Before Pregnancy

Thinking about pregnancy? If so, inventory your health and nutrition habits now. Initiating good health and nutrition habits before pregnancy—or simply nudging healthful eating and active living back into your lifestyle—promotes your health and establishes the healthy environment your baby needs to develop normally during pregnancy. And you'll be fit and ready! Your baby develops rapidly during the first weeks of pregnancy, perhaps before you even know you're expecting.

Whether you're preparing for pregnancy or not, advice for all healthy women is the same: To get enough of the forty or so nutrients essential for your good health—and your baby's health, too—

customize MyPyramid, explained in chapter 10, as your "before, during, and after " pregnancy guide to healthful eating.

Fertility: Nutrition Links

Healthful eating not only prepares your body for pregnancy but also can affect fertility in ways that aren't yet clear. If you're trying to get pregnant:

  • Aim for your healthy weight. Either extreme underweight or extreme overweight may affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation and so reduce fertility. How? The body produces estrogen in the ovaries and in fat cells. Being very thin, the body won't produce as much estrogen in fat cells. With obesity, the body's fat cells produce too much. Either way throws off the delicate hormonal balance that promotes fertility.
  • Take caution with dietary supplements touted to enhance fertility. Not enough is known about the risks or the benefits of extra vitamins, minerals, or herbals and how they might affect the unborn baby.
  • If you're having difficulty getting pregnant, explore the reasons and a sound approach to infertility with your doctor. In that way you'll also eliminate any health problems that you or your spouse may have. See

"Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" on this page.

Folic Acid: Take Note!

To prepare for pregnancy, all nutrients are essential. One merits special consideration: folate, or folic acid (a B vitamin). Folic acid is the form of folate in fortified foods and supplements. Folate is essential to good health, and your body needs it to manufacture new cells and genetic material. Soon after conception, folate helps develop the neural tube, which becomes your baby's spinal cord and brain.

Women who consume enough folate, particularly in the weeks prior to conception and during the first three months of pregnancy, may reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which occur when the neural tube does not close completely. In fact, as many as 75 percent of serious birth defects in the spine and neural tube (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly) might be prevented if women consumed enough folic acid in the critical time before and in the early weeks of pregnancy.

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