“You’re eating for two now.”
If you’re pregnant, then you may have heard this common trope. But have you heard that what you eat is as important as how much you eat?
Your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby—and of conceiving--increase when you eat nutritiously and consume the recommended daily dose folic acid, says Basma S. Faris, M.D., an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Weill Cornell Medicine Primary Care.
To eat nutritiously, you need a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, and healthy fats, Dr. Faris says. To support a healthy pregnancy or optimize your chances of getting pregnant, you should start eating folate-rich foods, including peas, beans, lentils, asparagus, eggs, and leafy green vegetables, three months before you conceive, she adds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Public Health Service, all women of childbearing age in the United States who could become pregnant should consume 0.4 milligrams of folic acid daily, a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects affecting the brain and spine, also known as neural tube defects (NTD).
Such NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly. All infants with anencephaly die shortly after birth, while most who are born with spina bifida grow to adulthood, sometimes with paralysis or varying degrees of bowel and bladder incontinence. In addition to protecting against these severe conditions, folic acid protects against other pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, low birthweight, and stillbirth. It is also necessary for DNA production.
The terms “folic acid” and “folate” are often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different things: folate refers to the many different forms of vitamin B9, while folic acid refers to the synthetic form of folate that is added to supplements and fortified foods, such as rice, pasta, bread, and some breakfast cereals. Besides taking a daily folic acid supplement before and during pregnancy, you should also eat foods rich in folate. If you have a family history of NTDs, then you may need to increase your daily folate intake.
Folate is only one of many nutrients that are essential to a healthy pregnancy. If you are planning or trying to conceive, or are already pregnant, then you should also consume plenty of: