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Nutritional Health During Reproductive Years

Pregnancy is a time of excitement and change; a time when most women make a special effort to eat well and take care of themselves. But, preparing for a pregnancy should start long before conception. You can begin being a responsible, loving mother even before you become pregnant. Eating well and all the necessary nutrients can help prepare your body for pregnancy to support your baby's growth and development are there right from the start. While balanced nutrition, regular exercise and a healthy weight range should be a priority for all women, this advice takes on new importance for women who wish to become, or have recently become, mothers.

Good nutrition helps a woman's body prepare for motherhood. The complex processes that occur during pregnancy and lactation require a rich supply of protein, vitamins and minerals for both mother and child. If the mother's body has built stores of nutrients over months and years before conception, the added demands of pregnancy and lactation can be met with modest adjustments to mother's diet. If, however, nutrient stores are low at the start of pregnancy, women run a greater risk of nutrition-related problems such as anemia or pregnancy difficulties.

Pre-pregnancy weight range is an important factor in a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy. Women who enter pregnancy with weights at or near the normal range tend to have easier pregnancies and healthier babies. This is not to say dieting to lose weight prior to pregnancy is always a healthy measure. Pre-pregnancy weight loss diets should be carefully planned to include all key nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy start. Improper dieting or rapid weight loss can interfere with the menstrual cycle and reduce fertility. If pregnancy does occur while a woman is following an overly-restrictive diet, the early weeks of pregnancy can be effected. This is because women often don't know they are pregnant until 6-8 weeks into the pregnancy. By the time a poor diet is corrected, early development of the embryo can be well underway.

Having healthy eating behaviors in place before conception helps to assure that key nutrients are available for the embryo during its early weeks of life. As the pregnancy advances into the second and third trimesters, the fetus grows quickly in size and form. During these months, the pregnancy requires women to eat more calories, protein, key vitamins and several important minerals in order to "keep up" with the baby's growth.

Once the baby is delivered, breastfeeding mothers will find meeting nutritional needs is important for their health, energy and milk production. Women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed will want to build back nutrient stores, health and energy while modifying calories to facilitate a gradual return to a healthy weight range. And, for some, preparation of their body for the next pregnancy may begin.


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