Planning for good nutrition is part of the mix

Pre-pregnancy generally means the three months leading up to pregnancy and making sure you are your healthiest self during this preconception period can help with conception, reduce the risk of issues popping up during your pregnancy and also assist recovery from birth. Women’s Health Queensland has some good preconception materials available here, which we think you’ll find really useful. Of course, if your pregnancy just popped up without too much planning (what a lovely surprise), just get on board as soon as you can, to get all this good nutrition stuff underway.

A healthy diet

We wanted to put the spot light on maintaining a healthy diet during this period and for this, we refer to The Australian Dietary Guidelines, which provide super useful information on what to eat and also how much to eat and this takes the guess work out of it for you. You can review the Dietary Guidelines in detail here, but we’ve provided a summary below.

  1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs and be physically active;
  2. Eat a wide variety of food every day from these major food groups: 1) vegetables; 2) fruit; 3) grain foods (preferably wholegrain); 4) fish, meat, eggs, nuts, legumes; and 5) dairy, mostly reduced fat (low fat is not suitable for children less than 2 years of age);
  3. Limit your intake of food/drinks that have added sugar, salt and/or saturated fat and for women planning a pregnancy, the safest option is not to drink alcohol;
  4. Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding;
  5. Prepare and store food safely;

Oh, and drink plenty of water.

Why not try using a food diary with sections for each food group listed in guideline 2, and tick off when you eat these foods each day, using the ‘how much’ guide at the Dietary Guidelines link. Eating according to these guidelines will help you to get enough of the nutrients you need and which have a role in fertility, like zinc, magnesium, potassium and vitamins C, B6 and E. You’ll also need to make sure you get enough iron and calcium from your diet and remember to take a stroll in the sunshine most days, to help with your vitamin D stores.

Of course, avoid times of high UV sun exposure like the middle of the day during the Australian summer, and be sun smart. Other nutrients such as essential omega-3 fats, a variety of fibre types including prebiotic fibres to help keep the gut bacteria healthy, polyphenols from plant foods, and so on remain important, but a balanced diet will provide these so be sure to keep focused on following the broad dietary principles outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Folate and iodine supplementation

Folate is the key nutrient of interest for when you are planning a pregnancy. Folate is a B group vitamin that is extremely important in the early development of a baby, as it helps to prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida. As the neural tube is formed before many women even know they are pregnant, it is recommended that women take a 400-500 microgram folic acid supplement for at least one month before pregnancy and for the first three months after your baby has been conceived, as your daily needs for folate are around 650 microgram during this period. Getting this amount from food is tricky, so it’s best to take a supplement.

This ensures that your folate levels are high at the time of conception and for optimal growth during the early developmental months, and to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. It is difficult to achieve this folate intake through diet alone and a folate/pregnancy multivitamin is recommended, so speak to your healthcare professional when planning your pregnancy. Remember to choose a supplement especially designed for pregnancy, to avoid excess intake of nutrients you don’t need and be sure to check the folate amounts in your supplement, to make super sure you’ll get enough folate from your supplement.

As for iodine, deficiency is becoming more common in Australia, and because it’s so important in the development of a baby’s brain and nervous system and because our bodies do not store iodine, it’s recommended that women take a daily iodine supplement of 150 micrograms per day during both the preconception period and during pregnancy. You can get more information on the importance of iodine here. Oh, and remember the best source of iodine is seafood.

Article provided by:

Dr Jaci Barrett and Dr Sonja Kukuljan
Accredited Practising Dietitians