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Health And Beauty: Preconception and pregnancy

Preconception and pregnancyYour weight
Expert advice to help you maintain a healthy weight

Dissatisfied with your weight?
We're bombarded with scare stories about weight, from size zero to the obesity 'epidemic'. But a healthy weight is determined by different factors for each of us. Our expert advice is designed to help you achieve and maintain a healthy, life-enhancing weight.

Overweight or underweight?
Being the right weight has a positive effect on wellbeing but also on our health, as being the wrong weight can cause a range of medical problems.

When planning for a baby, a healthy diet will provide you and your partner with the nutrients needed to prepare your body for conception. When you become pregnant, what you eat is also vital for the development and well-being of your unborn baby and may affect its future health.

Body weight and fertility
Being a healthy body weight is important before pregnancy. If you're very underweight, it can be more difficult to conceive. Being obese may also cause problems with conceiving especially if you suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome. Women who are obese while pregnant also increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, delivery and in the few days after birth.

The ideal weight range is usually calculated using the body mass index (BMI). A BMI between 18.5 to 25 is a healthy weight for most people and associated with relatively low risks. For people with a BMI over 30, even a small weight loss can greatly increase your ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. Take steps either to lose or gain weight in a sensible way before you become pregnant. Crash dieting is not good for your health, and limiting your range of foods may deplete your nutrient stores. If you're concerned about your weight, you may find it useful to speak to your doctor or practice nurse for further advice.

and your partner…
Eating a healthy diet and being the right body weight is important for men who are hoping to become dads, too. There have been many studies looking at specific nutrients such as zinc and selenium and male sperm quality. However, the key messages for men are:

Aim to be the right weight for your height by eating sensibly and exercising on a regular basis
Follow the principles of healthy eating. Eating a variety of foods will help ensure you have all the nutrients you need such as zinc and selenium
Stick firmly within the alcohol limits. Do not exceed three to four units per day on a regular basis, preferably with some alcohol-free days each week

A balanced diet
With a few exceptions, you can continue to eat a normal, healthy diet before and during pregnancy. This includes regular meals and snacks, and a sensible healthy eating regime containing:

plenty of starchy carbohydrates - bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, chapattis, couscous and potatoes
plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions a day
low or reduced fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, fromage frais and pasteurised cheeses
lean sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs (well-cooked), beans and pulses
not too many fat-rich and sugary foods
at least eight medium glasses of fluid each day
very little or no alcohol

Generally, pregnancy can progress well with the need for only very small increases in protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. The digestive system in pregnant women changes and becomes more efficient at absorbing certain nutrients. In fact, with only a few exceptions, most of the additional nutrient needs of pregnancy can be met by eating a well-balanced and varied diet. So the old adage 'eating for two' doesn't mean you should eat twice as much food.

Weight gain
Optimum weight gain in pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnant weight. The baby and amniotic fluid are only a small part of the weight gain, the rest is an increase in the mother's fat stores to provide an energy reserve for later breastfeeding. There are no specific recommendations for pregnancy weight gain in the UK. However in the USA, thinner women are encouraged to gain a little more weight, anywhere between 12.8kg and 18kg (28lb to 40lb), while women of an average weight should aim for between 11.5kg and 16kg (25lb to 35lb). Overweight and obese women should aim to gain less weight and this should be discussed with your midwife or health care provider.

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