Now that you’re trying to conceive, it’s time to overhaul your eating habits. Here’s how to get started.
Are you gearing up for baby-making? Here are five things you can do to improve your diet and safeguard your (and your baby-to-be’s) health.
- Become a fool for folic acid (folate). Studies show that the earlier you start getting enough of this vital vitamin – ideally, during pre-conception – the lower the chances that your baby will develop neural tube defects (such as spina bifida). Where can you find folic acid? Most leafy green vegetables and whole grains are naturally full of it – plus, it’s added to most refined grain products (by law). Want extra insurance? Taking a prenatal supplement is an easy way to buy it – and when it comes to folic acid, you can’t be too careful (after all, a three-salad-a-day habit is a worthy goal – but one you may not always manage to reach). Since you’re in this for the long haul, and even after you’ve overhauled your eating habits, a supplement can be the most realistic way to fit folic acid in day after day after day (especially once you find those days filled with nausea). Choose a prenatal supplement with 400 to 600 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid to be sure you’re getting your fill.
- Junk the junk food. Reduce refined sugars and white flour (in the form of your usual suspects – cookies, doughnuts, Danish, cake, candy and almost anything else you might grab from the vending machine, the coffee cart, the convenience store racks, the pastry shop display case…. you get the picture). Slash saturated fats (sub a side salad for the fries; grilled chicken for the extra crispy) – less is better for your baby, plus a high intake of such fats appears to increase the risk of severe pregnancy nausea and vomiting. (Uh, thanks but no thanks.)
- Relish the right stuff. Increase all the good things that your body (and your baby-to-be’s body) needs: green leafies (those delicious salads), yummy yellows (apricots, carrots, papaya, mango), hearty whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal), and low-fat dairy. (Got milk? Yogurt? Cheese? You should!)
- Stop being a meal skipper. Are you always more interested in catching the train than breaking for breakfast? Working through lunch instead of eating it? Skip a meal when you’re eating for two (which you soon will be) and baby skips it too. Get into the three-squares habit now so that when baby’s on board, he or she will be getting a steady supply of nutrients throughout the day.
- Take a clear-eyed look at your dietary habits. Might any of them stand in your way of eating well? Do you think you might have an eating disorder that needs pre-pregnancy treatment, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia? Are you on a restricted diet (either self-imposed or due to a chronic condition) that might need to be adapted once you’re eating for two, such as macrobiotic, vegan, or diabetic? Now’s the time to discuss any of these factors with your practitioner – and to enlist the help of a dietitian if your eating habits need reshaping. Support groups (especially in the case of an eating disorder) can also help you get your nutritional status back where it should be.