As the mother first provides the egg and then becomes the incubator for the next nine months for the developing foetus, it is imperative that her nutritional needs are met. It is never too late to begin making healthy changes to your diet and definitely never too early to begin the changes as the egg that results in the pregnancy actually starts its development journey three months prior to ovulation.
Fertility friendly nutrients include: Folate, proteins, Omega 3, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins and other minerals.
Folate or Folic Acid of at least 400 mcg is essential prior to conception to reduce the risk of neurotube defects (brain or spinal cord defects) in the foetus. There is also evidence that adequate folate supplementation also reduces the risk of cardiac and other anomalies as it is an inherent component in many enzymatic reactions in the body.
Proteins provide the building blocks of growth i.e. the amino acids on which new tissue is made so of course, one has to ingest adequate amounts for optimal outcome. Proteins are either from animal or plant sources and one should have a balanced approach to protein and preferably have a good mix of the two kinds. Proteins should preferably be from lean meats and seafood or for vegetarians - legumes, seeds and nuts.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important in helping to regulate fertility hormones, improve blood circulation and are essential for the healthy development of the foetal brains. Omega 3 can be found in fatty fish meats e.g. salmon and cod, but can also be obtained from seeds and nuts e.g. walnuts, flax seeds.
Pump up your Iron Stores as the pregnancy tends to deplete your stores more rapidly as the demands on the body gets higher. There is also evidence to show that higher iron levels are required to improve fertility as iron deficiency is also associated with menstrual irregularities. Iron can be obtained through ingestion of red meats as well as dark green vegetables. Taking vitamin C together with iron enhances the absorption.
Calcium is another building block as it is needed for development of baby’s bones as well as to ensure that the mother does not deplete her own bone needs. Calcium is obtained from dairy products such as milk and cheese but can also be gotten through soy products and green leafy vegetables, almonds and sesame seeds.
Zinc is an important nutrient for tissue development and sperm production. One can find it in meats, yogurts, eggs, seafood, and oatmeal.
Vitamins A, B, C, D and E are important for both male and females as their antioxidant properties will improve the health of the eggs and sperms. Taking a prenatal supplement for both male and female will help to address the increased needs that the body has when it is in the baby making mode.
Water is an essential nutrient that is often overlooked. Drinking at least two litres of water, be it within juices or soups or just plain water, is good for you. One’s needs may vary depending on the environment one is in e.g. in dehydrating air conditioned room or if one is very active and sweats a lot, one would definitely need more water on a daily basis. Dehydration can lead to an increased risk of urinary or vaginal tract infections as well as preterm labour.
In the course of a day, it is often difficult to ensure that all the essential nutrients and vitamins are adequately covered and a simple basic nutritional supplement will be helpful for those who have difficulty eating well daily.
Foods to avoid
Mercury has been found to impair fertility and can be harmful to baby’s development. Mercury tends to accumulate in one’s body and linger there. Hence in preparation for baby making, one should watch one’s diet more carefully and eliminate or minimize the exposure to this toxin. Mercury is found most commonly in deep sea fish e.g. shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and fresh tuna. One should therefore choose to eat other types of fish as they make good sources of protein and Omega 3 oils.
How much to eat?
One does not need to eat for two in a pregnancy, one merely needs to take in an extra 300 cal per day in general and this can easily be gotten from adding an extra nutritious snack per day. If you are carrying twins or triplets, your nutritional needs will increase proportionately.
Average weight gain for someone who is of normal BMI prior to pregnancy varies between 12 to16 kg. Weight gain in excess of 20 kg is not recommended as there is increased risk of gestational diabetes and large babies with an associated risk of operative or assisted deliveries.
Diet is something we all need to be mindful of as what we place in our bodies whether we are planning for pregnancy or not is vitally important for maintaining our health in the long run.
Pregnancy just gives us a timely reminder to focus a little harder on being healthy and fit so that we can ensure the health of our offspring. Dads are certainly not excluded as their diet and health are complementary to mums
How can I plan healthy meals during pregnancy
Planning healthy meals during pregnancy is not difficult. There are websites which can help guide the expectant mother in her food choices. www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/3826 shows local choices to help the women plan.
The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier by creating www.choosemyplate.gov. This website helps everyone from dieters and children to pregnant women learn how to make healthy food choices at each mealtime.
With MyPlate, you can get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan by using the “SuperTracker” programme. This programme is based on five food groups and shows you the amounts that you need to eat each day from each group during each trimester of pregnancy.
You can also download the Women’s Health Booklet from HPB website.
This information guide will show you how to maintain a healthy balanced diet and provide useful tips on simple lifstyle changes you can make.
Eat Right for a Healthy Pregnancy
A healthy pregnancy gets a headstart when we make sure we are healthy by eating right from conception to delivery.
|Dr Ann Tan, PBM|
|Obstetrician & Gynaecologist|
|MBBS (S'PORE), MRCOG (LONDON),|
|M MED (O&G) FAM (SINGAPORE)|