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Folate is just the beginning, writes Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist Stefanie Valakas of The Dietologist.

If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant and have already started to consider your diet and supplements, then pat yourself on the back – you’re already off to a good start for you and your bub. The preconception period can begin as much as 12 months before conception, and the nutrition and lifestyle practices you put in place then can have a big impact on your child’s future health outcomes. So, the longer you give yourself to set up healthy habits, the better.

What’s all the fuss about folic acid?

You might have heard about folic acid or folate as an important preconception supplement to help your baby grow and reduce the risk of them being born with a neural tube defect like spina bifida.

It’s quite common for women to be low in folate, which is found naturally in foods like green leafy vegetables, broccoli, avocado, lentils and, in Australia, fortified cereals and breads. For this reason, Australian government guidelines recommend supplementing with 400 micrograms of folic acid per day from one month before you become pregnant through to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

While folic acid is important, it’s far from the only nutrient to know about in the preconception period. If you’re thinking about pregnancy, here are three more to have on your radar (and on your plate!).

Iron

Why you need it: Your daily prenatal intake of iron improves the birth weight of your baby, according to a comprehensive survey of 92 separate studies. However, a recent Australian study conducted by my colleague Kaylee Slater, found the average iron intake for pregnant women was less than half the population target (10.1 mg/day, compared with a target of 22 mg/day).

Where to find it: Iron-rich foods include lean red meat, seafood and poultry as well as tofu and some wholegrains. Pregnancy targets for iron intake are high, so supplementation may also be necessary.

Iodine

Why you need it: This essential mineral is an important component for thyroid hormone production. It helps to regulate your ovulation and metabolism and, once you become pregnant, also contributes to your baby’s growth and brain development.

Where to find it: Oysters, tinned salmon and sushi with seaweed are all sources of iodine. In Australia, it’s also possible to buy iodised salt, which is used in most breads.

Vitamin D

Why you need it: Low levels of vitamin D in pregnancy have been associated with an increased risk for gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, plus eczema, asthma and food allergies in your baby.

Where to find it: Oily fish such as salmon and sardines, egg yolks and fortified breads and cereals are all good sources of vitamin D. Sunshine is too, so aim for safe sun exposure each day. It’s also important to eat healthy fats found in avocado, extra virgin olive oil and nuts and seeds, which help your body absorb vitamin D.

Remember: you don’t have to figure this all out for yourself. Prior to conceiving, it’s important to speak to your GP to organise tests to understand your current nutritional status. Together with your dietician, you can then put a plan in place that’s tailored to your specific needs.

Find out more about Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine and Vitamin D at Perdays.

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  • I took a women’s multivitamin every day.

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  • I always took a pregnancy multivitamin and also extra vitamin d and iron tablets as my levels were always low…

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  • I never knew that about vitamin D. Interesting. Thank you

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  • I took and still take a good multi vitamin

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  • I got a full blood test done well before trying to fall pregnant – everything was good, apart from my iron levels. I had to get that sorted before I started trying!

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  • So important to take all the necessary vitamins when pregnant

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  • Always good to tell your gp before you think about trying. Theres so much pre-care!

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  • It’s always good to be prepared if you are trying, but babies make a surprise sometimes!

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  • You don’t want to take risks take the well known brands

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  • Always a good idea to consult your doctor on what supplements you might need when trying to get pregnant or for your health in general

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  • They always say take if you are trying but sometimes you’re not trying when it happens

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  • Nice article for those wanting to conceive

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  • I’m in 2 minds with all these articles, back in the day my mum had 4 girls and you know what she took? Nothing. She just ate right. I did take Elevit when I fell pregnant but I am just not sure how effective they all are

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  • I took elevit and fefol in my pregnancies

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  • Good to know about the added needs on top of folic acid.
    My gf has been trying to fall pregnant for awhile now so will send her this article to make sure she covers the extra points.

    Reply

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