Pre-Pregnancy (diet, lifestyle & supplementation)
The diet and lifestyle you follow prior to getting pregnant is just as important as that that you follow during your pregnancy. Not only do they get your body prepared to support a healthy pregnancy, they help you to practice for the diet and lifestyle that is necessary to nourish your growing baby and encourage a smooth transition into the journey of motherhood!
It is recommended that one begins proper dietary patterns and supplementation 6 months prior to conception. Proper nutrient stores aren’t replenished with just one meal or vitamin. Depending on your pre-pregnancy nutritional status, it could take quite some time to get your vitamin and mineral stores to the optimal level at which they can support you plus your developing baby. Allowing yourself 6 months of proper diet and supplementation should be adequate time to get your body into healthy, baby-growing mode!
No increased nutritional needs are required prior to pregnancy but a balanced, healthy diet is highly recommended. Canada’s Food Guide provides a general guideline in terms of food groups, choices and portion sizes and is a good place to start. In addition, maintaining regular activity/fitness levels helps to prepare the musculoskeletal systems for the additional strains of pregnancy and helps keep the body in shape for the demands of labour.
A prenatal vitamin is highly recommended as it is formulated with the proper amounts of certain critical nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy plus provides general vitamin/mineral support for you. Specific nutrients that are of significant increased need during pregnancy include vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins (folate in particular), iron and omega 3 fatty acids. A prenatal vitamin should provide the required amount for the first 4 key nutrients plus other vitamins and minerals so that you are getting what you need with some extra to spare for your growing baby. An omega 3 supplement is separate from your prenatal vitamin but is highly recommended for proper brain development in your baby.
Folate is of extreme importance as inadequate amounts increases the risk of the development of neural tube defects in the growing embryo. Neural tube defects can affect the brain, spine or spinal chord and happen within the first 4 weeks of pregnancy. The two most common forms of neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. In cases of spina bifida, the spinal column doesn’t close completely which often leads to nerve damage and potential paralysis in the lower extremities. With anencephaly, the brain and skull don’t develop properly which usually leads to a stillbirth or a very poor prognosis once born. Adequate folate to help prevent the development of neural tube defects is 400micrograms prior to pregnancy. Most prenatal vitamins will provide this amount but it’s good to double check when choosing your supplement.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
Appropriate weight gain during pregnancy is depending on your Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is a classification of your weight dependent on your height. To calculate your BMI enter your info into the following formula:
BMI = pre-pregnancy weight(kg)
(height in metres)2
Once you’ve determined your pre-pregnancy BMI, use the below table and chart to determine the recommended overall weight gain and 2 week weight gain breakdown over a 40 week gestation period. If you’re already in your first trimester and don’t know what your pre-pregnancy weight was, just use your current weight in the calculation above.
Optimal diet for breastfeeding
Breastfeeding causes a significant increase in maternal caloric requirement due to the energy required to produce the breast milk and the calories within the breast milk itself that is being passed to your baby. The act of breastfeeding requires approximately an additional 500 calories per day thus your diet must reflect as such. In order to ensure you and baby are getting the appropriate nutrition, a healthy balanced diet (as recommended during the pre-pregnancy period – Canada’s Food Guide) plus an additional 500 calories daily should be followed while exclusively breastfeeding. It is also recommended that moms continue with their prenatal vitamin and omega 3 fatty acid supplement (or a combination of a multivitamin with other vitamin/mineral supplements) while breastfeeding.
The increased requirements while breastfeeding are greater than at any stage during pregnancy itself because YOU are supporting an entire, functioning, fully developed being. Although it may seem intimidating to eat an additional 500 calories while all you’re thinking about is losing the ‘baby’ weight, ensuring you get the appropriate nutrition during this stage is critical for the health of you and your baby. In order to appropriately provide complete nutrition to your baby while exclusively breastfeeding, you need to ensure you are taking care of yourself as well. This is of much importance nutritionally, emotionally and psychologically.
Safe postpartum weight loss
Postpartum weight loss is a touchy subject. Although we’d all like to return to our pre-pregnancy weight ASAP, we need to consider how this may affect our baby. While exclusively breastfeeding, especially when your body is adapting to the supply and demand of breast milk, it is advised that women don’t practice any dieting techniques. Calorie restriction may compromise the nutritional quality of your breast milk thus affecting the nourishment your baby receives. When the body is producing breast milk, it prioritizes the calories you consume to make up the breast milk then leaves anything remaining for you. Restricting calories during this period can be very unsafe and unhealthy for you and for baby so ensure you eat a wholesome, healthy, balanced diet and consider the extra calories required for breastfeeding.
Of course, weight loss will occur after your baby is born and that is OK. Much of the weight gained during pregnancy (if within a healthy range) can be attributed to more than just fat stores so an immediate weight loss following delivery is often seen:
Depending on your pre-pregnancy weight, weight loss beyond this is also safe. A good guideline to follow is to not exceed more than a 2.5lb loss per week.
Every situation is different and it’s strongly depending on one’s pre-pregnancy weight and their weight gain during pregnancy.
Kayla is a mom to three sons, wife, and doula. She works within the Shuswap/Okanagan Region providing mothers and their families with a whealth of knowledge and support in all things fertility, pregnancy, birth and beyond.