A Couple’s Nutrition Guide to Pregnancy Planning

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Did you know January is the month when the most babies are conceived? It’s probably not a surprise. After all, when it’s freezing cold outside, there are plenty of nights when you’re cozying up together with your Significant Other indoors at home or taking romantic getaways. Add in the post-holidays state, or perhaps a recent engagement, and babies could be on the mind. Nutrition pregnancy expert and fellow dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD is sharing a guest post today all about nutrition for pregnancy planning for both future moms AND dads.

Guest Post by Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

nutrition for pregnancy planning | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

Nutrition for Pregnancy Planning

Is having a baby part of your plans for 2019? It’s never too early to prepare for pregnancy!

Establishing certain lifestyle habits now, including healthy eating, will make it easier to pass them along on to your little one, particularly when they start to eat solid foods.

Having a child is a team effort. Use these strategies for getting into shape before the baby-making begins.

Preconception Health: Future Mom To-Do List

  •  See your doctor.  Make an appointment for a physical exam to get prenatal care tailored to your health history, including a complete blood test, which is useful for identifying common conditions best corrected before conception, such as iron-deficiency anemia and prediabetes.
  • Follow a balanced eating plan. The right amountof nutritious, delicious, and satisfying foods support health.

A balanced plan can also help you achieve and maintain a body weight within the healthy range, which improves fertility, lowers the risk for high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and offers many other benefits for you and your future baby.

  • Take nutrient supplements. While dietary supplements are no match for balanced eating, they help to close dietary gaps for nutrients that can affect a pregnancy, including folic acid, iron, iodine, choline, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a healthy fat necessary for baby’s brain and vision, and mom’s heart health.

Vegetarians, vegans, and those who avoid gluten are among the women who benefit from a daily multivitamin, and possibly other supplements, such as calcium.

Women who take medications with nutrient interactions, including proton pump inhibitors for reflux disease and metformin for blood glucose control, should also take a daily multivitamin.

nutrition for pregnancy planning | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

  • Limit or avoid alcohol. Experts, including the March of Dimes,advise women to avoid alcohol when trying to conceive.

Two or more drinks (a drink is 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces regular beer, or 1 ½ ounces 80-proof alcohol, such as vodka) daily on a regular basis makes it more difficult for some women to conceive.

While little is known about the effects of moderate drinking on fertility, it’s important to remember that you can’t predict conception and you unaware that you’re expecting. Drinking during pregnancy is associated with mental and physical defects in baby.

nutrition for pregnancy planning | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

  • Curb caffeine. The problem with judging the effects of caffeine on fertility and pregnancy is the lack of reliable studies.

It never hurts to be cautious when trying to conceive, but it’s good to know that you don’t need to completely cut out caffeine.

Most experts say that less than 200 milligrams a day of caffeine, about the amount found in a Starbuck’s tall coffee, is likely to have little effect on your fertility.

  • Mind the meds. Check the safety ofthe over the counter and prescription medications and dietary supplements that you take, even if infrequently.

For example, women trying to conceive should avoid isotretinoin, a cream used to control acne. High levels of vitamin A in isotretinoin are linked to increased miscarriage and birth defects.

Herbal and botanical dietary supplements are not regulated by any government agency. Because you can’t be certain about what you’re taking, and there is little scientific evidence pointing to their safety, you may want to avoid them when trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

  • Quit smokingCigarettes are bad for your health, and smoking during pregnancyis linked to preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects. Smokers also have a higher requirement for vitamin C.  Work on quitting before you conceive, as quitting may take a few tries.
  • Take stock of your mental health. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for depression in the general population, including pregnant women and those who have recently given birth.

If you’re feeling blue, or struggling with anxiety, talk with your health care provider about your feelings. Emotional well-being is just as important to your pregnancy as the health of the rest of your body.

RELATED: Reproductive Nutrition: What Couples Should Know About Nutrition & Infertility

Preconception Health: Future Dad’s To-Do List

There is a growing body of evidence showing how dad’s lifestyle habits affect a couple’s chances for conceiving.

While women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, sperm is produced on a continuous basis. The number of sperm a man makes, and the quality of that sperm, affect his ability to father a child.

It takes about three months for sperm to fully develop. Here are some healthy strategies for fathers-to-be before the baby-making begins.

  • Follow a balanced eating plan that promotes weight control. Studies show that being overweight or obese decreases sperm count. Research suggests that the higher the  body mass index, the lower the sperm count.

Follow a plan with adequate amounts of foods from all the food groups, and one that encourages weight control.  Excess body fat is related to the risk for prediabetes, which has been linked to male infertility.  

  • Pop a daily multivitamin. Nobody eats perfectly every day! Taking a multivitamin on a regular basis may promote a guy’s fertility by helping to satisfy nutrient needs for sperm production and for antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C, thought to protect sperm from damage. Choose a multivitamin/mineral supplement without iron.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Drinking heavily on a regular basis can lead to erectile dysfunction and decreased sperm production, but the link between moderate drinking and male fertility isn’t as clear. For your overall health, limit alcohol to two drinks daily, as suggested in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

nutrition for pregnancy planning | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

  • Talk to your doctor. Ask your doctor about all the medications you take. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including those for treating hair loss, depression, and reflux disease, can impair male fertility.

Other substances, including marijuana, anabolic steroids (taken to stimulate muscle strength and growth), and opiates, such as heroin and prescription medications to treat pain, can decrease sperm quality and quantity.

  • Snuff the cigarettes. Smoking damages sperm and lowers sperm count.  Breathing secondhand smoke also may reduce fertility in men.

RELATED: Couples & Infertility: Interview with Liz Shaw of Bumps to Baby

About the Author

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, is a nutrition communicator, consultant, and mother of three who lives in the Boston area. She is the author of several books including her latest, Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy, second edition. Follow Elizabeth on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram.

HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR PREGNANCY?

WHAT NUTRITION FOR PREGNANCY PLANNING TIPS ARE YOU ALREADY FOLLOWING?

WHICH WILL YOU BE ADDING IN?

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