It’s easy to think that once you are pregnant you will get into good habits, but laying the foundations to a healthy pregnancy start in the months leading up to pregnancy.
The period prior to getting pregnant is essential to prepare nutritionally, making vital stores of nutrients ready for the developing foetus. However, studies are now beginning to show how the health of both the sperm and the egg before they even meet can affect the outcome of the pregnancy and the health of the baby, the child and even through to adulthood. Studies are now suggesting that even grandparental nutritional status during mid-childhood can be linked to the mortality risk ratio in their grandchildren two generations later. (Consider this: that a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, which are therefore formed while she is still in her mother’s uterus – so the egg that made you started its formation in your grandmother’s womb). One could say that you can help to programme the future health of your children using pre-conceptual nutritional care.
We say that anyone thinking about trying to conceive should think about having at least a three month ‘preparation’ time. A very critical time is the first twelve weeks of pregnancy when all of the organs are developing, and during this period each organ has a window in which it reaches its maximum potential in development. Your baby relies on the right nutrients at the right time to enable different organs to mature, so it has to rely on the nutrient stores you have built in the preceding months leading up to pregnancy, not just what you are eating just at that moment.
The Placenta: the nutrient highway
The placenta acts as a life support system for your baby to develop and grow. All the nutrients needed for growth are provided via the placenta, so what you eat and the store of nutrients you maintain help to grow a healthy baby. Good functioning of the placenta later on in pregnancy when the baby’s demands are greater will depend on how healthy and well developed it is during early pregnancy. We now know that healthy early development lays down the foundation to a healthy pregnancy and avoids complications later in the pregnancy such as poor growth.
Proteins are the building blocks for your baby’s development. Fish, meat, eggs and chicken are the usual sources, so if you are vegetarian or vegan make sure you are getting enough protein.
Slow release carbs are needed for energy and to produce hormones such as insulin which will control your baby’s growth. Many women I see are amazed at how much carbohydrate they crave in early pregnancy. You need them.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids are needed for the development of the brain and nerves. The best sources are omega 3 supplements and omega 3 rich foods such as fish, avocados, flaxseeds, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamins and minerals
Vegetables and fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals. Your body can manufacture few vitamins and minerals, so you need them from your diet. Aim for as many colourful fruits and vegetables as you can – the more varied they are, the better the range of vitamins and minerals you will obtain.