:
Although, for various reasons, I’m not a fan of body mass index (BMI), often health body weight is measured in terms of BMI (between 18.5-24.5 is considered healthy). Check out the table to the right for details.
Being at healthy weight improves our chances of conception, while excess body fat or insufficient amounts of body fat interfere with our fertility.
This is not only the case for natural conception but also for in vitro fertilization (source). But ladies, even our man’s BMI matters. If your man is on the heavier side, it could prolong the time it takes to get pregnant (source). Plus, those of you who are overweight are more prone to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. And as if weight (fat) loss isn’t challenging enough, if entering pregnancy when overweight you’ll not only remain overweight during pregnancy (most likely be unable to lose the weight post-pregnancy) but also increase the likelihood of complications during pregnancy and delivery.
By the way, check out this delicious Chia see water recipe to balance hormones. It might just support you in losing weight.
Increased BMI increases the incidence of induction of labor, caesarean section, pre-term labor and macrosomia. More, as you will not lose weight during your first trimester, being overweight in the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with the risk of adverse pregnancy outcome (source).
Hence, starting pregnancy at healthy weight translates into lower risk of pregnancy complications for mom and baby, but not only during pregnancy but also delivery. Thus, by starting pregnancy at healthy weight we reduce our risk for hypertension, gestational diabetes, caesarean section, preterm labor and delivery, and stillbirth (source).
Why diabetes matters:
About 573,000 – 645,000 people (8-9%) living in Austria are affected by diabetes, mostly type 2 (source). Having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes means you are three times more likely to deliver a baby with a birth defect compared with those without diabetes, among other complications (source). If you are prediabetic (fasting blood sugar of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter), you are at risk for developing gestational diabetes and postpregnancy type 2 diabetes.
The good news is you can reduce your risk; talk to your doctor! It also shows however it’s crucial to get regular check ups, stay at healthy weight, consume a balanced diet, and make healthy lifestyle choice.
3 aspects (under our control) influence our health
and that of our child
- healthy nutrition (balanced, nutritional food choices)
- develop a solid level of fitness (develop or maintain a fitness level, both endurance and strength focused)
- healthy weight
Nutrition – what really matters:
One nutrient many of us (women) lack is IRON; to prevent deficiency increase your intake of foods rich in iron. Research has shown the level of iron stored at time of conception determines the risk for anemia (iron deficiency) later in pregnancy. (Iron needs increase with pregnancy duration; iron deficiency in early pregnancy can actually increase the risk for preterm delivery. source)
What’s my preferred source of iron?
seeds, hummus & spirulina – especially spirulina!
Another vital nutrient: FOLATE (Vitamin B9) or if consuming it as supplement, then 400 micograms of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate). Where would you find folate? Beans and lentil are really high in folate; one cup (~170-190g) provides us with approx. 350 micrograms (~90% of daily value). 100g of spinat (as well as other green vegetables) gives us close to 190 micrograms (~49% of daily value), 100g of avocado contains close to 81 micrograms of folate (~20% of daily value) and nuts, for example, a 1/4 cup of peanuts provides us with ~ 90 micrograms of folate (~22%) of daily value).
CHOLINE, yet another vital nutrient many women are deficient in, which similar to folate, can prevent neural tube defects and aids in the child’s brain and spinal cord development. A study concluded an insufficient intake of choline during pregnancy was associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect. Independent of folate intake, higher choline intake was associated with a reduced risk of neural tube defects (source). Btw, increased intake of choline and folate also increases your child’s visual memory & intelligence at age 7 (source). How much choline should you consume per day? At least 425 milligram per day, more when pregnant (< 750 mg per day, source).
It’s been recommended (by the American Pregnancy Association, among others) to increase our stores of OMEGA 3 fatty acids well before pregnancy, which is thought to help in the development of a baby’s retina, brain, immune and nervous system. More, it might reduce risk of preterm delivery, especially in women with a history of a prior preterm birth (source).
Where do we find Omega-3s? In fatty fish (such as salmon, herring, and tuna). But be aware, many fish contain contaminants and heavy metals! Rule of thumb: the smaller the fish, the less mercury it contains. On the subject of fish
where fish is caught matters:
- Troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna caught in western U.S. and Canadian waters have lower levels of mercury than tuna caught in other areas of the world. Prefer canned tuna? Watch out: albacore tuna contains almost three times as much mercury as skipjack tuna.
- Wild-caught salmon from Alaska is better than farm raised salmon (or salmon caught in the Atlantic)
- Wild-Caught Pacific Sardines (btw: they pack more omega-3s (1,950 mg!) per 3-ounce serving than salmon, tuna or just about any other food; it’s also one of the very, very few foods that’s naturally high in vitamin D – go sardines 😉
Other good sources of Omega 3 include chia, flax and hemp seeds and walnuts, and other vegetable oils. If you decide to take a supplement, check with your doctor. Recommended dietary allowance for omega-3 fats is around 1 gram per day.
Other vitamins and minerals you should focus on, as low intake is common, include calcium, magnesium, vitamins C, D and E, carotenoids, and potassium. And actually, a recent study (source) published by the University of British Columbia concluded that „marginal deficiency of vitamin A, even as early as in pregnancy, has a detrimental effect on brain development and has long-lasting effect that may facilitate Alzheimer’s disease in later life,”. So make sure to eat (as part of a healthy, balanced diet!) carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, apricots and bell peppers, which too are great sources of vitamin C and calcium. By the way, vitamin A levels also influence iron uptake!
But please don’t just go out and pick up any multivitamin. Watch this video first. It might raise a few valuable questions: Supplements: Friend or Foe
Depending on your activity level, you might need between 1,600 and 2,200 calories daily. Aim for balanced nutrition, and don’t fall prey to high protein, high fat or fad diets.
- Carbohydrates, in moderation, are your friend but aim for whole grains, fiber-rich foods, veggies and fruit.
- Choose high quality protein sources (legumes, poultry, fish) and consume small amounts of full-fat dairy (over low fat diary) products.
- Reduce your added sugar and processed food intake.
- Increase your healthy fats to approx. 30% of your daily energy intake (seeds, coconut & olive oils, nuts & nut butter).
- Reduce your sweetened and/or caffeinated drinks; get used to drinking water, tea and freshly squeezed juices (although whole fruit is better).
- Reduce your alcohol intake.
By the way, if you are vegan and exercise regularly, there are a few things to consider.
Basically, try to eat as colorful and fresh as possible, and enjoy your food. Sweets aren’t completely of limit – instead focus on quality over quantity!
Prepregnancy Physical Activity
I don’t need to explain the benefits of physical activity. You KNOW exercise should be part of a healthy lifestyle, you know it’s useful for weight control, weight loss, and plays a crucial role in body image satisfaction, confidence, healthy sleep patterns, and stress relief.
Regular exercise also plays an important role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Exercise supports management of blood glucose levels in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, reduces total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and keeps blood pressure in check.
You want to reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes? Exercise! Women who engage in most vigorous exercise in the years before pregnancy reduced their risk by 81% compared to sedentary women; women who engaged in moderate intense exercise had a 59% lower risk (source).
More, physically active women had a 30% to 50% lower risk for pregnancies affected by neural tube defects, even when they did not take multivitamins prior to conception and irrespective of their weight (source).
What are the guidelines for Physical Activity?
- minimum of 30 minutes on most days for weight maintenance (if calorie intake is in line with calories burned)
- 60 minutes on most days to manage body weight and prevent gradual weight gain
- 60 to 90 minutes per day to maintain weight loss
But ladies, please DON’T just focus on cardio! LIFT (real) weights, build up your strength, develop some muscles and develop real fitness.
And since working out in a group is more fun, why not join us for our monthly (4 weeks long) outdoor group workouts? These workouts WILL get you in shape! Classes start each month; class sizes are small! Register now!
You are trying to get pregnant?
- Reduce your exposure to cigarettes – even secondhand smoke!
- Reduce (!) excess caffeine intake. In moderation, it’s fine.
- Excessive stress could influence your chance of getting pregnant. Engage in stress-relieving exercises, join a yoga class, meditate, go for regular walks. BREATH.
- Reduce chemicals as some can inhibit fertility: Bisphenol A (BPA) just like perfluoronated chemicals (PFCs), used in Teflon, for example, can decrease fertility in women
- Be in a healthy relationship.
- Be stable and financially secure; it will relieve some stress.
- Get a check up and get to really (!) know your cycle.
- Timing IS everything: engage in mind-blowing „in-between sheets“ action……
- Keep your hormones balanced! Perhaps, nutritionally speaking, work WITH your cycle focusing on estrogen rich foods during the first 14 days of your cycle and progesterone rich foods during the second half of your cycle.
By the way, there are lots of myths around pregnancy. 5 myths are debunked here.
Other healthy eating articles that could be of interest to you include: