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Preconception - Page 6

Healthy Pregnancy Newsletter
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Preconception nutrition is a vital part of preparing for pregnancy. However, many women do not eat a well-balanced diet and may not have the proper nutritional status for the demands of pregnancy. One of the most important nutrients for women of childbearing age is folic acid. This nutrient can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects), such as spina bifida. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Good sources of folic acid include some green, leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements.

Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before this time. So it's important to begin taking folic acid before conception. If you are not already taking a prenatal supplement, your health care provider may recommend one. Remember that prenatal supplements do not replace a healthy diet, so it's important to talk with your health care provider if you are having trouble getting the proper nutrition your body needs. You may also want to consult with a registered dietitian for nutritional advice.

Building iron stores in your body is also important. Women who do not have adequate iron stores can develop iron-deficiency anemia, a condition characterized by a lack of iron in the blood, which is necessary to make hemoglobin (the part of blood that distributes oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body). Good nutrition before becoming pregnant is important to help build up these stores and prevent iron-deficiency anemia. During pregnancy, the unborn baby uses the mother's red blood cells for growth and development. If a mother has excess red blood cells stored in her bone marrow before she becomes pregnant, she can use those stores during pregnancy to help meet her baby's needs. If you have anemia due to low iron, your health care provider may recommend a supplement.

Good food sources of iron include the following:

  • Meats, such as beef, pork, lamb, liver, and other organ meats
  • Poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, and liver (especially dark meat)
  • Fish, such as shellfish, including clams, mussels, oysters, sardines, and anchovies
  • Leafy green vegetables from the cabbage family, such as broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collards
  • Legumes, such as lima beans and green peas; dry beans and peas, such as pinto beans, black-eyed peas; and canned baked beans
  • Yeast-leavened whole-wheat bread and rolls
  • Iron-enriched white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals
What About Your Weight?

A mother's prepregnancy weight has a direct influence on her baby's birthweight. Studies show that underweight women are more likely to give birth to low birthweight babies, even though they may gain the same amount in pregnancy as women of normal weight.

Babies with low birthweight are more likely to have complications and may have a difficult time eating, gaining weight, and fighting infection. Overweight women have increased risks for complications in pregnancy such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Talk with your health care provider about whether you need to lose or gain weight before becoming pregnant.

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