A healthy, balanced diet is important when trying to conceive in order to support a healthy pregnancy. Here’s the lowdown on your nutritional needs while TTC.
Brain Development in Pregnancy and Early Childhood
Your baby’s brain grows at an amazing rate before and just after they are born. Brain development begins just three weeks after conception, and at week four, the neural tube closes. The brain and spinal cord will then develop from the neural tube. And because many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at four weeks, eating enough one-carbon nutrients before conception is important to support proper neural tube development and reduce your baby’s risk of neural tube defects, such as anencephaly and spina bifida.
Are you getting the right amounts of nutrients?
Research has found that nearly 90% of women do not meet the daily recommended amounts of one-carbon nutrients such as such as B12, folic acid, choline, or DHA.
SNPs (pronounced snips) are common misspellings in your genes that can affect how they function. SNPs in any of the pathways involving one-carbon nutrients or DHA can increase your body’s requirement for them. This can lead to a depletion in nutrients and your body not getting enough of what it needs while TTC or pregnant. Research shows that these SNPs are common, affecting up to 70% of women in the U.S.
Genetic tests like the Genate Test from SNP Therapeutics can help women understand how their nutritional levels are being affected by SNPs and help address nutritional deficiencies that may become depleted during pregnancy.
Proper nutrient levels are important while TTC and during pregnancy. Consuming adequate levels of choline, folate, vitamin B12, and DHA and addressing any SNPs that impact how these nutrients are used in the body is crucial if you may become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
While you’re TTC it’s great to focus on eating grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Limiting added sugars, sodium, saturated fat and alcohol can also help you prepare for pregnancy and help you manage a healthy lifestyle during your pregnancy.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle prior to becoming pregnant may be beneficial. A healthier lifestyle while TTC may lower your risk of gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. If you’re concerned about your lifestyle prior to pregnancy, it’s important to discuss this with your provider.
Folic acid is necessary in helping prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. The most critical time period for preventing these is in the first couple of months when you may not know you’re pregnant. Because of this, when you are TTC, aim to get 400 micrograms of folic acid (or folate) each day. You can get these through food sources or from a multivitamin after discussing the
best one for you with your provider. Food sources of folate include dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, fruit juice, nuts, beans, seafood, dairy, eggs, meat and poultry.3
It’s important to get enough zinc while TTC and during early pregnancy as this will also help prevent neural tube defects by closing the neural tube.4 You should be getting 8 milligrams of zinc per day to prevent deficiency. Zinc sources include meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and whole grains.5
Choline also helps in early pregnancy to close neural tubes.4 You should be getting about 425 milligrams daily from sources such as meat, beef liver, eggs, dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grain foods.6
Iron during pregnancy is important to support an increase in blood volume, help your baby develop, and prepare for blood loss during birth. During pregnancy, you’re at more risk for being iron deficient so it’s important to prevent iron deficiency before birth.4 You should be getting 18 milligrams of iron daily. Food sources of iron include meat, seafood, beans, green leafy vegetables, lentils and fortified breads and cereals.7
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary
Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
2. University of Rochester Medical Center (no date). Nutrition Before Pregnancy. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02479#:~:text=All%20women%20of%20childbearing%20age,cereals%2C%20and%20some%20vitamin%20supplements.
3. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2021). Folate. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
4. UNC Nutrition Research Institute. Women’s Health, Preconception Nutrition and the Right to Choose (2019). https://uncnri.org/2019/05/26/womens-health-preconception-nutrition-and-the-right-to-choose/
5. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Zinc. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
6. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Choline. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/
7. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Iron. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/