Nutrition for a healthy pregnancy

Nutrition significantly affects the probability of conception as well as the successful outcome of the pregnancy and concerns women and men alike. In this article we will speak about a woman’s nutritional preparation before pregnancy.

Pregnant womanMaintaining a normal body weight, a balanced diet and some mild exercise, before pregnancy, benefit you and your child considerably. Studies highlight that increased body weight ahead of, but also during pregnancy, increase the likelihood of a caesarean section, illnesses like diabetes and gestational hypertension, preeclampsia for the mother and child obesity later in the child’s life. In addition, too much or too little body fat reduces the probability of conception.

So if you enter the pregnancy period with a healthy weight, there is more of a chance your child will develop normally and your pregnancy will have as few complications as possible. In order to determine if you have a healthy weight you should calculate the Body Mass Index by dividing your weight (in kg) with your height (in meters) squared. If the quotient is between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2 then your weight is normal, in case it is over 24.9 kg/m2 or below 18.5 kg/m2 it would be wise for you to regulate it and stabilise it three months in advance of your efforts to conceive. Apart from having a normal body weight it is important to have a balanced diet before pregnancy as well as in every other point in your life.

Balanced diet means consumption of the following:

  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables (5 portions a day)
  • Plenty of starchy foods (like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta) – opt for whole-wheat.
  • Protein like from: fish, legume, red meat low in fat, chicken and eggs
  • A variety of fish, two portions (260 gr in total) per week. Avoid fishes like shark, swordfish and mackerel because they contain mercury in quantities that are harmful to the developing nervous system of the foetus. The same is true for more than one portions of tuna per week. Some popular examples of fish with low concentration in mercury are salmon, cod, kipper, anchovy and sardines.
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt that contain calcium – prefer the ones that are low in fat.

It is also good to decrease consumption in foods with high concentration in fat and sugar like cakes, biscuits etc. This will help you reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

Apart from balance in your diet as a whole, you should pay attention to certain nutritious ingredients with especial importance. You should consume foods that have a high concentration in iron like red meat, legume, green vegetables, dried-up fruit as well as cereals enriched with iron. If simultaneously you eat foods rich in vitamin C like fruits and vegetables (good sources: peppers, broccoli, oranges, kiwi fruit) or a glass of juice, iron absorption does elevate.

It is important to receive 400mcg of folic acid every day for at least a month before conception and until the 12th week of gestation. Studies have shown that it protects against neural tube malformations, which consequently spread in the brain and the spinal cord of the foetus. Prefer foods with folic acid like spinach, green vegetables, whole-wheat rice, enriched cereals etc.

Avoid large quantities of vitamin A, for example liver or its products, like liver pate, supplements or drugs that contain large quantities of this vitamin, because they may cause genetic abnormalities to the baby.

Alcohol consumption negatively affects fertility as well as the normal development of the embryo, hence it should be avoided. Also it is advisable for you to stop smoking as a preparation to the pregnancy, as it may also affect the embryo (early term birth, low weight of the neonate). In addition, be careful with the hygiene of your foods (e.g. raw meat), because infections caused by food are especially dangerous for the embryo.

At last, mild exercise improves your health and spirits, helps regulate your weight, improves fitness and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Thirty minutes of exercise, of moderate intensity, for most if not all the days of the week is an excellent start.