Pre-Conception Nutrition

Amanda Schaffer, MS, RD is a Clinical Dietitian at Inova Loudoun Hospital with more than 15 years of experience. She works with patients and families to improve their nutritional status during illnesses. Amanda’s clinical interests range from neonatal, pediatric and maternal nutrition to medical and surgical adult patients.

Are you thinking about getting pregnant? Did you know that what you eat now can impact your future pregnancy? A fetus begins developing before an early pregnancy test comes back positive. To help your baby meet its maximum potential, it is important to make healthy changes to your diet before you become pregnant.

Changing eating habits before pregnancy can help improve the body’s nutrient stores. This is necessary to ensure you have the nutrients your body needs to meet the demands of pregnancy. For example, folic acid (found in leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits and fortified cereals) can help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects. However, this nutrient is most beneficial in the first 28 days after conception – before many women even realize they are pregnant. Another example is calcium (found in dairy foods, kale and broccoli). If you have low calcium stores when you’re pregnant, your body will take the calcium from your bones and give it to the developing fetus. This may raise your risk of osteoporosis in the future. Iron (found in meats, spinach and other leafy greens, legumes, and fortified cereals) is another important preconception nutrient. Building iron stores will help prepare a mother’s body for the growth and developmental needs of the fetus.

Also, the better your nutrition is before pregnancy, the better your chances are of getting pregnant. Diet and lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your fertility. A healthy diet, with adequate amounts of folic acid, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to have positive effects on fertility. If you are trying to get pregnant, increase your intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, oily fish and seeds. Diet and exercise are especially important for those individuals with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and/or risk factors for diabetes.

Finally, work to maintain a healthy weight before conception, since your prepregnancy weight directly influences your baby’s birth weight. Women with healthy eating and exercise patterns before pregnancy enjoy reduced health risks for both themselves and their babies. 

Don’t wait until you are pregnant to begin making healthier food choices. Eating a well-balanced diet before pregnancy will benefit your baby’s development in the womb and their health in the future. 

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