Seven Essential Nutrients for Mums-to-Be
Providing the best possible start in life
Pregnancy is truly a special time in a woman’s life, yet a critical time for nutritional needs for the optimal health of mum and proper development of her child. This is especially true in the first month or two of pregnancy, a time when some women may not be aware they are pregnant. Here we have listed the seven most important nutrients for expectant mums-to-be.
Most women don’t get enough folate. Folic acid requirements double during pregnancy and deficiencies of this important nutrient have been linked to birth defects and low-birth-weight infants. All women of childbearing age should eat a healthy diet including foods that contain folate. Green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of folate. In fact, folic acid was so named because it is present in high amounts in “foliage.”
The Fat Facts of Life
Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are essential for pre and postnatal development – shown to support brain, visual, and nervous system function. Pregnant mums and their babies have much to gain from getting enough of these essential fats, particularly DHA. Supplementation with a premium purified fish oil product is an ideal solution for ensuring adequate levels of DHA and further eliminating the risk of toxins. International recommendations suggest a minimum daily intake of 300 mg of DHA when pregnant and nursing.
Get your D (carefully)
During pregnancy, vitamin D needs increase significantly, particularly in the second and third trimesters, when the baby’s bones, brain, and nervous system are developing. Adequate vitamin D may contribute to improving several pregnancy outcomes, including decreased risk of prematurity, higher birth weight, and improved infant bone formation. Vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol) is the natural form of vitamin D produced in the body through exposure to sunlight. Between 10-20 minutes per day of sun exposure (without sunscreen) should provide adequate levels for most people. However, Australia also has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world - so it’s a tricky balance. An easy way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D3 is via supplementation. (As with any supplement, it is best to consult your healthcare professional first).
Proper development of foetal bones requires an adequate maternal intake of calcium. Calcium not supplied by the mother’s diet for the baby will be taken from the mother’s bones, which can lead to osteoporosis in the mother later in life. Calcium can be found in milk and milk products, leafy green vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds.
Another nutrient for which there is an increased demand during pregnancy is iron. Iron supplies oxygen and nutrients to the developing baby, supports placental function, is essential for production of red blood cells, protects against blood loss during delivery, and provides storage iron for the first six months of life. Red meat, fish, and poultry are the best sources of dietary iron and provide a form of iron called heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron, which is the type of iron found in vegetarian sources such as beans, grains, and vegetables.
Last but not least
Pregnant women need higher levels of iodine, as lack of this nutrient can harm normal development in a baby. Seafood is a valuable source of iodine, however it is recommended pregnant women, or women intending to become pregnant, should take care to avoid seafood that may contain large amounts of mercury. It is recommended that all women who are pregnant, breast feeding or considering pregnancy visit their health practitioner who will most likely prescribe iodine to ensure their needs are met.
Editors note: Always consult your healthcare professional before taking any supplement. It is assumed these seven essential nutrients are in addition to adequate intake of the three vital building blocks of proper nutrition - protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbohydrates.