Planning for a Baby? it’s a good idea to take a look at what you eat and drink first to make sure you are in tip top condition – and that goes for your partner too.

Obesity, alcohol intake and a lack of some nutrients may make it a little more difficult to get pregnant, so start to think about your health 3-4 months in advance. Lose those extra few pounds, cut right back on alcohol, stop smoking if you or your partner do smoke and make small dietary changes now – they will all benefit your health, and that of your longed for baby, both now and right into the future.

  1. Be a healthy weight.
  2. Don’t forget your folic acid supplement
  3. Stop Smoking
  4. Cut out alcohol
  5. Think about Iron and Vitamin C – the perfect pair!
  6. Stock up on Calcium
  7. Don’t forget Vitamin D – Calcium’s partner in healthy bones


1. Be a healthy weight
body weight and conception

Being too light or too heavy can affect your chances of becoming pregnant, so do have a think about that and make sure you are eating a wide range of healthy foods – fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and breads, low fat dairy foods and lean meat and fish. Cut back on the sweet treats as they can add extra pounds but don’t have much to offer nutritionally. Being overweight while you are pregnant can increase your risk of high blood pressure or even developing diabetes during pregnancy. So now is the time to get in shape. Regular exercise can also help – so you can get out with your partner for some long walks while you discuss your plans for the future.

See also Body Weight and Conception

2. Don’t forget your folic acid

Nutritionists generally prefer to recommend getting all the nutrients you need from eating whole foods rather than taking supplements or tablets, with one exception. For a healthy pregnancy, a 400 microgram folic acid supplement is recommended both before you become pregnant and for the first 12 weeks. Folic acid is important for the development of a healthy spine and brain in the

Folic acid is important for the development of a healthy spine and brain in the early stages of pregnancy.

early stages of pregnancy. The risk of spina bifida can be reduced if all Mums-to-be were taking a daily folic acid supplement so if this pregnancy is a surprise, it is a good idea to start taking folic acid as soon as you find out you are expecting.

So why can’t you just eat a diet rich in naturally occurring folic acid (called folate).  It seems that to get the maximum benefit of this nutrient from the B vitamin family, a supplement of 400 micrograms per day is the best option. However, it is also a good idea to know a little more about folate and choose foods high in this vitamin to boost your levels at this time.

Commonly eaten foods that naturally contain folate include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (think of spinach, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts)
  • Peas and beans
  • Some fruits, especially oranges

Many foods now have folic acid added to them as they are made so these can be a good option for you too. They include:

  • Many brands of breakfast cereal
  • Some brands of milk
  • Some breads

So become Folate Friendly and check the labels!

See also “Getting more folic acid article”

3. Stop smoking

Smoking can make it more difficult to become pregnant, and once pregnant, smoking is no good for you or your baby. So now is the time to stop, not when you are already pregnant. If you are struggling to give up, look for help and support and if your partner smokes too it’s a much better idea to get him to quit too – you can be a good support for each other.

See also Smoking and Conception

4. Cut out alcohol

Now is a good time to get used to being the designated driver on Saturday nights out. Too much alcohol is damaging to a baby’s growth and development, and there is no safe limit of alcohol advised during pregnancy. So why not cut it out altogether – it may be a giveaway to your friends but it’s a really worthwhile and positive change to make. And any calories you save will help to keep your weight in check too.

See also Alcohol and Conception

5. Think about Iron and Vitamin C – the perfect pair!

You need to think of iron regularly when choosing foods to make sure you are getting enough. Think of lean red meat (beef, lamb and pork), chicken, oily fish and eggs. Other non-animal foods which contain iron include breakfast cereals with added iron, peas, beans and lentils, dried fruits (prunes, apricots, raisins) and green vegetables like broccoli and spinach. Try to include at least one of these iron-rich foods at lunch and again with your evening meal.

Getting enough vitamin C, oranges

Vitamin C can help your body to release the iron from the food so stock up on these good sources of Vitamin C to boost your iron levels:

  • Oranges (or freshly squeezed juice)
  • Berries
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Green vegetables
  • Peppers

Think of combining one of these foods with your iron-rich foods to pack a nutritious punch So have your freshly squeezed juice with your wholegrain breakfast cereal or a baby spinach and tomato salad with an omelette – all simple combinations to ensure you get the most from your meal.

6. Stock up on Calcium

When we think of calcium we think of milk – milk and dairy foods are the best foods to eat/drink to ensure you get enough calcium every day.

Now that you are planning for a baby you need 800mg of calcium per day Well, by choosing a glass of milk, a carton of yogurt or an ounce of cheese 3 times a day you will be getting all the calcium you need. However, this goes up to 1200mg (or 5 a day) once you are pregnant, so now is a good time to start thinking about getting enough calcium in your diet.

It’s a good idea to choose low fat products – half the fat (or less) but the same amount of calcium

Sounds like alot? Well remember that if you cook with milk or cheese the calcium is still there so we can add cheese sauce, melted cheese on toast, hot chocolate drinks, milk added to your tea or coffee and milk on your cereal in the morning to this list.

And it’s a good idea to choose low fat products – half the fat (or less) but the same amount of calcium which is good news for your bones.

7. Don’t forget Vitamin D – Calcium’s partner in healthy bones

Vitamin D is receiving lots of good press at the moment and it’s benefits seem to be far-reaching – from its role in building strong bones to heart health and even the prevention of certain cancers. However, in Ireland we have poor levels of this important vitamin, due mostly to the fact that we do not get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D on our skin. Often called the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, vitamin D is converted into its active form when we stretch our arms and legs out in the sun for a few minutes on a bright sunny day.

However, lack of sunlight and more awareness of the importance of using sunblock now mean that our levels of Vitamin D are critically low. In fact the Food Safety Authority of Ireland now recommend that we should all take a daily supplement to ensure we don’t run short.

Vitamin D does occur naturally in foods but some of the foods are not eaten everyday and so our intakes can be less than perfect.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish – herrings, mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout
  • Eggs – the yolk contains the Vitamin D
  • Fortified foods – some brands of milk, spreadable margarines and breakfast cereals have added vitamin D so check the label.

If these are not foods you regularly choose, you may need to talk to your GP or Practice Nurse about taking a supplement that includes Vitamin D.

For more advice and information contact our Careline.