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
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.
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.