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Watching what you eat before pregnancy

diet; dieting; eat; eating; fat; food; groups; folate; folic; acid; Listeria; listeriosis; bacteria; spina; bifida; neural; tube; defects; anencephaly; pregnancy; pregnant;

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When you're thinking about having a baby, it's really important to eat healthy food, to include lots of foods that are folate-rich and to start taking a folic acid supplement at least one month before becoming pregnant.

Enjoying plenty of exercise will increase your fitness level and help keep your weight in the normal range for your height.

Eat a healthy diet when planning a pregnancy

Healthy eating is a vital part of good health.

While you are preparing for pregnancy, it's a great time to look at your diet and see where you may be able to make healthier food choices.

  • You should eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods. When you include many different foods in your diet, your meals will be tastier, you'll be less likely to get bored with what you're eating and you will have the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need.
  • Reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar in your foods (fewer take-aways, biscuits and fried foods).
  • Eat more plant foods such as breads, cereals, fruit, vegetables, beans, rice and pasta.
  • It's also important to drink plenty of water or other drinks every day (8 glasses each day).

There are 5 main food groups.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Bread, cereals, noodles, pasta, rice
  • Milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Lean meat, fish, poultry, tofu, nuts, legumes (eg peas, beans, lentils)

There is also a group called 'extra foods' that it is recommended that you eat in small amounts, such as butter and oils, or only occasionally, such as biscuits, chocolate, chips and ice cream.

The table below shows each food group, how many serves are recommended from each food group each day for healthy (but not yet pregnant) women, and some ideas about serving sizes.

Australian guide to healthy eating

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for Women Aged 19 - 60 Years

Food group Serves
per day
Sample serving sizes
Bread, cereals, rice, pasta & noodles 4 - 6 2 slices of bread or 1 medium bread roll.
1 cup cooked rice,
pasta or noodles.
1 ? cups breakfast cereal flakes
Vegetables & legumes
(dried beans, lentils or peas)
4 - 7 1 small potato.
1 cup salad vegetables.
½ cup cooked vegetables.
½ cup cooked dried beans, lentils or peas
Fruit 2 - 3 1 medium apple, pear, orange or banana.
2 fresh apricots, plums or kiwi fruit.
4 dried apricot halves
Milk, yoghurt & cheese  2 1 250ml cup milk
1 200g tub yoghurt
2 slices (40g) cheese
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, tofu, legumes (dried beans, lentils or peas) 1 - 1 ½ ½ cup lean mince or 2 small chops.
½ cup cooked dried beans, lentils or peas.
1 small fish fillet.
2 small eggs
Extra foods 0 - 2 ½ 2 tablespoons cream or mayonnaise.
4 plain sweet biscuits.
1 tablespoon butter, margarine or oil.
1 can soft drink

Making changes to your diet

If your diet hasn't been as healthy as it could be, why not start to make some changes now? Begin by making a few small changes that you can stick to. Once these changes are part of your everyday lifestyle, think about some more changes you can make.

Here are some simple, practical ideas that will help you start thinking about ways to make your eating healthier:

  • Have a piece of fruit for a snack instead of chocolate or biscuits
  • Carry a small bottle of water with you so you can avoid buying soft drinks while you're out
  • Replace a couple of meat-based meals each week with a dish based on beans or lentils—have a look in your book shop or library for vegetarian recipe ideas
  • Include fresh fish or canned fish (such as tuna or salmon) regularly in your diet
  • Experiment with different grains such as barley, faro, couscous and brown rice to add more variety to your diet
  • Cut up raw salad vegies such as carrots, celery and mushrooms—store them in snap lock plastic bags in the fridge for snacking on throughout the day
  • Choose low fat dairy products instead of the full cream type
  • Try snacking on air-popped popcorn instead of chips and other fatty snacks

If you have a partner, take some time now to sit down together and talk about some of the ways you can make healthy eating part of your lifestyle. You are much more likely to feel positive about these changes if you and your partner make them together.

Your healthy choices will increase your chances of conceiving and set the scene for a healthy pregnancy. It probably won't be too long before you also have another pair of eyes watching you eat and following your example!

If you would like more information about healthy eating, please ask your doctor, midwife or a dietician.

This information is based on the guidelines in The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating published by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services.

Listeria

Listeria are bacteria that are found in the environment and in some foods. If you eat foods that are infected with Listeria, you can develop a Listeria infection. The infection causes no or few symptoms in healthy people, but can be very dangerous to your unborn baby. Listeria infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labour.

There is more information have a look at the topic Listeria.

Folic acid (folate)

Folate (folic acid) is a B group vitamin that can lower your chance of having a baby born with spina bifida or other neural tube defects. Women who are planning a pregnancy need to take folic acid supplements at least one month before pregnancy and for the first three months of the pregnancy.

The easiest and most effective way to raise folate levels is by taking a folic acid tablet containing 0.5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid tablets are safe to take during pregnancy.

Folate occurs naturally in many foods, but it is very difficult to get all of the folate you need to prevent neural tube defects through your diet.

For more information, have a look at the topic Folic acid (folate).

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.

 

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