Get your new family off to a healthy start
11/21/2019 by Rose Prissel, RDN, and Dr. Matthew Meunier
Thinking of getting pregnant? Preparing for a baby is a good reason for mothers- and fathers-to-be to take a look at your current lifestyle. Establishing healthy eating and activity habits before your baby arrives will make it easier to maintain them as a family.
The first step in preparing for a healthy pregnancy is for both of you to have pre-conception exams with your health care provider. Other steps the two of you can take to help reduce the risk of complications and set the course for a healthy pregnancy and healthy family include:
- Stop smoking.
- Don't drink alcohol.
- Avoid exposure to harmful substances.
- For moms-to-be, get an appropriate amount of folic acid to prevent birth defects. Folic acid is found in fortified whole grains, eggs, legumes, nuts, berries and greens, as well as supplements (if recommended).
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Reach or maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise every day.
Why are these so important to building a healthy future for your child?
- Mothers who are living a healthy lifestyle deliver children with fewer birth defects and chronic health problems.
- A healthy lifestyle includes eating a variety of nutritious foods so you get needed vitamins and minerals; being at a healthy weight before becoming pregnant; and then when pregnant, gaining an appropriate amount of weight, exercising regularly and avoiding harmful substances.
Healthy eating for a healthy baby
Moms-to-be need a variety of foods from all the "My Plate" food groups to get the nutrition needed for a healthy pregnancy. Before and during pregnancy, a woman should eat a balanced diet including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean animal and/or plant protein, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives and healthy fats. If you prefer to reduce or omit animal proteins, are lactose intolerant or prefer non-dairy alternatives, the My Plate protein group includes options for you.
Your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) may recommend a prenatal multivitamin or complete multivitamin that contains folic acid and iron. This help you get enough of these and other nutrients before and during pregnancy — and beyond, if you're nursing your baby.
Remember that during pregnancy, you're eating for both your and your baby's health.
- Research shows the risks of problems during pregnancy and delivery is lowest when a woman begins her pregnancy at a healthy weight and weight gain is kept within a healthy range during pregnancy.
- Focus on nutrient-dense foods that don't up your calorie intake. It's not until the second trimester that you'll need those extra calories.
- The amount of food you need before and during pregnancy depends on a number of things, including body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, the rate at which you gain weight, age and appetite. If needed, an RDN can help you develop a food plan that meets your nutrition and calorie needs — and fits your lifestyle and food preferences.
- Because pregnant women are at a higher risk of food poisoning, be sure to practice food safety.
Tips for creating a healthy lifestyle for you and your family to be
- Keep a food and activity journal.
- Eat only at the kitchen table/counter.
- Schedule your workouts, just as you do meetings and date nights.
- Create a menu for the week.
- Set achievable goals for the day, week and month.
- Make sure your beverages are low in calories and nutritious. Water should be your first choice, but milk and milk alternatives are good, too. Just watch the added sugar in hot and cold drinks.
- Check for non-hunger or "emotional eating."
- Eat at least three cups of low-cal vegetables daily and 1-1/2 cups of whole fruit.
- Swap out ultra-processed foods (check ingredients on the food label) with whole grain, whole fruit or vegetables.
- Take the stairs more often, park your car further away from your destination and just walk more throughout the day.
- Understand what your calorie requirements are for the day for weight management.
Now you're a family ...
Maintain those habits you established! Once the baby has arrived, it's essential that newborns receive the best possible nutrition right from birth. Studies have shown that breastfeeding provides many advantages to both baby and mother, including health benefits and financial savings.
In addition to eating right from birth, developing physical activity habits at an early age also is key. Active young children are better prepared for life than those who spend childhood sitting in front of a television or video game screen. Having fun and being active together as a family builds the base for a healthy life and lasting memories.
Rose Prissel is a dietitian at Mayo Clinic working in pediatric and adult nutrition, with a focus on preventive care, sports nutrition and weight management.
Dr. Matthew Meunier is a family physician with Women's Health fellowship training in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Department of Family Medicine. He is the Chief of Family Medicine Obstetrics and Newborn Services.