Pregnancy and Nutrition: important nutrients
Getting enough nutrients is important for anyone's health, but when a person becomes pregnant or trying to conceive, their body requires additional vitamins to better nurture themselves and growing child.
Pregnancy is associated with increased nutritional needs due to physiologic changes of the woman and the metabolic demands of the foetus. Proper maternal nutrition during pregnancy is imperative for the health of both the woman and her offspring. Maternal malnutrition during pregnancy has been associated with adverse outcomes, including increased risk of maternal and infant mortality, as well as low birth weight in new-borns, and birth defects.
Between morning sickness, fleeting cravings, random aversions, and bad eating habits, getting good nutrition during pregnancy is not that easy. Multiple micronutrient deficiencies are common in pregnant women as daily requirements for many micronutrients during pregnancy are much higher to meet the physiologic changes and increased nutritional needs of pregnancy, even if you think you are eating a balanced diet, it’s still possible to miss some essential nutrients. Pregnant women are encouraged to take prenatal vitamins which is a simple way to fill in any gaps and support both the mother’s body and the baby’s growth and development. Good nutritional status prior to conception is also an important foundation for a healthy pregnancy.
Prenatal Vitamins: Why is it Important to Take Them?
Pregnant women have increased nutritional demands, both because of the needs of the baby developing inside and the changes that their body is going through to accommodate the pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are supplements taken both before and during pregnancy to replace any nutrients a foetus takes from the circulation of the Mother. Prenatal vitamins benefit the pregnant individual, but they can also contribute to the early positive development of the foetus. Many prenatal vitamins are typically multi-functional, meaning they provide a combination of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients when taken.
Benefits of Taking Prenatal Vitamins:
For certain vitamins and supplements, there are specific benefits. For example, folic acid supplementation helps to prevent certain birth defects (like spina bifida) in babies. Taking iron helps to prevent anaemia (low blood count), which may lead to fatigue and fainting. Taking DHA (a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid) may improve foetal neural development and foetal growth when taken in the third trimester. Extra calcium is good for bones, and vitamin B6 may be useful for suppressing nausea in pregnancy.
Timing: The Best Time Start and Stop Taking Prenatal Vitamins:
You should start using a multivitamin that contains folic acid whenever you think you might conceive. Because the kind of birth defects that arise from a lack of folic acid start to form before many women even realize they are pregnant, it’s important to supplement this nutrient even before conception.
Other nutrient demands increase only after pregnancy starts, so it doesn’t have to be a “prenatal vitamin” until after the pregnancy test is positive. Most vitamin requirements increase as the foetus grows, someone who is pregnant should definitely be taking prenatal vitamins throughout their pregnancy, but especially during the second half of it. Some women have particular requirements that go beyond the standard, for example: women pregnant with twins or triplets, suffering from illness and weakness may require more supplementation.
- You should continue to take a prenatal vitamin for the duration of breastfeeding, however long that may be. This is because lactation (making breast milk) also increases nutritional needs.
- Consult with your health care provider to ensure you're taking the right number of vitamins for your particular pregnancy.
Key Nutrients That Are Crucial for a Healthy Pregnancy:
Folate is an essential vitamin that helps the body complete a lot of different tasks. It's also commonly prescribed as a supplement because a folate deficiency can lead to a certain type of anaemia (a condition related to a lack of healthy red blood cells) and can also, in some cases, lead to some spinal defects in the foetus.
- In particular, someone who has a folate deficiency or has had a spinal-cord-related defect come up during a past pregnancy may be advised to take a much higher dosage of folate prior to conception to lower the chances of the same defect.
Is vitally important during pregnancy. Iron produces haemoglobin, which aids the transportation of oxygen around your body. In pregnancy, the foetus requires a constant flow of oxygen and blood, so the demand for iron increases. Your body during pregnancy needs double the amount of iron and extra iron supplementation is oftentimes necessary. Low levels of iron can make you feel fatigued, light-headed, and dizzy. Iron deficiency can increase the pregnant person's risk of iron-deficiency anaemia and the infant's risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and low levels of iron.
Like iron Vitamin B12 is essential to health of the foetus due to its critical role in preventing neurological and neural tube defects. In addition to supporting the production of DNA, this nutrient power the body’s blood and nerve cell function. A deficiency may be a significant risk in pregnancy, with its leading to pre-eclampsia and early miscarriage. The neurological and developmental delays in infants are also irreparable.
- General weakness and fatigue are tell-tell signs of poor vitamin B12 stores.
- You may also feel low and having the ‘blues' as vitamin B12 impacts mood.
- In pregnancy, you may need 1.5mg of vitamin B12 every day.
Calcium intake is important when pregnant. By the time you reach your third trimester, your calcium demands soar when the baby’s skeleton begins to develop. The growing baby takes what nutrients it needs from the mother’s supplies, so if you don’t have enough calcium it will be leached from your bones.
- Make a conscious effort to pack your diet with the essential nutrients and supplement to reinforce your body’s stores.
- Recommended dose of calcium is 1,200mg per day for pregnant women.
Vitamin D is another crucial nutrient, it’s important for pregnant people to get enough vitamin D as it has been linked to having a number of possible benefits, including strengthening bones in pregnant people and working with calcium, vitamin D aids the growth of the baby’s teeth and bones.
Research suggests women who take high doses of vitamin during pregnancy have reduce risk of complications, including gestational diabetes, preterm birth and infection.
- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host of health problems.
- Depleted vitamin D stores can trigger fatigue, tiredness, sluggishness, and low mood.
- You can get vitamin D naturally when the skin’s exposed to sunlight, you can also find it in some foods.
- It can be difficult to meet your vitamin D requirements from food alone and recommenced to take a good quality vitamin D supplement that delivers 10 µg daily to cover any nutritional shortfalls.
Omegas: Essential Fatty Acids
Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) are the building blocks of the fats (technically called lipids) that help the body function normally. They are important for both your own health and your baby’s development throughout pregnancy.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are two families of LCPs and named essential fatty acids because the body is unable to make them, so they can only be obtained through your diet.
As types of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 have varying properties and different benefits for your baby. Omega-6 has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on heart health due to its ability to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. In a healthy ratio, the two LCPs are also linked to reducing childhood asthma.
Omega-6 is found in many foods such as vegetable oils and animal products, so we tend to get an adequate amount in our diets. While most people get healthy levels of omega-6 without any effort many people, including expectant mothers may not be getting enough omega-3.
Research shows that omega-3 is especially important during late pregnancy and the first few months after birth.
- Adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is vitally important during pregnancy as they are critical building for the baby’s rapidly developing brain, nervous system and eyes.
- Omega-3 has many benefits to your baby’s brain development during pregnancy and helps set the foundation for their learning skills throughout life.
- Reduced risk of your baby developing eczema later in life.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role in determining the length of gestation
- helping to prevent perinatal and postnatal depression
Iodine is a key nutrient during pregnancy. It’s involved in many functions and processes of your body, including making your thyroid hormones. These hormones affect the way your cell’s function, which in turn affect many processes of your body, such as your heart rate and your metabolism. Having low levels of these hormones has been linked to weight gain, fatigue and mood swings.
During pregnancy, your baby’s cells rely on your iodine intake, which is a crucial ingredient for the growing baby and is vital for the baby’s brain development, contributing to their learning and motor skills, and helping to set the stage for all future development.
- Thyroid is the engine of the body iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, which can cause miscarriages and preterm labour.
- Iodine is a trace element that is naturally present in some foods.It is essential to thyroid functionality, metabolic activity, and the proper skeletal, cognitive and central nervous system development in foetuses and infants.
- But many pregnant women do not get enough iodine especially during their first or second trimesters, so they may need an iodine supplement.
Folate is a B vitamin which is found in some foods. The manmade form is called folic acid and is in supplement form. If you’re planning to get pregnant it is important to take a folic acid supplement from 3 months before becoming pregnant. If you find out you are pregnant, try to start taking folic acid as soon as possible up to week 12 of pregnancy.
Evidence shows that taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other conditions that affect their spine and neural tube. By 12 weeks the neural tube has already grown, so taking folic acid after this point will not help your baby’s development. However, you can continue to take multivitamin with folic acid all through your pregnancy.
- You should take a supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid per day from 12 weeks before you become pregnant through to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- Helps the body produce healthy red blood cells.
- Helps maintain a healthy immune system and reduce fatigue.
Keep in mind that although knowing this information about prenatal vitamins can be useful, obtaining sufficient nutrition through a well-balanced diet is also important, it’s helpful to take a high-strength comprehensive pregnancy multivitamin to make sure that all the nutritional requirements are met.
if you are pregnant or trying to conceive you may want to contact your health care practitioner or doctor to seek professional advice.