They say “you are what you eat”, so what hap­pens to you and baby when you’re preg­nant? Di­eti­tian Melanie McGrice shows you how the right nutri­tion will give your lit­tle one a head start in life.

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Di­eti­tian Melanie McGrice shows how the right nutri­tion will give your baby a head start in life

Find­ing out that you’re preg­nant is an ex­cit­ing time, but try­ing for a baby can of­ten be a source of stress for some. We all know that eat­ing a balanced and healthy diet dur­ing preg­nancy is im­por­tant — but the lat­est re­search tells us it ’s even more im­por­tant than we thought. What you eat be­fore con­cep­tion mat­ters too!

The first 1000 days

There’s a crit­i­cal time win­dow la­belled the ‘first 1000 days’, which runs from be­fore con­cep­tion un­til af­ter birth. This is when nutri­tion can re­ally im­pact the ‘epi­ge­net­ics’ of your baby — that is, the way the genes you pass on to your child are

ex­pressed (with­out al­ter­ing the un­der­ly­ing DNA). But what to eat dur­ing the lead-up to con­cep­tion, dur­ing preg­nancy and af­ter birth can be con­fus­ing, es­pe­cially when you’re fac­ing hor­mone fluc­tu­a­tions, morn­ing sick­ness and an ar­ray of con­flict­ing ad­vice from var­i­ous friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

New re­search has clar­i­fied some of the most im­por­tant di­etary changes you can make dur­ing those very im­por­tant first 1000 days.

Try­ing to fall preg­nant

If you’re plan­ning to start a fam­ily, or have been try­ing for some time, the sim­plest thing you can do is set out to im­prove your diet and life­style.

The ear­lier you make healthy changes, the bet­ter — but in re­al­ity 6–12 months prior to con­cep­tion is usu­ally ideal. The fol­low­ing four steps will help pre­pare your body for hav­ing a baby.

1 Get on top of your health

Sev­eral di­etary-re­lated health con­di­tions may im­pact your abil­ity to con­ceive, in­clud­ing poly­cys­tic ovar­ian syn­drome (PCOS), hy­pothy­roidism, Crohn’s dis­ease, en­dometrio­sis and coeliac dis­ease. Luck­ily these can be sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved with diet. For ev­ery point over a body mass in­dex (BMI) of 29, your chance of be­com­ing preg­nant de­creases by 4 per cent . So a woman with a BMI of 45 has 60 per cent less chance than if she slimmed to a BMI of 25.

Re­gard­less of BMI, too much body fat can also re­duce the health of your eggs, your abil­ity to ovu­late and even the like­li­hood of your em­bryo im­plant­ing. Too lit­tle body fat can have sim­i­lar con­se­quences.

3 Eat a more nu­tri­tious diet

Re­search by Har­vard Med­i­cal School found that women who adopted five healthy di­etary changes recorded a 69 per cent re­duced in­fer­til­ity rate com­pared to women who adopted none.

Try to eat plenty of good fats, raise your plant-based pro­tein in­take, re­duce your con­sump­tion of re­fined sugar and in­clude ad­e­quate amounts of dairy prod­ucts. For a free seven-day preg­nancy meal plan, you can visit melaniem­c­grice.com/ preg­nancy.

4 Boost your mi­cronu­tri­ent in­take

Most women should take an ad­di­tional 400μg folic acid and 150μg io­dine at least one month prior to try­ing to con­ceive. It’s also wise to get a blood test to check whether any other mi­cronu­tri­ents need to be sup­ple­mented.

2 Main­tain a healthy weight

Baby on board

You need to main­tain a nu­tri­tious diet through­out your preg­nancy, but what about the well-worn the­ory that you have to eat for two? And how much weight gain is con­sid­ered too much?


Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, be­ing preg­nant does not mean lit­er­ally ‘eat­ing for two’. In fact, un­less you’re un­der­weight be­fore fall­ing preg­nant or will have a mul­ti­ple birth, it’s rec­om­mended you don’t gain more than 2kg through­out the first trimester.

By week 12 your baby is only the size of a plum, so he or she cer­tainly doesn’t need a whole ex­tra bowl of pasta! In the first trimester, how­ever, your re­quire­ments for many vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and omega-3 fats will in­crease right from the start — so fo­cus on eat­ing qual­ity, nutri­ent-rich food. Dur­ing the sec­ond and third trimesters, in­crease your di­etary in­take slightly with an ex­tra daily serve of meat and of grains.


Women's preg­nancy weight gain goals will vary de­pend­ing upon their BMI at con­cep­tion and how many ba­bies they are hav­ing. How­ever, if you have a healthy BMI at con­cep­tion (18.5–25 points), you should aim for 11.5–16kg to­tal weight gain dur­ing preg­nancy — or ap­prox­i­mately 300 grams per week through­out the sec­ond and third trimesters.

Too much weight gain dur­ing preg­nancy can raise your risk of ges­ta­tional di­a­betes, mis­car­riage or tear­ing dur­ing birthing, as well as in­creas­ing your baby’s risk of child­hood obe­sity. So fo­cus on eat­ing a nu­tri­tious diet and watch­ing your por­tion sizes.


Nau­sea is usu­ally one of the first hur­dles that a woman en­coun­ters when she be­comes preg­nant. While some get away with feel­ing a bit nau­seous now and again, oth­ers find they have to en­dure morn­ing sick­ness through­out their preg­nancy.

Un­for­tu­nately, many women find that eat­ing is one of the eas­i­est ways to re­duce their nau­sea. If you're bat­tling nau­sea, try halv­ing your meals and

graz­ing on small, reg­u­lar por­tions dur­ing the day. Make an ef­fort to eat light meals and snacks like fresh fruit, whole­grain toast with av­o­cado, nuts, ce­real and milk, and veg­etable soup — and al­ways drink plenty of wa­ter.

The ‘fourth’ trimester

Wel­come to sleep­less nights and new­born cuddles! While it’s easy to fo­cus on your new baby’s re­quire­ments ahead of your own needs, the two are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.


Af­ter giv­ing birth, your di­etary re­quire­ments will change yet again, es­pe­cially if you are breast­feed­ing. Your pro­tein needs will re­main higher than usual to help heal any tears or sur­gi­cal scars. If you are breast­feed­ing, your fluid and car­bo­hy­drate needs will also in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly.

Com­pared to your usual diet, aim to have an ad­di­tional tub of re­duced-fat yo­ghurt or glass of milk, and give your­self three ex­tra serves of grains each day. A serve of grains is equal to one slice of bread, three crisp­breads or half a cup of cooked rice, pasta or noo­dles — and choose whole­grain op­tions if you can.

Non-breast­feed­ing mums don’t need these ad­di­tions to nutri­tion, so af­ter your wounds have fully healed, you can go back to your usual healthy diet.

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