When we talk about diet, we are talking about what you eat and drink regularly. When we talk about nutrition, we are talking about the quality of the food you eat. Diet and nutrition are an important part of your health before, during and after pregnancy. Before pregnancy, aim to maintain a healthy diet focused on including a variety of vegetables and fruits (eat the rainbow!), whole grains, and healthy proteins such as beans and legumes, lean meat, eggs, fish, and tofu. At mealtimes, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, and a quarter with grains and a quarter with a healthy protein. Try to choose foods with little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat and limit processed foods and foods with high saturated fat. Make water your drink of choice, and focus on limiting intake of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, juice, tea with milk and sugar and coffee with milk or cream and sugar.
Focus on eating meals with others and limit distractions while eating. Be sure to maintain any cultural foods and traditions and taste preferences that you enjoy and are important to you. Make modifications to traditional foods if needed to ensure they focus on a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy proteins and limit added sodium, sugars and saturated fat, and limit processed foods and saturated fats. If modifications are not possible, enjoy these foods in moderation.
Maintaining a healthy diet is about making small changes at a time towards building a healthy lifestyle that you enjoy. Food is fuel for your daily activities and a healthy diet is one of the best ways to fuel your day and wellbeing.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that plays a part in the development of the baby’s brain, spine, and skull and prevents defects in the brain, spine, and skull, also known as neural tube defects (NTDs). If you are planning to conceive, consider taking folic acid supplements as early as 6 months ahead of beginning to try to conceive. Making sure you have enough folic acid early in your pregnancy is important because that is when your baby’s brain, spine, and spinal cord begin to develop.
Take 400 to 800 micrograms (400 to 800 mcg or 0.4 to 0.8 mg) of folic acid every day if you are planning on being pregnant to lower your risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida. Some doctors prescribe prenatal vitamins that contain higher amounts of folic acid, so talk to your doctor about your folic acid needs to determine what amount is best for you and baby.
Moderate caffeine intake is considered safe during pregnancy. However, if you are used to having more than 300 mg a day (about two 8-oz (237ml) cups of coffee), it might be helpful to begin limiting your caffeine intake before pregnancy to make the transition easier. Remember, caffeine is found in drinks such as coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks, and foods such as chocolate and herbs such as guarana and yerba mate. Caffeine content also differs between brands and types of coffee so it is always a good idea to check the one that you use.
If you smoke, you may choose to quit or stop smoking before conceiving or as early as possible in pregnancy. Smoking can increase risk of complications during pregnancy, such as problems with the placenta, and cause preterm delivery or smaller babies (small for gestational age) which increases their risk for SIDS. Smoking any amount, whether it is a pack a day or a few cigarettes a day, tend to have similar impacts so the healthiest choice is to quit smoking altogether. The earlier you can stop smoking the better, since smoking has been shown to have the greatest impact on your baby later on in pregnancy.
Secondhand smoke can also have similar impacts on your health and your baby. If your partner or someone you live with smokes and you are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, it is important to find a way to reduce your exposure.
You can learn more about how smoking may affect your baby here.
For resources on quitting smoking: