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What To Eat Before You're Expecting



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



Lots of "pregnant energy" circulating right now! Several of my patients have suddenly (delightedly) conceived, and there's a nifty new Harvard Nurse's Health Study book out looking at nutrition and fertility. The federal WIC program will finally be giving low-income pregnant women fruits and vegetables. Happy holidays!

Women are inundated with rules about what not to consume when they're pregnant (soft cheese, fish dripping mercury, martinis, crystal meth) but the pre-conception lifestyle has kind of gone missing. Honestly, the three months or so preceding pregnancy is just as health-critical as the 9-month main event. (In fact, stay tuned – intrauterine nutrition seems to set the stage for future health – you are what your mother ate!) Though many pregnancies are unplanned, infertility is epidemic now. There's a time, too, when a woman might not know she's pregnant yet but her exposures are also important. You've probably heard about folic acid preventing birth defects – indeed, it's added to many foods now. You can also get this crucial nutrient from foliage (folic, foliage, get it?) those green leafy powerhouses I urge you to eat regularly.) And a good vitamin containing at least 400 mg daily is nice insurance.

The Harvard researchers finally demonstrated what many clinicians have known for years – what you eat ordinarily makes a difference in your ability to get pregnant in the first place. This 8-year study showed – surprise surprise – that eating high-impact "fast" carbohydrates (refined flour, sugars) reduces fertility, as does not getting enough whole fruit, vegetables, and protein. Interestingly, eating more animal protein seems to reduce fertility – I think maybe due to the hormones often present in commercially raised animal foods. Details at eleven.

This carbohydrate thing is crucial, both for preconception and pregnancy nutrition, and I'm so glad it's "out there" now finally. Whatever metabolism you have before pregnancy shows up during it! Any midwife will tell you that too many huge babies are being born; the incidence of pregnancy diabetes is increasing. There's a normal mechanism gone wild here: healthy pregnancy changes raise a woman's blood sugar – that's how nature gets nutrients to the babe. Feed that fire with refined carbohydrates, though, and your dear baby will be mainlining soda pop through her umbilical cord. Let me tell you – the last thing you want (after a baby with a physical or mental defect) is one who resembles the Michelin man.

Pickles and ice cream aside, typical "What to Eat" handouts distributed in most prenatal care offices are truly archaic. Most push carbohydrates like crazy, skimp on whole foods and protein, and neglect the healthy fats which are crucial for fetal brain development. For women entering pregnancy overweight, or with a family history of diabetes this is critical. (Six slices of bread, four glasses of milk, and 2 glasses of orange juice a day is NUTS if you tend towards insulin resistance.) If you can balance your metabolism before you get pregnant you might not hear later that your diabetes test is high and your baby might weigh ten pounds. If you're exposing yourself to pregnancy (ie, not using an effective contraceptive method) or yearning to reproduce and having trouble – sister, let's talk food!




Article © Copyright 2007 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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