Health care professionals and the public know that good nutrition during pregnancy is essential for supporting the future health of both mom and baby. Yet, many do not realize that nutrition before pregnancy is just as important. In fact, in the United States approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned, which means if you are a woman of childbearing age, it is wise to engage in healthy lifestyle strategies so that you are prepared if and when pregnancy happens. So, what are those lifestyle habits you should adopt?
Here are five goals that women of childbearing age should meet to yield better health.
1. Eat Healthy
Establish a nourishing, wholesome eating routine by regularly including foods like vegetables, whole fruits, healthy proteins including legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats including omega-3s in breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Remember to keep portion sizes of all foods at a respectable amount and to balance your meals and snacks with the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat). Choose foods of all colors of the rainbow daily to ensure that you are getting a wide variety of phytonutrients – protective food substances that come from plants – to help combat oxidative stress within the body.
2. Be Well.
Reach a healthy weight. While weight is just one number of the overall picture of health, we know that the classifications of overweight or obesity, as well as underweight, can mean compromised fertility due to certain hormonal and metabolic changes. The good thing? Small beneficial changes in weight are associated with improved fertility, as well as a reduced maternal health risks including diabetes, dyslipidemia and heart disease if overweight.
3. Get Ready for Baby-Bearing.
There are some substances that you will want to avoid while pregnant, so if you are of childbearing age it may be best to get ready for baby by avoiding those substances now. Alcohol should be excluded during pregnancy, in addition to fish high in mercury (like king mackerel, shark, swordfish, ahi tuna and orange roughy). And, it is a good idea to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking can cause serious medical challenges as well as premature birth and certain birth defects during pregnancy.
4. Get the Nutrients You Need.
Whole foods can certainly provide crucial before-baby nutrients like calcium, iron, choline and folate, but you may want to consider taking a food-based multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement to ensure you are meeting your needs if what you consume through food is not enough. From supporting healthy neural tube development to helping build strong bones, these nutrients are needed for optimal health of a future baby – and in making sure you have enough to support your health, too!
5. Be Balanced.
Exercise, sleep and manage stress to support energy levels, feelings of wellbeing and mood. Being in good physical condition can help prepare your body for childbearing and childbirth.
Also, keep in mind that it is not just women, but men too, who should also pay attention to their health before baby. Oxidative stress due to the diet, life stressors, exercise or chemicals in the environment has a negative effect on sperm production, while omega-3 fatty acids may help generate healthy sperm.
The take home message for all – start healthy habits early to enable better health for both you and baby.