Eating healthily and being physically active are important for a healthy pregnancy. Together they can influence your fertility and risk of complications during pregnancy. Nutrition of both parents prior to pregnancy sets up the future health pathway of your baby and family. If you are planning to have a baby, the months before pregnancy are the perfect time for women and their partners improve eating and physical activity habits, work towards a healthy weight range, and discuss whether you need a nutrient supplement with your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
For people with a disability, there can be additional challenges with sourcing and preparing healthy foods or participating in physical activity. Check our recommendations below on how to prepare your body for pregnancy or support your partner’s pregnancy. There may be areas where you need extra help and the support of others.
Before pregnancy, it is important to eat a wide variety of different foods, including:
More information about how many servings you need from each food group can be found here.
Information about alcohol and planning a pregnancy can be found here.
If you need support with getting your diet on track, you can talk with your GP, and/or an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Some states offer free online health coaching, if you live in NSW, you have access to the free Get Healthy NSW program, or if in QLD the My Health for Life program.
Our team of dietitians from the University of Newcastle have created over 175 healthy food and non-alcoholic drink recipes. These are freely available on the No Money No Time website. We have also prepared two budget friendly 7-day meal plans to help with developing healthy eating habits leading into pregnancy. This includes ideas too. We have also included the shopping list as written and image-based lists.
You can find these by clicking here.
Key nutrients needed prior to pregnancy are folate (also known as vitamin B9) and iodine. This is because of anticipated increased demands in pregnancy, and to protect against some abnormalities in your baby’s brain and nerve development during pregnancy.
Folate is required for your baby’s brain and spinal cord to develop properly1. Folic acid is a form of folate that can be added to foods or taken as a vitamin supplement. Good sources of folate (and folic acid) in the diet include green leafy vegetables (for example, spinach and broccoli), legumes, rice and most fortified breads. In Australia, it is recommended at least one month before conception that women consume the recommended dose of at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to aid the prevention of neural tube defects2. However, the amount you need to consume before pregnancy may be affected by medical conditions, such as diabetes1, conditions that effect the function of your gastrointestinal system and your ability to absorb nutrients, family history of neural tube defects, and medications you are taking.
Additionally, iodine is needed for your baby’s brain and nervous system to develop properly2. Foods that are good sources of iodine include dairy, seafood, and eggs. Due to the importance of iodine in a baby’s growth and development, it is recommended that women take a supplement of 150 micrograms (mcg) per day in the month before falling pregnant or as soon as possible after confirming they are pregnant2.The amount of iodine that you need may change if you have a thyroid condition.
What supplements you need before pregnancy is decided based on your current diet, any supplements you are currently taking and your medical history. Pregnancy supplements often contain both folic acid and iodine, as well as other vitamins and minerals. A GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian can advise you on what supplements you need, and how much you should take based on your individual medical history.
Being in the healthy weight range before pregnancy can improve your chances of falling pregnant, and healthy growth and development of your baby once you are pregnant. Being either below a healthy weight range, or above a healthy weight range can increase your risk of pregnancy complications2.
Working towards a healthy weight range is best achieved by focusing on eating healthy foods (see section 1) and being more physically active. Certain disabilities and some medications can make weight gain and adopting healthy lifestyle habits more challenging. If you need more support with managing your weight before pregnancy, you can talk with your GP and healthcare team, or an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. In some states free online health coaching is available.
RANZCOG. Pre-pregnancy Counselling. (2017). Retrieved 11 October 2021, from https://ranzcog.edu.au/RANZCOG_SITE/media/RANZCOG-MEDIA/Women%27s%20Health/Statement%20and%20guidelines/Clinical-Obstetrics/Pre-pregnancy-Counselling-(C-Obs-3a)-review-July-2017_1.pdf?ext=.pdf
3. RANZCOG – Planning for Pregnancy. (date unknown). Retrieved 11 October 2021, from https://ranzcog.edu.au/womens-health/patient-information-resources/planning-for-pregnancy