Diet & Meal Plan Before Pregnancy

Your baby depends on you for its nourishment. If you eat well, your baby eats well and if you starve, your baby starves.

If you are not a person with great eating habits, use your pregnancy to inculcate some, the benefits of which will last you all through your lifetime!

If you’re trying to conceive, these diet changes could help prep your body for pregnancy.

Which nutrients must my diet contain?

Focus on nutrient dense whole-foods: this means minimally processed and as close to the natural form as possible. Your diet must contain the following nutrients:

Calories: You need enough calories to meet your energy demands.

Protein: These provide the building blocks for new tissues. Sources include meat, fish, nuts, pulses and dairy foods.

Carbohydrates: It is wise to eat the starchy carbohydrates rather than the sugary ones. Good sources include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, flour products and cereals.

Vitamins: Found in fresh fruit and vegetables. The following vitamins are essential:

  • Vitamin B12 found in meat, milk, eggs and yeast extracts like marmite.
  • Vitamin A (necessary for healthy skin)found in eggs, margarine, dark green and yellow vegetables, apricots and mango Excess of vitamin A can be harmful to the baby so you must avoid any vitamin supplements (other than those prescribed by the doctor) and liver containing foods.
  • Vitamin C (essential for healthy tissues) found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli.
  • Vitamin D which helps the body to absorb calcium is found in margarine, oily fish, cereals and can also be made in your body when you go out in the sun.
Found Vitamin in fresh fruit and vegetables
Found Vitamin in fresh fruit and vegetables

Minerals: Although a number of minerals(like zinc and magnesium) are required in small amounts, the two most important minerals include:

  • Iron which is essential for making red blood cells can be found in red meat, tuna fish, spinach, dried apricots etc. Deficiency of iron can cause anaemia.
  • Calcium is required for strong bones and teeth. It can be found in dairy products, sardines, tofu etc.

Essential fatty acids: These cannot be made in the body and are required for the development of the body. Best sources are corn oil, sunflower oil, oily fish (mackerel, salmon etc.)

Fibre: Although not an essential nutrient, if added in the diet it helps to digest the food and reduces constipation. Good sources include cereals, breads, rice, pasta, lentils, peas, fruits etc.

Keep up your intake of folic acid

Folic acid to reduce the chances of your baby being born with spina bifida or other neural tube defect

Once you start taking Folic Acid, this should be continued upto the 12th week of pregnancy.

Folic acid is especially important in the initial time after conception when the baby’s spine is being formed.

According to Dr. Margo Whiteford, a baby’s spinal cord develops within the first four weeks of pregnancy so by that stage its too late.

In addition to taking a supplement (a recommended dose of 400 microgram and this may vary depending on your condition and medical history), it is highly recommended that you have a folic acid rich diet as this is beneficial for the development of the baby.

Keep up your intake of folic acid
Keep up your intake of folic acid

Foods with high folic acid content include green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and spring greens), peas, brussel sprouts, chick peas, broccoli, fortified breakfast cereals and brown rice.

Wholemeal bread is also a good source of folic acid. Overcooking vegetables destroys the folic acid and hence steaming is a gentler way to cook than boil.

Liver is a great source of folic acid, but is not a good idea when pregnant or planning a pregnancy. This is because it also contains high levels of vitamin A, which may harm your baby.

What foods should I include in my daily diet?

You must aim to include the recommended servings for the following foods:

  • Vegetables & Fruit: 5 servings a day (a glass of juice counts as one serving and frozen vegetables are as good as fresh ones).
  • Bread, Cereals, Potatoes: 4-5 servings a day.
  • Milk or dairy products: minimum 3 servings a day.
  • Meat, fish or vegetarian alternatives: 2 servings a day.
  • Fluids: 6-8 glasses in addition to milk (tea and coffee don’t count in the daily intake and should be reduced due to their caffeine content).

What you eat now goes a long way in benefiting your baby.

Therefore, it is important to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet even before you get pregnant because what you eat now will be used for your baby’s early development when all major organs are formed.