Having the right nutrition throughout pregnancy can make a big difference to both mum and baby.
Even small deficiencies can have an impact on the foetus, and contribute to birth defects.
A small lack of many nutrients – Vitamins B1, B2, B6, folic acid, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium for example – has been shown to have an impact on birth abnormalities . When you think that by definition essential vitamins and minerals are required for growth and body functioning it is not surprising that even a slight deficiency can have an impact on a growing foetus. As worrying for a pregnant mum is the research that has shown that eve slight deficiencies during pregnancy can also predispose a foetus to chronic diseases in later life, so it is vitally important to pay attention to nutrient intake.
So as well as taking care of her own needs a pregnant mum needs to ensure that there is lot of extra good nutrition to ensure baby gets what is required – a pregnant mother’s requirement for extra calories goes up by 25%, but for extra nutrients by 50%. If you do the sums it doesn’t seem to quite add up! So achieving this without excess weight gain is usually best managed through eating a very nutrient dense diet and sensible supplementation. General weight gain due to pregnancy should be around 12 kg, much more than that will indicate excess calories are being eaten, and will therefore need to be lost later on!
The First Three Months
This is a particularly important time as all the baby’s organ systems are formed during this period. If you want to get pregnant the best thing to do is to undertake a pre-conceptual care programme to ensure optimum levels of nutrition are available to the foetus from day 1, but if you’ve been unable to do this, then starting a supplement programme immediately is advisable to ensure normal development of baby’s body systems.
It is during this time that ‘morning sickness’ is likely to occur. Experiments have shown that it is mother’s with less than ideal levels of nutrition or with sluggish liver function who are most likely to suffer from this – some for all their pregnancy. Having said that there are no hard and fast rules – every pregnancy is different.
There are concerns around supplementing vitamin A as retinol during pregnancy. It has to be said these concerns are from a queried experiment and therefore not totally proven, but it is best to cautious, and ensure that any vitamin A is taken in the form of beta-carotene, which is found in plants, as the body only converts to vitamin A what it needs in this form so there is no possibility of excess. If you have been taking Vitamin A in the form of retinol for some weeks, don’t worry as it is thought if there is any risk at all, it is if retinol is taken in high doses throughout the pregnancy. So just stop with your Vitamin A/retinol supplement andm aybe up your intake or red and orange coloured vegetables!
Despite a highly questionable study saying taking a decent multivitamin during pregnancy makes no difference, it is sensible to take a good, high potency multivitamin as well as some other key nutrients. If you took some time to study the research that indicates that hardly anyone, even if they’re not pregnant, gets all they need daily from their diet, you wouldn’t hesitate to see the logic of taking extra during this time when the body has a massive requirement for a wide range of nutrients. After all it is creating that perfect little miracle that is a baby!
So what are some of the nutrients I would recommend?
Calcium needs are increased – calcium is best obtained from and most bio available to the body from vegetable sources, especially leafy green vegetables.
Essential Fatty Acids are extremely important to the developing foetus. They are needed for development of the brain and membranes. Baby will draw whatever it needs from mum’s stores – the brain is 65% phospholipids, so any deficiency in mum (which is not unusual) will result in the body drawing on mum’s brain for use of the necessary fats. This can set the body up for post natal depression if mum’s body/brain is left too depleted. Good sources in addition to supplementation are oily fish and certain nuts and seeds.
B vitamins, especially folic acid are required to ensure the nervous system develops properly. It is especially important to supplement folic acid prior to becoming pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is to prevent neural tube defects.
Iron is another important one. It is not uncommon for pregnant women to become anaemic due to baby depleting the mother’s iron resources. Eat foods rich in iron such a green leafy vegetables, prunes, raisins, whole grains, dried apricots, dried figs, nuts and seeds and red meat (preferably organic). If you need to supplement further I always recommend an organic liquid supplement such as Floradix for best absorption, as many pills can be difficult for the body to absorb – but if you taking a tablet ensure it either has added vitamin Cor take this separately as this improves your chances of absorbing the iron!
Insufficient zinc can contribute to low birth weight so ensure at least 15 – 25 mg daily.
Magnesium is needed in a wide variety of ways, and a mineral that is often lacking in many people’s diet. Lots of green leafy vegetables help, or even taking epsom salt baths, otherwise consider a supplement.
A good probiotic to provide ‘friendly’ bacteria is helpful as this is important for immune function and to ensure good assimilation of nutrients – not only does mum need good levels of these but when baby is born, the foundation of its immune system will start to be laid down by any friendly bacteria baby can pick up from mum on its way down the birth canal and in breast milk.
A handy tip when taking supplements is to take them alongside some aloe vera juice as this increases the absorption of nutrients by the gut substantially.
Sugary foods don’t only affect teeth – they can contribute to bladder infections. As these often occur due to the bladder not fully emptying, despite the need to urinate more frequently, ensuring there is not lots of sugar in urine helps to keep bacteria at bay. And if that wasn’t reason enough, high blood sugar levels can interfere with normal metabolism and has been indicated in birth defects, as well as contributing to the risk of gestational diabetes.
Amongst the many other delights awaiting the pregnant woman may also be the following:
-Gums are more prone to bleeding and infection due to increasing oestrogen levels, so maintain good oral hygiene, ensure plenty of vitamin C, as well as co-enzyme Q10 and a good multivitamin and good quality proteins in the diet.
– Constipation often occurs due to hormonal changes on the muscles of the digestive tract. Magnesium may help alleviate this, as can drinking more water sometimes, but if serious measures are required consider investing in a home enema kit!
– Stretch marks can be minimized by taking plenty of zinc and essential fatty acids as well as Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
– Blood pressure drops can lead to dizziness, so take precautions not to stand up too quickly.
There is a minefield of advice out there, some of it contradictory, but a healthy dose of common sense is probably the best medicine – along with a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables. By far the simplest approach!