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Getting Ready to Eat for Two

Learn What to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy
  -- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietician
Thinking about pregnancy? Whether you’re aiming to get pregnant next year or in the next few months, you should be getting ready now. This is the time to take inventory of your nutrition habits and make necessary changes that will promote good health for you and a healthy environment for your baby.

Do you drink a lot of coffee? Skip meals? Do you avoid food groups like fruits? Are you on the low carb craze? Using the following guide will help in evaluating your food choices. Are you getting the recommended number of servings from each group? This guide shows a range of daily servings for each food group. The number of servings that is right for you depends on how many calories you need. Calories are a way to measure energy. The energy your body needs depends on your age, sex, body structure, and activity level.

If you have lower calorie needs, select the lower number of servings. If you have higher calorie needs, select the higher number of servings. The amount of food that is considered to be one serving is also listed. If you eat a larger portion, it is more than one serving. For example, a hamburger bun is 2 servings. If you have a combination food like pizza, estimate the food groups that it represents – bread group (crust), milk group (cheese), vegetable group (tomato sauce).

Bread, Grains and Pasta (6-11 servings)
Vegetable Group (3-5 servings) Fruit Group (2-4 servings) Protein and Meat Group (2-3 servings) Dairy Group (2-3 servings) A nutritious diet will provide you with the 40 or so essential nutrients needed by your body and for your baby’s health, too. <pagebreak>

Don’t Forget the Folate
One nutrient worth special consideration when you are preparing your body for pregnancy is folate or folic acid. This vitamin has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, a defect in the spinal column.

Folate helps develop the neural tube that becomes the baby’s spine. The neural tube starts to develop shortly after conception and is closed at 28 days. The recommended intake of folate prior to conception is 0.4 milligrams, or 400 micrograms every day. Foods rich in folate include citrus fruits and juice; dark, green, leafy vegetables like spinach; whole grain and fortified breads and cereals; wheat germ; nuts; legumes; lentils; and lima beans. To read more about folate, click here.

Iron out anemia
Your doctor may recommend that you have a blood test to find out if you are deficient in iron before you get pregnant. Women who have iron-deficiency anemia are at an increased risk for preterm delivery and low birth-weight babies. Therefore, if it is determined that you have iron deficiency, you will probably start taking an iron supplement. To read more about iron, click here.

Supplement savvy
Even if you are eating a healthy diet, your doctor may recommend a prenatal supplement 2-3 months before conception. This supplement will contain additional necessary nutrients including folate, iron, and calcium. Some women experience less morning sickness complications such as nausea and vomiting if they begin a prenatal supplement before conception. The nutrient zinc, also found in the supplement, may help with fertility.

Once you begin taking the prenatal supplement, you should STOP taking other supplements. Excessive amounts of certain nutrients can be toxic and hazardous to your health and the baby’s development. Now is also the time to discuss with your doctor any herbal supplements, teas, or products that you may be taking. Some of these products may be harmful to your baby.

Aim for a healthy weight
Ask your doctor what your healthy weight should be and then do your best to reach that target before getting pregnant. Being overweight or underweight can reduce your chances of conception. It can also increase the risk of pregnancy complications.

Underweight? Women who are underweight have a higher chance of having a preterm delivery or giving birth to a smaller baby. To gain weight, you will need to eat more. Here are some tips:
Overweight? Overweight women tend to have larger babies and more difficult deliveries. The extra weight can also put you at higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and back pain. While being overweight during pregnancy can cause problems, you never want to crash diet or lose weight all at once. If you are overweight and not yet pregnant, talk to your doctor about a safe and sensible weight loss plan.