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Taking Care of Your Body

Clean Up Your Act Before Conception

Nutrition and Weight

A growing fetus needs plenty of protein, calcium and iron right from the start, so make sure your nutrient level is up to snuff before you get pregnant. "Preconceptionally speaking, eating for two means eating twice as well," says Diane Dimperio, a nutritionist and director of the Maternity and Infant Care Project at University of Florida at Gainesville.

That means eating all the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables and other food groups -- something most people don't typically do. "That's why the preconceptional period can be so important," she says. "If you can develop good eating habits and they become part of your lifestyle ahead of time, then pregnancy will be more fun because you won't have to be thinking so much about your diet."

One of the most critical nutritional requirements before pregnancy is folic acid, which can reduce by one-half or more your baby's risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Since the right amount of this essential B vitamin can't be assured through diet alone, women should begin taking 0.4 milligrams of folic acid daily, either as a supplement or by taking a prenatal vitamin three months before conception, Dr. Queenan says. Also, avoid megadoses of vitamins, especially the fat-soluble ones like vitamins A, D and K, he cautions.

Experts also urge women to get close to their recommended body weight before getting pregnant -- no more than 20% above or 10% below, according to Bonnie Berk, a registered nurse and personal trainer. Either extreme can make it more difficult to get pregnant and could put women at greater risk for certain complications. Overweight mothers-to-be are more susceptible to high blood pressure and diabetes, and underweight mothers-to-be are at greater risk for low-birth-weight babies, miscarriage and premature labor. Avoid dieting during pregnancy, too, because it can rob your baby of essential nutrients.

Exercise

Get on a balanced exercise program that includes aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and flexibility training, says Berk, who is also president and co-founder of Motherwell, a training program for instructors who teach pregnancy exercise classes. Working out will not only help prepare your body for the rigors of childbirth, but it'll help you feel better throughout your pregnancy. Because pregnancy puts extra stress on your lower back, exercises that strengthen that part of your body are particularly helpful, Berk adds.

It's much easier to maintain an exercise routine once you get pregnant if you've been working out all along. "Pregnancy isn't a time to begin new exercise techniques, it's a time to continue them," says Zinaman. Check with your doctor to make sure the activities you're doing are safe for pregnancy, and if you're just starting out, try yoga and a low-impact exercise like swimming or brisk walking for 30 minutes two or three times a week.

Keep the intensity of your workouts moderate since extremely strenuous activity (like marathon running, for instance) can make it harder to conceive and could even be dangerous to a developing fetus, Berk says. A good rule of thumb is to keep you heart rate between 60% and 80% of your maximum. To calculate your range, subtract your age from 220, then multiply by 60% for the low end and by 80% for the high end.

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