I’m surprised how many of my pregnant patients receive little more nutritional instruction than “take a prenatal vitamin” and “don’t drink.” A woman’s body requires essential nutrients in order to maintain the health of both mom and baby during the pregnancy.
Expecting mothers may find the significant amount of information concerning pregnancy nutrition to be lengthy and confusing. The following guideline will provide a basic explanation of the most important supplements to consider taking during pregnancy. Keep in mind that all women are different and that when seeking information about nutritional supplementation during pregnancy a conversation should be had with the physician(s) and/or midwife supervising the pregnancy.
Nutrition and Pregnancy
Common sense dictates that during pregnancy, as two bodies are being fueled within one, the need for specific vitamins and minerals will increase. This is especially true of Folic Acid and Iron. Choosemyplate.gov offers special recommendations to pregnant women concerning these two nutrients.
Folic acid, also known as folate, is an essential nutrient that helps the development of a fetus’ brain and spine. Additionally, adequate amounts of folic acid reduces the risks of developing birth defects such as congenital heart defects and cleft palates. Folic acid supplementation is recommended prior to and during pregnancy. The recommended dosage of Folic Acid during pregnancy is 600mcg daily, which is the typical amount contained in standard pre-natal vitamins. Foods containing folate include fortified cereals, spinach, beans, asparagus, oranges and peanuts. There is some evidence to suggest that folate obtained naturally from foods is safer and better absorbed than synthetic “folic acid.”
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation identifies the importance of iron during pregnancy to maintain the function of hemoglobin (the substance in our blood carrying oxygen throughout the body), as well as to increase the body’s resistance to stress and disease. Additionally, iron supplementation during pregnancy is important as it prevents the development of anemia. Iron promotes the development of blood, and keeps the blood healthy. A fetus will store iron to use in the first few months of life. The recommended amount of Iron is 27mg daily for pregnant woman. Foods containing iron include lean beef (grass fed is best), chicken, egg yolk, fish, lentils, soy beans, brussel sprouts, lima beans, berries, breads and cereals and peanut butter. It is important to note that the absorption of iron can be inhibited by caffeine (which should be limited during pregnancy anyway). Also keep in mind that iron supplementation can cause constipation, this can be combatted by increasing your fiber intake and ensuring adequate hydration by drinking at least 8 cups of fluid daily. Moderate exercise as allowed by your physician is another method of managing constipation.
Pregnant women need calcium. The fetus requires calcium for healthy growth and development and if an inadequate amount of calcium is being consumed the nutrient will be leached from existing sources of calcium, the pregnant mother’s bones. The Mayo Clinic recommended dose of calcium for pregnant mothers is 1,000mg daily, and 1,300mg daily for pregnant teenagers. Foods that contain calcium include fortified cereals, milk, yogurt, cheese, salmon, spinach, and fortified juice.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient to support the growth of the baby’s bones and teeth. Additionally and in general health, Vitamin D is associated with immune function, healthy cell division, and bone health. It is essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. The Mayo Clinic recommended dose for pregnant women is 600 international units daily. Foods containing Vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon), fortified juice, milk, and eggs. A Vitamin D level from your physician can be helpful as a guide.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-Research.com has identified many benefits of consuming Omega 3 Fatty Acids during pregnancy. Research suggests that consuming polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can increase gestational length as well as reduce the risk of pregnancy complications. Because Omega 3s are associated with reducing inflammation it is believed that their consumption during pregnancy can prevent several placental disorders associated with placental inflammation.
Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically for pregnant and breast feeding women. The main difference between prenatals and your typical multivitamin is the amount of folic acid, iron, and calcium. Prenatal vitamins offer higher strengths of folic acid, iron, and calcium, as these are the most essential nutrients to consume during pregnancy. The strengths of these supplements is nearly doubled in a prenatal vitamin when compared to the strengths contained in a general multiple vitamin supplements.
Talk to your Doctor
Nutritional supplementation is a prime topic of interest for expecting mothers. However, pregnant mothers must take into consideration that supplementation coincides with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Any consideration of any nutritional supplementation should be discussed a personal physician.