Nutrition Before Pregnancy
Becoming healthy before becoming pregnant
Pre-conception nutrition is a vital part of preparing for pregnancy. Factors such
as your weight compared with your height and what you eat can play an important role
in your health during pregnancy and the health of your developing baby.
Your pre-pregnancy weight directly influences your baby's birth weight. Studies show
that underweight women are more likely to give birth to small babies, even though
they may gain the same amount in pregnancy as normal weight women. Overweight women
have increased risks for problems in pregnancy such as gestational diabetes or high
blood pressure. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you need to lose
or gain weight before becoming pregnant.
Many women don't eat a well-balanced diet before pregnancy and may not have the proper
nutritional status for the demands of pregnancy. Generally, a pregnant woman needs
to add about 300 extra calories daily after the first trimester to meet the needs
of her body and her developing baby. But those calories, as well as her entire diet,
need to be healthy, balanced, and nutritious.
The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you eat a healthy diet by encouraging a variety
of foods while getting the right number of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services have prepared this food plate to help you select
a variety of healthy foods. MyPlate is available for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories:
Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain
are grain products. Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Examples of whole
grains include whole-wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.
Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red,
and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas), and starchy vegetables. Healthier
options include buying fresh, canned (low-sodium or no-salt-added versions), or plain
frozen (without added sauces or seasonings) vegetables.
Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh,
canned (packed in 100% juice or water), frozen, or dried and may be whole, cut up,
Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group.
Use fat-free or low-fat dairy products that are high in calcium.
Protein. Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein
routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as nut oils, fish, olives, and avocados,
contain key nutrients and should be included in the diet in moderation. Others, such
as saturated fats, are solid at room temperature and should be avoided.
Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included along with a healthy
To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 and to find the recommendations for your age, sex, and physical activity level, visit
MyPlate.gov and Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Please note that the MyPlate Plan is designed for people over age 1 who don't have
chronic health conditions.
In addition to the MyPlate food groups, include the following nutrients in your pre-conception
diet and continue into pregnancy:
All women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. Pregnant
women need 600 mcg of folic acid daily. Folic acid is a nutrient found in some green
leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some
vitamin supplements. It can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and
spinal cord (called neural tube defects). The most common neural tube defect is spina
bifida, in which the vertebrae don't fuse together properly, causing the spinal cord
to be exposed. This can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and, sometimes,
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most
neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women don't realize they are pregnant
before 28 days. This is why it's important to start folic acid before conception and
continue through pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will recommend the right amount
of folic acid to meet your needs.
Most healthcare providers will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception,
or shortly afterward, to ensure all of your nutritional needs are met. However, a
prenatal supplement doesn't replace a healthy diet.
Many women have low iron stores as a result of monthly menstruation and diets low
in iron. Women over age 18 need 18 milligrams (mg) of iron daily. Iron needs increase
during pregnancy. Building iron stores helps prepare a mother's body for the needs
of the developing baby during pregnancy. Good sources of iron include the following:
Meats such as beef, pork, lamb, liver, and other organ meats
Poultry such as chicken, duck, and turkey (especially dark meat)
Fish and shellfish, including sardines, anchovies, clams, mussels, and oysters. Check
with your healthcare provider before consuming other types of fish, as some may contain high
levels of mercury.
Leafy greens of the cabbage family such as broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collards
Legumes such as lima beans and green peas, dry beans and peas such as pinto beans
and black-eyed peas, and canned baked beans
Whole-grain breads and iron-enriched white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals.
Preparing for pregnancy includes building healthy bones. If there is not enough calcium
in the pregnancy diet, the developing baby may draw calcium from the mother's bones.
This can put women at risk for osteoporosis later in life. The recommended calcium
intake for women over the age of 18 is 1,000 mg daily. For women 18 years of age and
younger, the recommended daily calcium intake is 1,300 mg. Three servings of milk
or other dairy products each day equal about 1,000 mg of calcium.
Always talk with your healthcare provider about your individualized diet and exercise