Trying to get pregnant? Then you’re probably using prenatal vitamins, and generally watching what you eat in the name of fertility and healthy babies.
But it’s not just what you eat once you’re “trying” that affects your fertility and future baby’s health. It turns out, what you eat as a child also influences your chances of getting pregnant and of having a healthy pregnancy and baby years later.
Why does your nutrition as a little girl affect your ability to have little boys and girls later on? Simply put, because decades before you try to put a bun in your oven, the oven’s already built and preheating. For instance, childhood nutrition influences a woman’s risk of developing gestational hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy or delivering early, both of which can negatively affect her children’s health well into adulthood.
Childhood nutrition can influence maternal-fetal health by raising one’s likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome before or during pregnancy. Poor nutrition and weight gain are leading causes of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors – such as high blood sugar that raise your risk for health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. But metabolic syndrome is also associated with fertility problems and, according to the International Diabetes Foundation, can raise the risk of developing potentially fatal pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.
It’s never too late, though, to start improving your nutrition to increase your fertility. And, if you already have daughters, it’s never too early to make sure they get the nutrients they need to become happy, healthy moms.
Iron. While women of all ages can skimp on this vitamin, iron deficiency is especially common in women of childbearing age, as menstrual blood loss can cause the body’s iron levels to decrease Also, during pregnancy, women often need more iron to support their growing baby. The best sources include meats, soybeans, fortified cereals, lentils and spinach.
Iodine. Without enough iodine, children can suffer from poor cognitive development. And while iodized salt can increase your iodine intake, that’s not an excuse to start pouring salt on everything you eat. Instead, start eating more seafood, a leading source of dietary iodine, as well as dairy, whole grains, eggs and poultry.
Folic acid. Low folic acid intake is linked to birth defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord. Turn to whole wheat, beans, spinach, beef and, if needed, supplements, to get the folic acid you need.
B12. Frequently lacking in vegetarians B12 is most often found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs and dairy, as well as fortified cereals. And if you are low in B12, your baby will be, too, as B12 crosses the placenta and is found in breast milk. Deficiencies can lead to neurological deficits.
Calcium. Every woman needs calcium to keep her bones – and those of her growing babies – strong. But without enough, women are also at an increased risk of hypertension during pregnancy. To get more calcium, turn to dairy, sardines and spinach.
Vitamin D. While fish, egg yolks, mushrooms and D-fortified varieties of dairy and breakfast cereals do contain a decent amount of the sunshine vitamin, most of what we get is from sun exposure. So if you’re deficient, you may need to talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.