Parenting starts before conception. Yes you heard it right! The preconception period is like preparing oneself for an adventure. You train, pack and try to prepare yourself before you start the journey. No pregnancy is smooth sailing but it will be a whole lot easier once you’ve prepared your body mentally and physically to start the journey of pregnancy.

Nutrition during the Preconception stage is a vital part of this journey. Many of us think that healthy nutrition starts as soon as a woman becomes pregnant. But the truth is there is no magic formula or a list of superfoods for you. There may be a whole lot of books and articles about what to eat and what to do during pregnancy and sometimes, it is all very overwhelming. So here’s what we got for you - some quick tips and pointers that can help you as you plan to embark on this beautiful journey.

💕 Why is Preconception Care Important?

Most of us are not aware that the basis for embryonic and fetal development is set prior to conception and is modulated by nutritional lifestyle choices throughout the whole course of pregnancy. You must know that the first five weeks are critical in organ development, and any adverse influence can cause lifelong consequences. Unfortunately, this critical early time span is also the time when most women do not know about their pregnancy. If care is not taken and there is early deprivation of essential nutrients shortly before conception, it can be associated with various complications later.

🤰How much should I weigh before pregnancy?

Your pre-pregnancy weight directly influences your baby's birth weight. An unhealthy BMI (Body Mass Index) can put both you and your child at risk of increased complications. Studies show that underweight women are more likely to give birth to babies with conditions like pre-term, low birth rate, macrosomia. While the overweight women have increased risks for problems in pregnancy such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Therefore it is essential for  you  to achieve a healthy BMI.

The World Health Organization defines obesity and overweight as:

Obesity is defined as a BMI greater than or equal to 30 kilogram per meter square.

Overweight is defined as a BMI greater than or equal to 25 kilogram per meter square.

🚸 Complications during Pregnancy

1. Gestational diabetes mellitus

One of the most common diet related adverse outcomes of pregnancy is gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM. Some women are present with elevated blood glucose levels in pregnancy, although no diabetes was diagnosed before pregnancy. This condition is called gestational diabetes or gestational diabetes mellitus. Those who develop gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Several adverse outcomes are associated with diabetes during pregnancy.

Mother is at a higher risk of

The infant is at increased risk of

Hypertension, preeclampsia, cesarean delivery, and labor complications.

Macrosomia, large-for-gestational age, fetal organomegaly, shoulder dystocia, hypoglycemia and perinatal morbidity and mortality.

2. Obesity

If you enter into pregnancy being obese, you are at an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, in particular, deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin D. Evidence has shown that the risk of neural tube defects among obese pregnant women is double that of women with normal BMI. And, therefore, obese women are advised to take a higher dosage of folic acid supplementation daily, starting at least one month before conception.

✔️ What should  I follow?

Following a healthy eating pattern including a combination of foods and beverages with appropriate caloric intake is essential. Along with a well balanced diet, a physical activity routine is also important.

  1. Maintaining a healthy body weight, by engaging in regular physical activity.
  2. Choosing a variety of Nutrient Dense foods from all food groups.
  3. Include - vegetables, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat free and low fat dairy products,lean meats and poultry.
  4. Choose low GI (Glycemic Index)  carbohydrates.
  5. A diet rich in omega-3s can boost your baby's neurological and brain development before birth. It may reduce your risk of postpartum depression. Flaxseed oil, oily fish, walnuts and omega-3-fortified eggs are good sources.
The National Institutes of Health recommend that pregnant and nursing women get at least 300 milligrams of DHA in their daily diet.

6. Avoiding intake of empty calories like  - saturated fats, sugars, refined grains and sodium.

Recommendations of maximum daily intake for sugars,salt and fats are as follows:

Sugars and Fats 

Not more than 5-10% of daily consumed calories


Not more than 2.3g/day

🥑 Essential Nutrients I Need To Know!


Food sources 


Folic acid

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Legumes

  • Citrus fruits 

  • Fortified cereals 

Support healthy fetal development.

Essential to perform many body functions


  • Fruits,

  • vegetables and 

  • whole grains

Helps to prevent constipation, a common pregnancy complaint that can lead to hemorrhoids


  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Dark green leafy vegetables

(Enhanced by Vitamin C)

Supporting your 50 percent increase in blood volume.


  • Sea food

  • Iodine salt

  • Iodine fortified food

Support fetal and placental growth.


  • Dairy products

  • Dark leafy vegetables 

  • Soy products 

(Enhanced by Vitamin D)

Plays a key role during the second and third trimesters, when your baby's bone and tooth development reaches its peak.


  • Animal products 

Formation of RBCs and neurological function


  • Meat 

  • Sea food 

  • nuts

  • whole grains and 

  • legumes 

Zinc deficiencies have been linked with birth defects, restricted fetal growth and premature delivery.

⁉️ Eating For Two - Fact or Myth?

Many people still believe that a pregnant mother has to eat for two - which  is not true.When moms-to-be gain excess weight, the babies have a higher risk of obesity later in life. Plus, the mothers tend to retain extra pounds after giving birth. You do not need to eat ‘extra’ because you are pregnant. In fact, your caloric needs remain the same in the first trimester. All you need is an extra 340 calories in the second trimester and an extra 450 in the third trimester of your pregnancy.

How much weight should I expect to gain?


Weight gain 

less than 18.5 - Underweight 

13-18 kgs.

18.5 to 24.9 - Normal 

11 to 16 kg 

25 and 29.9 - Overweight

7 to 11 kgs

20 and above - Obese 

5 to 9 kgs.

⛑️ Food Safety During Pregnancy

Infectious diseases have been a major cause of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality worldwide. The three major groups of pathogens that pose the greatest threat of food borne illness to both mother and child are - Listeria, Salmonella and toxoplasmosis. Proper hygiene precautions are essential when handling raw meat or poultry. These include washing hands, work surfaces, and utensils immediately after contact. The four cornerstones of safe food preparation should be followed which include clean, separate, cook, and chill.

What are the consequences?


  • Miscarriage

  • Premature birth 

  • Low birth weight babies

  • Infant death


  • Infant hearing loss

  • Infant blindness

  • Infant mental retardation

  • Infant brain and eye problems 


  • Raw/ undercooked meat and poultry

  • Raw seafoods

  • Unpasteurized milk, Soft cheeses

  • Raw eggs and foods made from these products which have not been cooked thoroughly

  • Pre-packed salads 

(Fresh fruits, vegetables, and salad must be thoroughly washed, freshly prepared, and soon consumed.)

💪 Exercises During Pregnancy

Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve health, reduce the risk of excess weight gain, and possibly make delivery easier. Current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, both during and after pregnancy. An exercise slot does not need to be lengthy. Women can, for example, exercise five times a week for 30 minutes or 10 times a week for 15 minutes.

Some exercises which can be done during pregnancy are -

  • brisk walking, swimming, indoor stationary cycling, low impact aerobics under the guidance of a certified aerobics instructor, special exercises to prepare for labor and delivery

Remember, you should not experience pain while exercising. If you do get pain, stop exercising and talk to your healthcare professional before returning to exercise.

Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support your bladder, bowels, and uterus. Done correctly, this simple exercise can help make your delivery easier and prevent problems later with incontinence. The best part: No one can tell you're doing them, so you can practice kegels in the car, while you're sitting at your desk, or even standing in line at the grocery store. Here's how to do them right:

  • Practice squeezing as though you're stopping the flow of urine when you use the bathroom
  • Hold for three seconds, then relax for three
  • Repeat 10 times

Ayesha Baig is a Nutritionist at Arriqaaq Health who has completed her Masters in Food and Nutrition. Her focus is on creating awareness about healthy eating and lifestyle changes along with personalised meal plans to help the community.

Rafa Mariam has a Diploma in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, currently pursuing her Masters in Dietetics and Food Service Management.

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