Your M&S
Health and Nutrition

M&S Health & Nutrition

Preconception

Preconception

Healthy Eating When Planning a Baby

When you're planning a baby there are a number of changes you and your partner can make to your diet to maximise your chances of getting pregnant. This area of the site covers the importance of good nutrition and physical activity for future mums and dads too.

Foods or Nutrients That You Should Eat More of:

It is important at any time in your life to have a healthy, varied and balanced diet but particularly so when you're planning a pregnancy. By following the Eat Well plate model pictured below you can ensure that you are getting a good variety of different nutrients

eat well plate

Try to ensure that you are eating a healthy balanced diet before you become pregnant. Ensure that you don't miss out any of the food groups as each has vital nutrients. For example the dairy foods group is especially important for calcium and magnesium and some B group vitamins. Just choose lower fat versions of these foods or if you can't tolerate them have fortified soya alternatives or calcium rich foods such as canned fish with bones, or try green leafy vegetables, tofu and sesame seeds. Don't cut back on red meat but buy lean cuts to ensure you have adequate supplies of iron. Having 2 portions of fish a week, including one oily fish will provide essential omega 3 fatty acids. It's also important to think about the relative quantities of foods from each group you eat, so if you know that you don't eat enough fruit and vegetables but enjoy lots of cakes and biscuits try swapping these high fat and sugar foods for less calorific but more nutritious fruits and vegetables. Check your diet using our dietary assessment

Folic Acid

Folic acid is a dietary essential and more is needed during pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. We cannot eat sufficient normal foods even those rich in folic acid to achieve the protective amount so folic acid needs to be taken as a supplement. Whilst you are trying to get pregnant and up to the twelfth week of pregnancy you should take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day.

You can also eat foods which are rich in folic acid such as green vegetables (brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli), chick peas and black eye beans. Other foods contain some such as wholemeal or granary bread, and others such as breakfast cereals may be fortified.

Iron

It is particularly important to include plenty of iron in your diet when planning a pregnancy as pregnant women can often become deficient in this essential mineral. If you try and build up your iron stores before becoming pregnant it can save problems later on. The best sources of iron are lean red meats as this iron is easily absorbed. If you don't eat meat then ensure you have plenty of pulses such as lentils and beans, wholemeal bread, dried fruit, fortified breakfast cereals and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from these plant based foods so have a food or drink which is rich in vitamin C (tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruit or small glass of orange juice) at the same time. Tea and coffee however can hinder absorption so try to wait half a hour after eating before drinking them.

Your Weight

Being a healthy body weight is important when planning a pregnancy. If you're underweight it can affect your fertility by making it more difficult to conceive. Being underweight may also increase the risk of having a low birth weight baby. Conversely being overweight can also affect fertility and may increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, infections and diabetes.

Try to improve your diet before you get pregnant as this will help you control your weight more easily during pregnancy.

Supplements

Apart from folic acid, dietary supplements should not be necessary as you prepare for pregnancy as long as your diet is healthy and varied. However if you are worried and do want to take a pre-natal supplement make sure that you only use specially formulated prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplements. These are more likely to provide nutrients in balanced amounts, not high doses that might be dangerous to your health. Do not take large doses of single nutrients especially vitamin A.

Foods to Limit or Avoid:

Alcohol

It is a good idea to start to cut down on your alcohol consumption if you and/ or your partner are regular drinkers.

Liver and Foods High in Vitamin A

Too much vitamin A from high dose supplements, including fish liver oils or liver itself is not advised in pregnancy, and as you can store this vitamin it is best to limit these whilst you are planning your pregnancy. Vitamin A from other sources such as dairy foods, fruits and vegetables are fine to eat.

Marlin, Shark and Swordfish

Large fish such as shark, swordfish and marlin tend to accumulate toxins such as mercury by eating other smaller fish. High levels of mercury can harm the baby's developing nervous system so you should avoid these fish whilst pregnant and limit or avoid them prepregnancy.

Tuna

Whether fresh or canned is best limited to 2 steaks of 140g cooked weight per week or 4 (140g drained weight) cans of tuna.

Dads Too...

Being fit and healthy is just as important for future dads as it is for mums! You also need to ensure that you are a healthy weight and that your diet is varied and well-balanced.
There are two minerals, zinc and selenium, which are important for sperm production and mobility. Good sources of these nutrients include lean red meat, wholegrain cereals, seafood and eggs. However, there is little scientific evidence that supplements containing these minerals improve fertility so just improve your diet. Don't forget that excessive intakes of alcohol are not good for health and will also deplete your zinc levels. Therefore moderate alcohol levels are advised for dads-to-be whilst trying to conceive.

For more advice on eating when trying for a baby visit:
The British Nutrition Foundation