Keywords: prenatal vitamins, exercise and pregnancy, antioxidants
When I was growing up, my friends and I all had adopted the collective dream of getting older, going to college, starting a great career, finding your forever person and starting a family with them. Now, as I enter my 30’s, I am finding that many of my friends have done just that. They have a career, are married, and either already have kids or are talking about having kids. I on the other hand, am still finding my career path (I like to think of myself as the proverbial jack-of-all-trades but master of none, yet), and I am not at the point that I am quite ready for kids. As the one who loves all things related to nutrition and activity, I was shocked to learn that there are some very important nutrition-related things that their doctors and other sources weren’t telling them.
I totally get it, wanting to talk to everyone and find things on your own is natural, this is an exciting time and so many emotions as well as questions are flowing. You talk to friends, parents or relatives, and your doctor. You are looking at countless articles on the internet and are completely overwhelmed with information of what you should do, not do, what to eat and not eat, how to exercise, etc. So now, I want to talk about 3 specific and important things that are often overlooked since they are not super exciting or well-known but are vital to the health and nutrition of you, your pregnancy, and your future baby!
Let’s first talk about Prenatal Vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are vital in helping to prevent birth defects. Shockingly enough, about 3% of births this year in the United States will be born with birth defects (Kling, 2017). Most of the time doctors actually discuss prenatal vitamins is when you are already pregnant. If this is the case then yes, please start taking a prenatal vitamin! Better late than never! But, the most important time to start taking them is before you are even trying to conceive. Whether you are at the point where you’re considering no longer using preventative measures but are not really actively trying yet, or if are actively timing your cycle in order to conceive…..take a prenatal vitamin! Did you know that only about 34% of women ages 18-45 say they started taking a prenatal vitamin before becoming pregnant? And this is among the 97%who said they took prenatal vitamins during a current or previous pregnancy (marchofdimes.org). So, what really is in a prenatal vitamin that makes it so important? One of the most important micronutrients during pregnancy is folic acid. Having an adequate amount of folic acid during pregnancy can prevent serious birth defects such as neural tube defects and others of the brain and spine. These defects can happen in the first month of pregnancy (Kling, 2017), which is when a lot of women aren’t even sure they are pregnant. So, how much folic acid do you need? A good prenatal vitamin should have 400 micrograms and should be taken every day. Other important micronutrients that you will find in a prenatal vitamin that are important for a healthy pregnancy are vitamin D, calcium, and iron. See a list of some high quality prenatal vitamins here.
Staying Physically Active. This is our next item to discuss, one that a lot of people will be talking about but there is SO much information available and so many differing opinions that it can be confusing. Although everyone is going to tell you that cravings happen and you’re “eating for two”, not having a mostly healthy diet can do more than just put on some extra pounds. Yes, you can give in to cravings here and there, but be mindful of what and how much is going into your body. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (USDHHS, 2020), during pregnancy you should have at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. This is not intense training, these are things like going for a brisk walk, swimming (great low-impact exercise for when you are further along!), dancing, or a moderate yoga class. There are several considerations to mention though in regards to physical activity, you do not want to overly strain yourself as it could cause damage to the pregnancy. If you like to lift weights, lift lighter and do more repetitions. Stay away from activities where you could fall like horseback riding, and skiing and also avoid sports where you could be hit by a ball or an entire person like soccer or basketball (USDHHS, 2020).
Now that you know what to do and not to do as far as exercise, let me explain why it is so important. This is what I feel is overlooked by so many. Exercise can help reduce back pain and ease your body’s digestive processes (yes, I mean like constipation). It also can decrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and the possibility of C-section delivery (ACOG, 2019). The kicker here that you are waiting to hear is…..regular exercise during pregnancy will help you to lose the baby weight after the baby is born (ACOG, 2019). YES! This is what we all want to hear! But, as a disclaimer, you should consult your doctor before beginning or maintaining an exercise routine through pregnancy. I will leave you with this link for a list of warning signs that you should stop exercising or avoid exercise while pregnant.
Finally, Antioxidant Status. Antioxidants are important for everyone in order to reduce oxidative stress. They protect cells from damage, including the cells in the reproductive system, like the spermand egg. Studies have shown that infertile men and women generally have lower intake of antioxidants than fertile men and women while higher intakes are associated with improvements in fertility (Brown, 2017). Dietary antioxidants are beneficial in this process. Antioxidant rich foods contain vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A). Examples include: pomegranate, tomato, grape juice, pineapple juice, strawberries, mango nectar, pecans, artichokes, blueberries, grapefruit, broccoli, green or red peppers, spinach, sweet potato, carrots, and nuts and seeds (Brown, 2017). More food ideas that are rich in good antioxidants as well as good foods to eat during pregnancy in general can be found here.
I hope that you learned some valuable information here and feel more prepared in beginning this next stage of your life. Nutritional needs of yourself and a fetus are necessary discussions that need to happen in order to ultimately help you feel your best and have a happy and healthy pregnancy. I am, by no means, diminishing the advice your friends and colleagues who have had children have given you and I trust they are very knowledgeable about the experience since they have personally gone through it. What they are more likely to talk about though are the more memorable or sensational things like morning sickness, cravings, baby kicking, etc. Therefore, I will leave you with one last note…..It is important to do your own research, consult your doctor, ask LOTS of questions, and consult a qualified nutritionist or dietitian (as well as your doctor) to find your own path through this amazing chapter in your life.
Bjarnadottir, A. July 17, 2018. 13 Foods to Eat While You’re Pregnant. Retrieved from:https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-foods-to-eat-when-pregnant#section3
Brown, J. E. (2017). Nutrition Through the Lifecycle. (6th Ed.) Boston, MA. Cengage Learning.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). July 2019. Exercise During Pregnancy. Retrieved from: https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/pregnancy/exercise-during-pregnancy
Kling, Michele. September 19, 2017. Fewer than Half of U.S. Women Take Recommended Vitamins Prior to Pregnancy, According to March of Dimes New Prenatal Health & Nutrition Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.marchofdimes.org/news/fewer-than-half-of-u-s-women-take-recommended-vitamins-prior-to-pregnancy-according-to-march-of-dimes-new-prenatal-health-nutrition-survey.aspx
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). jaNUARY 23, 2020. Staying Active During Pregnancy: quick tips. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/pregnancy/nutrition-and-physical-activity/stay-active-during-pregnancy-quick
Timmons, J. February 24, 2020. The Best Prenatal Vitamins for a Healthy Pregnancy. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/best-prenatal-vitamins#best-prenatal-vitamins