Good food is essential to a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby. If you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby soon, start eating a balanced diet and taking prenatal vitamins if you aren’t already doing so. Both you and your baby need protein, calcium, folate, iron, and many other nutrients to ensure a healthy pregnancy and to help your baby build strong bones, organs and tissues.

Eating a healthy diet prior to becoming pregnant is ideal. The best food plan consists of 3 meals and two snacks daily. Eating small frequent meals will not only keep your blood sugar stable but will also decrease your risk of morning sickness. Minimizing your alcohol and caffeine intake will help you to quit altogether once you are expecting. Some women continue to drink a glass or two of wine a week and studies show that this level of alcohol intake will not harm your baby. A glass or two of coffee or caffeinated tea however can harm you and your baby by decreasing your calcium levels.

It’s a misconception to think that you are eating for two. During your first trimester of pregnancy you don’t need any additional calories. Even at 12 weeks your baby is only the size of your fist – not a lot of calories are needed to sustain such a small miracle. From the second trimester through the cessation of your time breastfeeding you need an additional 300 calories daily over your pre-pregnancy needs. This is a small increase in calories, about the quantity in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The extra caloric intake during pregnancy should be in the form of protein as well as folate, calcium and iron rich foods. By eating extra protein during pregnancy you’ll be helping to retain your musculature, decrease your risk of developing gestational diabetes, and enabling baby to build healthy tissues. By getting enough calcium you’ll protect your bones from your baby. Without the minimum calcium intake, your baby will use the calcium from your teeth and bones to create his or her own, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Folate is needed in the first month of pregnancy to help build the spinal cord and brain. Taking folate prior to becoming pregnant is best as some women are often unaware of their pregnant condition until after the spine and brain of the baby have already been formed. Your blood volume increases dramatically while pregnant to sustain both you and baby with a healthy blood supply. It is because of this increase in blood volume that anemia is so often diagnosed in pregnancy. You’ll want to eat iron rich foods and have your iron levels checked periodically by your physician or midwife.

Your calorie intake should be about 1800 to 2500 calories per day depending on your height and weight. You’ll want about 175-200 grams of carbohydrate intake per day and at least 70 grams of protein. Your folate requirements while pregnant will be 600 micrograms (dropping to 500 when breastfeeding). Read labels carefully and remember to take “folate when you are late” and not folic acid; folic acid is a synthetic version of folate and can disrupt normal thyroid functioning. Ensure at least 1000 mg of calcium daily and 30mg of Iron (dropping to 9mg when breastfeeding).

• Protein rich foods include meat and fish, eggs, soy products, dairy, nuts and seeds
• Calcium rich foods include dairy, dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, garbanzo and kidney beans, teff and amaranth grains, figs, dates and blackstrap molasses
• Iron rich foods include beef, dark poultry meat, clams, oysters, beans and legumes, dark leafy green vegetables, prunes, pumpkin seeds, dates, blackstrap molasses and wheat and rice bran
• Folate rich foods include fortified grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils, peanuts, peas, broccoli and asparagus.

Don’t forget that regular exercise is an important part of getting ready to have a baby. Strong back and abdominal muscles will help you carry the baby with fewer backaches. Exercise will also improve your circulation and reduce ankle swelling, constipation and leg cramps. Walking, swimming, and bicycling are only a few of the ways to get your body ready for chasing down your future feisty toddler.