M.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200
Andie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Consultant, and Certified Personal Trainer who thinks of nutrition counseling as equal parts science and sensitivity. She specializes in lactation, sports nutrition, exercise fitness, and weight loss programs.
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While women of all weights can successfully get pregnant, being underweight or obese may cause irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation, making it more difficult to conceive. A healthy pre-pregnancy weight is also associated with lower risk of pregnancy complications.
Nutrients You Need During Preconception and Pregnancy
Changing your diet in healthful ways prior to conception benefits you and supports healthier eating habits during your pregnancy. While the amount of food (and calories) you need to consume prior to conception and in the first trimester does not actually increase, your nutrient needs do.
Satisfy these increased nutrient needs by eating high-quality foods (think whole, minimally processed foods). So while it may be tempting to “eat for two,” instead try “thinking for two” and upgrade your dietary choices without overdoing your total dietary intake.
Here are the nutrients to focus on to improve the lifetime health of you and your baby (and check out the What to Do section for tips on getting them into your diet):
Take a prenatal vitamin
In addition to following a healthy eating plan, take a prenatal vitamin to help ensure you are meeting your daily nutritional requirements for vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.
Find out what a healthy preconception weight is for you by speaking to your healthcare provider.
The recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy are based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index. Calculate your BMI by dividing your pre-pregnancy weight in kilograms by your height in meters, squared (or just use an online BMI calculator). And note that BMI calculations offer helpful guidelines but are not perfect indicators of healthy weight so always talk with your healthcare provider.
Here’s a weight guide according to BMI:
Use preconception to develop healthy eating and lifestyle habits that will carry you through pregnancy and beyond
The Dietary Guidelines and My Plate, which emphasizes choosing healthy foods in appropriate relative proportions, is a great tool for promoting healthy habits that will optimize health. It recommends filling ½ of your plate with vegetables and fruit (and more of the former than the latter), ¼ of your plate with whole grains and ¼ of your plate with lean protein.
Other important considerations are choosing healthy fats (like those found in nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado), emphasizing water and getting adequate physical activity.
Get plenty of micronutrients
Your needs for many micronutrients increase significantly during pregnancy. To learn more about just how much you need of each nutrient read Recommended Intake for key nutrients: pre-conception, pregnancy and postpartum and consult with a primary healthcare provider to learn about the many ways to satisfy your specific intake needs. Focusing on incorporating these foods into your diet while pregnant will help you meet your nutrient needs and improve the lifetime health of you and your baby:
Eliminate potentially dangerous substances once you start trying to conceive
Drugs, alcohol, tobacco and second- and third-hand smoke should be avoided during pregnancy. Because most women don’t know exactly when they become pregnant, it’s best to avoid these products if you are trying to conceive to optimize your baby’s (and your) health.
Work toward decreasing your caffeine intake as well. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg per day while pregnant – depending on cup size, that’s approximately the amount of caffeine found in 1-2 cups of coffee. Remember to add up all sources of caffeine — from food, beverages, and medications — to make sure that you’re not exceeding the 200mg per day limit, and see Do’s and don’ts of caffeine in pregnancy for even more info.
Make sure you are getting enough essential fatty acids
Eat regular amounts of fish, along with some grass-fed beef and walnuts, in order to get your omega 3s and regular amounts of simple plant oils to get your omega 6s. And to talk with your healthcare provider about taking omega 3 supplements and specifically, DHA, given that dietary amounts are usually suboptimal.
Choose your fish wisely
Fish is an important source of a number of high-quality nutrients, from protein to essential fatty acids, so don’t avoid all fish, but do avoid fish recognized as having high amounts of methylmercury, like shark, white tuna, swordfish and king mackerel. Instead, aim to eat 12 ounces each week of these lower mercury fish: wild salmon, canned light tuna, shrimp, tilapia, and sardines.
“Good Health Before Pregnancy: Preconception Care” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Date accessed 20 July 2019.
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