Pregnancy
March 16, 2021
• Updated on
26 Jul

Importance of Nutrition Prior to Pregnancy and Nutritional Requirements for a Pregnant Woman

The journey to pregnancy can be a tough one for many couples out there. Modern lifestyles and the problems that come with it have made it difficult for many couples to conceive - and nutrition often plays a role.

The importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy cannot be stressed enough. What you eat, and the lifestyle you lead, can impact your chances of getting pregnant. That’s why it is important for couples everywhere to understand that role of nutrition in a woman before pregnancy. 

 What Should I Do Before Conceiving?

It is essential to gain an understanding of preconception nutrition. Maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy may influence the course of the pregnancy, foetal development and the child's health in its early and even adult life.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in preconception nutrition. This refers to a woman’s nutritional intake in the weeks to years before she starts trying to get pregnant.

It’s an important topic to focus on, because millions of women around the world don’t get adequate nutrition - half the world's female population is anaemic, and over 120 million women are underweight, with other nutritional deficiencies

 

Understanding and implementing the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy is essential, because a woman’s nutritional status before she becomes pregnant greatly influences the health of her growing child. It also plays a role in the mother having a safe and stress-free pregnancy.

Most cells in the body need enough nutrients like B-vitamins, Vitamin D, Calcium etc to function properly. But this is especially important for cells called gametes, which help form the foetus, and features in the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy.

These gametes have one of the most important jobs in the body, which is to pass a parent’s genetic material on to a child. 

It is crucial that these gamete cells are healthy, as gametes are very important for the early development of the placenta, which is the organ that passes nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby from the mother.

Folate: Folate is a key nutrient that factors in the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy. This is one of the most important nutrients to increase prior to pregnancy because the effects of low folate levels can be damaging.

Folate is necessary for proper development of the neural tube, which forms the baby’s brain and spinal cord in the first few weeks of pregnancy. 

Taking a folate supplement beginning one one month before pregnancy, until the end of the first trimester, is the best way to make sure you meet folate requirements during the early stages. 

Choline: Choline is essential during early pregnancy for proper brain development of the baby, and women planning to get pregnant are advised to up their intake of the same. Choline-rich foods include eggs, meat, cruciferous vegetables, and peanuts.

Zinc: Zinc deficiency early in pregnancy can inhibit proper development of the placenta and child. It is necessary to check your zinc levels as you plan to conceive. Meat, shellfish, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and dairy are good sources of zinc. 

Iodine: Iodine is required to support the baby’s developing brain and nervous system, and women planning to get pregnant are advised to take supplements. Good food sources of iodine include seafood, dairy, eggs and iodine-fortified flour. 

How Does Nutrition Affect Fertility?

There is a definite correlation between nutrition and fertility. Researchers from the TH Chan School Of Public Health at Harvard Medical School published a review of past studies that looked at the impact of diet on health. 

For women who were trying to get pregnant without the use of assisted reproductive technologies, nutrients like folic acid, Vitamin B-12, omega-3 fatty acids and consumption of a Mediterranean diet were found to have positive effects on fertility. 

 

 

Like we have stressed before, when it comes to the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy, trans fats and “unhealthy diets” (those “rich in red and processed meats, potatoes, sweets, and sweetened beverages”) were found to have negative effects on fertility. 

 Studies conducted on men found that semen quality improved with healthy diets (as described above), while the opposite was seen with diets high in saturated or trans fat.

 The Fertility Diet

There are, in fact, certain specialised diets prescribed for women who are looking to get pregnant. The fertility diet is one of them. Some professionals at Harvard Medical School recognised the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy, and designed this diet specifically to address this issue.  

 The fertility diet caters to women who were looking to conceive, focusing primarily on vegetarian foods, with a limited intake of dairy, caffeine and alcohol. This helps ease hormonal imbalances in the body that affect conception.

 

 

Dieters are encouraged to eat more plant-based fibre and protein, in the form of lentils, nuts and seeds. Since the protein comes from plant sources, it helps reduce inflammation. 

Our desi foods offer a plethora of tasty plant-based protein: chickpeas, pulses like moong, tuvar dal etc, as well as beans, peas, nuts, soybean and tofu. 

What Are A Pregnant Woman’s Nutritional Needs?

Importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy can help you conceive - but you need to follow it up with the right diet even after conception. 

A pregnant woman’s nutritional needs are important, and follow most of the same principles as those of regular people, but with some extra protein and calorie requirements. A basic health chart will include:

 

  1. Lots of fruits and vegetables in both cooked and raw form (raw foods to be consumed in.  moderation)
  2. Well-rounded meals with adequate amounts of starchy foods, but in wholegrain, skin-on form (whole wheat aata, potatoes with the skin on)
  3. Moderate amounts of beans, pulses, fish, eggs, lean meat and other proteins
  4. Moderate amounts of dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese (or calcium-enriched dairy alternatives, for those who are lactose intolerant/vegan/dairy-free)
  5. MINIMUM consumption of packaged and processed foods, high-fat and foods containing high amounts of white/refined sugar 

 

Eating right during pregnancy - and the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy - is part of healthy overall prenatal lifestyle - this includes adequate weight gain, some form of daily exercise/physical activity, and intake of vitamin supplements where necessary.

 

Calorie intake: Pregnant women do need to take in more calories for themselves and their growing baby. International guidelines stipulate around 300 extra calories each day.

These extra calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Extra calories from processed sugars and trans fats are to be avoided.  A balanced, fibre-rich diet can help stave off some side effects of pregnancy, like nausea/morning sickness and constipation.

Fluid intake: Pregnant women need plenty of fluids, just like everyone else - 8 glasses of water a day, which can be taken in the form of filtered water, juices, soups, smoothies etc. Ideally, pregnant women should drink 1.5 litres of water each day, as this helps avoid urinary infection and excessive water retention.

Hydration is particularly important in the last trimester, Hydration is especially important during the last trimester, as dehydration can cause contractions that can trigger preterm/premature labor.

Caffeine should be kept to a minimum - consult your doctor before fixing a limit on consumption of morning tea/coffee. And of course, all forms of alcohol should be avoided during your pregnancy.

Folic Acid: Guidelines stipulate that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (400 mg) of folic every day. Folic acid is important during pregnancy to help prevent the risk of neural tube defects (these are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord). Neural tube defects are dangerous, and can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence and sometimes intellectual disability in later years.

Folic acid plays a key role during the first 28 days after conception - but many women may not even realise that they are pregnant at this time. Therefore, if it is a planned pregnancy, your folic acid intake should begin before conception and continue throughout your pregnancy.

 

It can be found in a variety of sources, like green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, beans, citrus fruits, and fortified breakfast cereals, as well as in nutritional supplements. 

 Vitamin B12 intake: The entire B-complex of eight vitamins plays a crucial role in your strength and health during pregnancy while your baby is developing. During your first and third trimesters, most women feel more tired and run down than usual - which is where B-vitamins come in.

Foods rich in Vitamin B help boost your natural energy while nourishing your growing baby.

Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining the health of your nervous system, and it is believed that when it is combined with folic acid, during pregnancy, can help prevent spinal and central nervous system birth defects in your baby.

You can find B12 in fortified foods (soy or soy milk), fish, poultry, eggs, and milk. Guidelines direct the consumption of around 2.6 mcg (micrograms) per day, and using supplements to achieve this intake will help.

Protein intake: Protein promotes growth and is crucial for your baby’s development throughout the gestation period. International guidelines stipulate about 71 grams of protein per day. During the second and third trimesters, experts recommend an extra 21 grams of protein, for maternal and foetal tissues and placenta.

If you eat a non-vegetarian diet, you can get protein from lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Plant-based protein sources include beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy products. Dairy like cottage cheese is also a good source of protein. 

Iron intake: Iron is essential for the normal functioning of red blood cells and production of haemoglobin. During pregnancy, you need double the amount of iron, because your body needs it to produce an increased amount of blood to supply oxygen to your baby. International guidelines recommend 27 milligrams per day.


"Iron deficiency during pregnancy could lead to fatigue and anaemia"

Severe cases of deficiency can even lead to preterm delivery, low birth weight and postpartum depression.

The best sources of iron are lean red meat, poultry and fish for non-vegetarians. Vegetarians and vegans can opt for iron-fortified breakfast cereals and whole grains, pulses, beans and vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables.

Calcium intake: Calcium is the bone-strengthening nutrient and is essential for foetal development. It also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally. Guidelines stipulate around 1,000 milligrams a day.

Dairy products are the best absorbed sources of calcium. Nondairy/vegan/plant-based sources of calcium include broccoli, kale and sesame seeds. If you eat seafood, sardines are a good option. Many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, too.

 Vitamin D intake: Also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is also a bone-strengthening nutrient like calcium, and helps build your baby’s bones and teeth. International guidelines recommend consuming about 600 international units (IU) per day.

 During the initial stages of pregnancy, vitamin D helps regulate cytokine metabolism and modulates the immune system, helping contribute to embryo development and regulating hormone secretion.

 Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D. Other sources include fatty fish like salmon, and fortified milk and orange juice. These days, vegan Vitamin D supplements sourced from algae are also available in the market. 

 

Pregnancy Nutrition Programs Offered At Nutrition By Lovneet

At Nutrition By Lovneet, we understand the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy. We have specialised programs catering to pre-pregnancy diet for females, pregnancy nutrition and postnatal diets. 

NBL doesn’t  prescribe a fixed pre-pregnancy diet for females for all our clients - instead, we do a detailed consultation with you to understand your likes and dislikes, pre-existing medical conditions, lifestyle etc, and address those and take them into account. And based on this consult, we craft a personalised diet chart, filled with foods you enjoy, so that you don’t feel deprived. 

Our philosophy is driven by the wisdom of the Indian kitchen - we believe that our ancient food principles are being largely ignored these days, and we want to bring indigenous kitchen wisdom back into modern Indian lives.

We don’t just leave it at that - we remain a part of your journey, there for you with any questions or hiccups you may face along the way. The goal is to nourish your body, provide optimal nutrition and strengthen your body and get it ready to nourish a new life. 

To learn more about our programs, click here. 


FAQS

Should I get on a nutrition plan prior to conception?

Yes. The importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy can play a role in conceptin. What you eat, and the lifestyle you lead, can impact your chances of getting pregnant. That’s why it is important for couples everywhere to understand that role of nutrition in a woman before pregnancy. Get yourself checked for hormonal imbalances, and consult with a doctor/dietician about the best foods to incorporate into your diet.


What is the Fertility Diet?

It is a diet designed to help women conceive. Some professionals at Harvard Medical School recognised the importance of nutrition prior to pregnancy, and designed this diet specifically to address this issue.  

 

The fertility diet caters to women who were looking to conceive, focusing primarily on vegetarian foods, with a limited intake of dairy, caffeine and alcohol. This helps ease hormonal imbalances in the body that affect conception.


What nutrients should be included in a pre-pregnancy diet?

Taking enough B-vitamins and calcium is essential for women looking to get pregnant, as this helps in the formation of the foetus. Other essential nutrients you should increase the intake of include folate, choline, zinc and iodine, as they all contribute to proper development of the baby, and low levels can be damaging. 


Why is protein important during pregnancy?

Protein promotes growth and is crucial for your baby’s development throughout the gestation period. International guidelines stipulate about 71 grams of protein per day. During the second and third trimesters, experts recommend an extra 21 grams of protein, for maternal and foetal tissues and placenta.


What are some good vegetarian sources of protein?

You can opt for a variety of dals, chana, peanuts, other nuts like almonds, beans, soybean and tofu, paneer.


How much folic acid should I be consuming while pregnant?

Guidelines stipulate that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (400 mg) of folic every day. Folic acid is important during pregnancy to help prevent the risk of neural tube defects (these are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord).

Neural tube defects are dangerous, and can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence and sometimes intellectual disability in later years.

Also Read:
10 Dos And Don’ts For Nutrition During Pregnancy
5 Foods for regulating the irregular periods
5 Fertility Superfoods for Women
5 Natural foods to boost Progesterone

Lovneet Batra
Founder
Lovneet Batra is a clinical nutritionist with over a decade of experience treating patients and educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet. One of Delhi’s most sought-after nutritionists...
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