A mother’s health in pregnancy can have a profound impact on the health of her baby — health effects that will last well into her baby’s future adult health. There is wisdom in the saying “you are what you eat” — we all are. The healthy head start that you are passing on to your baby begins long before you become pregnant. Your body sets up stores of essential nutrients and lays down strong bones during your youth and adolescence, which are maintained through good eating habits and exercise in adulthood. Not many of us can claim perfect eating throughout those years, but it isn’t too late to make some good changes.

The key elements of maintaining good health before and during pregnancy are good nutrition, achieving a healthy body weight prior to pregnancy, optimizing weight gain during pregnancy and ensuring that your body receives the proper nutrients through a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.

Making healthy choices

Knowing what to eat can be difficult at the best of times, and during pregnancy it seems even more complicated. Changing eating habits is not easy, but the choices that you make can reduce your baby’s risk of obesity and diabetes, and ensure healthy brain development. Incorporating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate lean protein, and healthy fat, puts you on track for well-balanced prenatal nutrition.

Eating right will not only help ensure your baby’s health; it matters for your health. Excess weight gain has been linked to risk of cesarean section, but there are longer term consequences as well. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease have all been linked to health in pregnancy.

It can be hard to get enough of certain nutrients in pregnancy, particularly folic acid, calcium, and iron.  Many women do not have enough iron because of a tendency to eat less meat than in times past — and we need iron, as our blood volume has to increase in pregnancy in order to avoid anemia. Folic acid is needed as well, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects and childhood cancers. It is a nutrient that we need to supplement in pregnancy to minimize risk and, although we are much better off now that foods are fortified with folic acid, many women are not eating the same grains or breads as before, so may not be getting the necessary amounts of dietary folic acid.

For this reason, a balanced multivitamin supplement containing folic acid is recommended. Of course, too much of a good thing can also be a problem — it is never wise to take more than one multivitamin per day.

You may have heard a long list of foods to avoid. Are you wondering if those are real risks or myths?  Do you have special nutritional needs, or nausea and vomiting, which prevent you from getting the food you need? You can get support from your health-care professional, or dietitian.