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Pre-pregnancy Nutrition
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  • Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat dairy will help to build a healthy body for your pregnancy.
  • Whole grains are the way to get the energy and nutrients you and your baby will need.
  • Bright colored vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals for your pregnancy.
  • If you don’t get enough vegetables and fruit in your diet, now is the time to start learning how to incorporate them into your daily eating habits.
  • Low-fat dairy products such as yogurt, cheeses and milk are very important for establishing strong bone health for your pregnancy. If you are lactose intolerant, talk to your doctor about getting extra calcium, perhaps in a supplement, before your pregnancy.
  • This is also a great time to start taking a prenatal vitamin to make sure you have all of the essential nutrients, like folic acid, for your pregnancy.

Folic Acid. The US Public Health Service recommends that all women of child-bearing age get 400 mcg of folic acid every day. Recent studies show that mothers who get 400 mcg daily before conception and early on in pregnancy may reduce by 70% their risk of having a baby with neural tube defects (NTD), defects of the brain and spinal cord. The most common NTD, spina bifida, may cause permanent paralysis of the lower body and loss of bladder and bowel control.  Another type of NTD happens when the brain doesn't form properly and the baby dies before or shortly after birth. Because many pregnancies are unplanned, it's important to take folic acid throughout your life, even if you're not thinking about getting pregnant. Folic acid may also decrease a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke, and some cancers.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of naturally occurring folate. Your body processes folic acid easier than it does folate so you have to consume 800 mcg of naturally occurring folate to equal 400 mcg of folic acid.  Although it may be difficult to meet the RDA for folate through food sources alone, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans can make a significant contribution toward your daily requirement.

While you can get folic acid through many fortified foods, such as enriched breads, pastas and cereals, the best way to be sure you're getting enough folic acid is to take a multi-vitamin or folic acid tablet every day.  If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, however, a prenatal vitamin might be even better. Ask your provider for a recommendation.

If you’ve already had a pregnancy affected by an neural tube defect, a child born with a neural tube defect, or have a neural tube defect yourself, you will need ten times the recommended amount of folic acid (4,000 mcg/4 mg) beginning at least one month before you get pregnant and through the first three months of your pregnancy. You will need a prescription for this amount.

Remember ... to get enough folic acid, take a daily vitamin and eat some of the following folate-rich foods:

  • Enriched breads, pastas and cereals
  • Lentils and black beans
  • Spinach and other green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Peanuts
  • Orange juice

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