04/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Your Body Nutritionally Ready for Pregnancy?

During pregnancy the old saying "you are what you eat" turns into "your baby will BE what you eat." It is crucial that your body is "fully stocked up" on all the nutrients that a baby will need before and throughout pregnancy. A growing fetus needs different amounts of different nutrients at all times of the day to grow and develop all the various organs and tissues at varying speeds at any specific time. To give your baby the best possible health possible, it's important to eat super healthy and take a complete prenatal multi vitamin supplement before, during and after pregnancy through nursing. A pregnant mom does eat for 2, sort of. She only needs 500 extra calories a day (about 2 large bananas) if she's exercising (300 calories if not), but double to triple of many nutrients. It's difficult to fit that much nutrition into a couple of bananas (let alone a doughnut...) so healthy nutrient dense foods is vital.

Anything you eat with empty calories (white flour, rice, sugar, pasta, processed foods, soda, fried foods) will not only not help your growing baby, it may hamper your baby's development and may cause birth defects from malnutrition, as well as add to your hip circumference. The wrong foods can cause gestational diabetes and/or hypertension that can lead to preeclampsia, premature delivery and its devastating effects on your baby's future health.

You're surely aware of the need for Folate and thanks to the March of Dimes most of our grains are now fortified with Folic acid. And thanks to Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, many corn products are also fortified. This fortification has lowered the birth-defects of spina bifida by almost 30% But many people are unable to digest and metabolize Folic Acid into Folate (the natural form found in unprocessed foods). This has caused certain health problems in the general population. This makes the case stronger for consuming unprocessed foods of whole grains, fruits and veggies. Studies have also shown that taking supplements are more effective than eating fortified foods. This is probably because Folate does not work alone. Just like you can't bake a cake with just flour, Folate has a few helpers like; vitamin B6 and B12, Choline, iron, protein, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, help make red blood cells that carry oxygen to the baby for growth and development, and in adults for tissue repair and maintenance.

Sufficient protein is crucial, as we are made of protein. If you find yourself short or in need for extra protein (pregnancy doubles protein needs) a protein shake could come in handy.

Otherwise, make sure to consume enough animal protein (meat, fish, fowl, eggs etc..) as a pure vegan diet may cause birth defects, especially in boys. Plant foods lack completely in vitamin B12 (without B12, baby can't grow), and do not supply sufficient B6, iron, zinc, protein (all are Folate helpers), nor brain developing cholesterol and fish oils. However, as important as supplements are, they are not and must not be substitutes for a well balanced nutritional intake while pregnant. Foods contain so many phyto nutrients, enzymes and substances that help our bodies work properly that we haven't been able to replicate or don't all know of yet.

Other equally important nutrients are: Omega 3 fatty acid fish oil for brain development and stabilization of moms moods to help prevent depression, vitamin C for the immune system and absorption of most other nutrients, vitamin E as an anti oxidant and for skin, nails etc.... Iron is also often needed as most of us are deficient and prenatal needs triple.

Calcium is crucial even as Mother Nature may triple our calcium absorption during pregnancy to ensure a sufficient supply for the baby; however, if your calcium intake is insufficient your baby will literally eat off of your bones, possibly leaving you with osteoporosis later. If you are getting leg cramps or heart burn you may need extra calcium and/or magnesium. Actually all women need extra calcium from childhood to ensure lifelong bone strength. Don't forget to get your vitamin D3 from 10-15 minutes of daily unprotected sun shine on your skin (protect your face, but leave an arm or two without it for 10 minutes). Your body's natural vitamin D production is vital for proper calcium absorption (foods and supplements help, but not as well as a little sunshine) as well as is daily weight bearing exercise. In fact, without D and exercise, no amount of calcium will help your bones.

Acidophilus and pro-biotics helps with digestion, calming of the stomach flora and constipation. If you've consumed a less than a super healthy food intake, Milk Thistle may help detoxify your liver and kidneys. If you end up with a cold while pregnant a little extra vitamin C and E helps, which is about the only safe cold remedy while pregnant. No drugs, not even Tylenol. Headaches may be reduced by a concentrated calcium powders like CALMAC. Calcium is a natural muscle relaxer.

Be careful when selecting a prenatal vitamin. Make sure it has less than 5000 IU's of vitamin A (more can cause birth defects). Beta Carotene is fine. Avoid Red Raspberry Leaf as this promotes uterine contractions. Raspberry Leaf is better used to tone the uterus in preparation for pregnancy, at 39-40 weeks gestation to facilitate labor and postpartum to re-tone the uterus.

Avoid most herbs while pregnant, such as Gingko biloba, ginseng, Echinacea, Golden seal, licorice root, St. John's Wort, Valerian, Kava etc....St. John's Wort may also make conception difficult by hardening the eggs shell making sperm penetrate difficult. Other foods that may hamper conception are: wheat, gluten, sugar, and caffeine.

I shouldn't have to mention this, but: don't even consider smoking, alcohol or drugs while pregnant.

Once your beautiful bundles of joy(s) have been born, your nutritional needs increase again beyond pregnancy needs. Continuing your prenatal vitamins, a nutrient dense diet, and avoiding chemical exposures of all kinds (processed and fried foods, drugs, alcohol, smoking etc...) is crucial for your nursing baby that is now even more demanding of your nutrients. Never forget: your baby will be, what you eat (or don't). Almost everything you consume transfers through your breast milk now as it did through the placenta during pregnancy. This is an even more important time for you take prenatal vitamins throughout nursing. The high levels of Omega Fatty Acids in the Healthy Baby Vitamins were specifically designed for baby's brain development and to help prevent postpartum depression. You can in most cases, with sufficient omegas, B vitamins; sunshine (vitamin D3) and exercise prevent postpartum depression.

Good nutrition and daily exercise you will get your body back to normal and feel better so much faster.