Pregnancy can be likened to a parasite (fetus) depleting nutrients from the host (mother) but in this case, it is wanted and nurtured to grow. It’s usually good if pregnancies are planned, whereby the woman seeks preconception advice/care form her midwife or doctor and improve her health before trying for a baby.
What You Should Do Before You Conceive –
- Ensure you’re genetically compatible with your partner.
- Carry out tests as necessary.
- Treat any infections.
- Aim for a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking and binge drinking.
- Take folic acid (400 micrograms) a day at least a month before you plan to conceive. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects (when the baby’s spinal cord does not form well) and it’s not sufficient in the foods we eat. You can take multivitamins instead, but ensure it contains up to 400mcg of folic acid and not more than 2,565 IU of vitamin A. (You need to read the label of the multivitamin or ask your doctor for advice.
- Prepare yourself psychologically.
Congratulations, You’re Pregnant! So What Should You Avoid Or Take?
- If you have not started folic acid intake, start immediately until you’re at least 12 weeks pregnant.
- Eat healthy diets – This should include all classes of food.
Carbohydrates are source of energy and you need them. They should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Examples include; bread (wholegrain is a better choice instead of processed white bread), spaghetti, pasta, rice, potatoes, yam etc.
Proteins are very important for you and your growing baby, they help to grow and repair our bodies. Sources include; eggs, fish, meat, beans, pulses, nuts etc. Fish is very good but some fish have lots of dangerous chemicals. To avoid these chemicals; do not eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel, or tilefish; eat salmon not more than once time per week; eat only “light” tuna but avoid albacore tuna.
Diary products such as butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt are protein and calcium-rich which are crucial to your baby’s development. It is better to choose low fat/no added sugar diary varieties if possible. Note that, as much as diary products are an important, some carry dangerous germs. To keep yourself and your baby safe, eat and drink only dairy products that are pasteurised.
Fruits and vegetables should make up over a third of the food you eat. They are a good source of fibre, vitamins and mineral. Eat at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetable varieties per day.
Fatty foods should be consumed minimally as these have high calories and can increase your cholesterol level however, unsaturated fats are a healthier option.
Foods high in vitamin A should be avoided as high levels of this vitamin A is not good for your baby. For example liver.
Don’t take supplements containning vitamin A such as fish liver oil supplements. See your doctor for the right multivitamin supplement ideal for you and your baby.
Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day.
- Try not to eat junks if you feel hungry between meals rather swap with a healthy options such as fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, plain yoghurt, milk drinks.
- Reduce caffeine intake – do not exceed 2 cups of caffeinated drink or 1 can of caffeinated soda each day.
- Quit smoking and binge drinking if you haven’t done so; seek help if you need to.
- Optimise your iron levels, you may need oral iron or alternatives. See your midwife/doctor.
- It is recommended that you take daily multivitamins even if you think your diet is good enough.
- Cope-able exercise is good for you and it prepares you for labour and birth. Start pelvic floor exercises if not already doing so.
- It is important to limit the medicines you take as much as possible. Paracetamol is safe to take but do notexceed 4 doses of 1000mg in 24 hours, each dose can be taken 4-6 hourly. Avoid ibuprofen and aspirin, see your doctor if you need these.
Every day, make sure you have –
- 6 to 8 large glasses of water.
- 6 to 9 servings of whole grain foods like bread or pasta. By reading the label, you will know that you are getting “whole” grain and not just brown-coloured bread or pasta (1 slice of bread or a half cup of cooked pasta is a serving).
- 3 to 4 servings of fruit – fresh, raw fruit is best (1 small apple or a half cup of chopped fruit is a serving).
- 4 to 5 servings of vegetables (1 medium carrot or a half cup of chopped vegetables is a serving).
- 2 to 3 servings of lean meat, fish, eggs, or nuts. (A piece of meat the size of a pack of playing cards is 1 serving.)
- 1 serving of vitamin C–rich food, like oranges, sweet peppers, or tomatoes (one half cup is a serving).
- 2 to 3 servings of iron-rich foods, like black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, greens, dried fruit, or meat.
- 1 serving of a food rich in folic acid, like dark green, leafy vegetables (one half cup is a serving).
Precautions to note –
- Do not eat any meat or fish that has not been cooked all the way through.
- Do not eat any cooked food that has not been kept hot or chilled.
- Wash knives, cutting boards, and your hands between handling raw meat and any other food like fruits and vegetables that you plan to eat raw. Use separate chopping board for raw meats.
- Wash all fruits, vegetables and salads properly to remove traces of soil before you eat them.
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American College of Nurse-Midwives: Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health.
NHS Choices: Eat Well Guide.