Nutrition Before Conception


If you are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your health care provider to get tips and advice on proper nutrition, exercise, and healthy weight gain. If you are pregnant or planning on being pregnant, proper nutrition is very important to your health and the health of your developing baby.

Health Canada encourages all women of childbearing age to take folic acid or folate supplements to ensure their babies have the folate needed to develop properly. Folic acid is a vitamin found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, fruits like oranges and strawberries, as well as legumes and whole grains. Taking folic acid and following Canada's Food Guide will lower the risk of neural tube defects (NTDS) in pregnancy and meet your extra needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Folate helps your child develop in the first few weeks – when many women do not even know they are pregnant – and also helps women post-birth. Folate is found in some foods, but many women do not get enough folic acid from their diets. Folic acid can be purchased at grocery stores and pharmacies without a prescription.

Prenatal Development & Folic Acid

The importance of folate for mom and baby.

Women are also encouraged to take Vitamin D supplements, depending on where they live and the time of year. Manitobans living further north, where there is less exposure to sunshine, for example, should talk to a health care provider to find out if they need supplements and how much vitamin D they should take. Women living in the southern part of the province should also make sure they are getting enough vitamin D for the healthy development of their child. Vitamin D levels depend on many factors including the season, the amount of sunshine exposure on one's skin, nutrition and diet and so on. Vitamin D can be found in many foods, including fortified milk (dairy, soy or rice), sardines, calcium-fortified orange juice, spinach, canned salmon and bok choy. If you are concerned about your vitamin D intake, speak to a health care provider, nutritionist or dietitian.

  • Vitamin D
    The importance of vitamin D for mom and baby.

Nutrition is not just about what you eat; it's also how much you eat. Speak to a health care provider, nutritionist or dietitian about your meals and snacks. Generally, a pregnant woman should have the following foods from each food group per day:

  • 7 to 8 vegetables and fruits – include a variety of colours; fresh, frozen, or canned
  • 6 to 7 grain products – bread, cereal, rice, pasta: half of these should be whole grain
  • 2 milk products – milk, yogurt, cheese: choose low-fat options
  • 2 meat & alternatives – fish, tofu, chicken, eggs, lentils, beans, pork, beef
  • Plus an additional 2 to 3 servings of any of the above four food groups each day

A small amount, 2 to 3 tablespoons, of unsaturated fat is part of a healthy diet. This can be found in oil used for cooking, salad dressings, mayonnaise and margarine. It is best to use canola, olive or soybean oil and soft margarines that are low in saturated and trans fats. Try to limit lard, shortening, butter, and hard margarine.

Other Resources

If you love your cup of coffee or tea in the morning and a piece of dark chocolate after dinner, you might want to pay attention to how much caffeine you consume during the day. Pregnant women are told to reduce their caffeine intake to fewer than 300 mg per day. That means about two cups (6 oz) of coffee and one piece of dark chocolate (2 oz) per day. You might be tempted to have a cup of herbal tea in the afternoon to replace your coffee, but be careful as many kinds of herbal teas are not healthy for pregnant women.