We all know how important a good diet is in maintaining a healthy pregnancy. After all, your baby relies on you for the vitamins, nutrients, and calories he needs throughout his development. A good diet is well-balanced and addresses you and your baby’s specific needs.
Ensuring you get enough nutrients during pregnancy is essential for both you and your growing baby. Iron and folic acid are two of the key nutrients you need, but how much should you be getting and what role do they play?
It is required to help the red blood cells transport oxygen around the body. During pregnancy, there’s an extra demand for iron and other vitamins, which are needed for women, the unborn baby and the placenta. Many women find their levels of iron depleting during this time, which can cause anaemia.
Anaemia is especially common in women carrying twins, in those having pregnancies close together, in vegetarians, if you’ve had a loss of blood due to piles or stomach ulcers and if you haven’t got enough folic acid in your diet. Anaemia can make you feel really tired, look pale, experience dizziness, breathlessness and palpitations. In severe cases, it can cause chest pain and headaches.
During pregnancy, your levels of iron should be checked at regular intervals. If it’s found to be particularly low, you may be prescribed an iron supplement. However, you can boost your iron levels through eating iron-rich foods.
Foods rich in iron include: Lean red meat, such as, beef or lamb, eggs, dark poultry, sardines, cashew nuts, wholemeal bread, iron-fortified cereals,
Lentils, chick peas, baked beans, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, baked potatoes and sunflower seeds.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the body doesn’t absorb iron from non-meat sources quite as easily as it does from meat. However, you can help absorption by combining iron-rich foods with food or drinks rich in vitamin C, so as having a glass or orange juice with your meal. Both tea and coffee also reduce the absorption of iron, so it’s better to drink these at least half an hour before you eat or two hours afterwards.
Folic acid is one of the most important nutrients to have during the first trimester of pregnancy and before conception, as women deficient in folic acid have a greater risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as Spina Bifida.
Ideally, folic acid supplements should be taken from the time you’re trying to conceive (if it’s a planned pregnancy) to until the end of week 12 of your pregnancy. The recommended daily supplement dose is 400mcg, but women who’ve had a history of neural tube defects are usually prescribed a dose of 5mg. In addition to taking folic acid supplements, you should try and eat as much as you can each day, by eating plenty of foods rich in folic acid. Good folic acid foods to eat include: Green leafy vegetables, citrus and kiwi fruit, peas, beans, cauliflower, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified bread and other fortified foods.
It’s useful to note that folic acid is lost when food is cooked, so it’s advisable to only boil vegetables for a short period of time or steam them, to retain as many nutrients as possible.
Omega 3 rich foods are particularly essential. Omega 3 foods can provide your baby with the energy and materials necessary to good physical and mental growth. Omega-3s are also important for your own health and well-being during pregnancy.
Omega 3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are found in various foods, including fish, game, seeds, and plants. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are one of four types of fats you’re your body gets through your food. Though Omega 3s are called “fatty acids” they are actually very good for you and are a necessary component for both mental and physical health. Omega 3 fatty acids are often referred to as essential fatty acids. This is because they cannot be produced by your own body, but instead need to be gotten through essential foods.
Omega 3 During Pregnancy
In the past decade or so, the importance of Omega 3 during pregnancy has been acknowledged. It is now known that Omega 3 actually plays a large role in the development and growth of your baby when it is in your uterus. Omega 3 helps to build the brain form the retinas and develop the nervous system.
It reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure and reduce your risk for post partum depression minimize the chance of preterm labour.
Omega 3 Deficiency During Pregnancy
Having an Omega 3 deficiency while you are pregnant can prove very harmful to you and your baby. Your baby takes Omega 3 from the foods that you eat. The nutrients cross the placenta, helping your baby to grow and develop. However, if your baby does not get enough Omega-3 from the food you eat, he will begin to take it from your own stores. Researchers believe that these stores may be located in the brain, which can result in a loss of up to 3% of your brain cells. Omega 3 deficiency during pregnancy is linked with: Increased rates of postpartum depression and increased chances of having a small baby. Increased chances of preterm labour or caesarean section.
Taking Omega 3 during pregnancy has also been proven to help you and your baby out in the long run. Recent studies were performed on infants who were exposed to adequate levels of Omega 3 while in the womb. These babies showed advanced attention spans and greater visual acuity than non-exposed children. Their development was also two months ahead of non-exposed children. Other Omega 3 benefits include less chance of developmental or behavioural problems later on and less incidence of breast and prostate cancer.
When To Take Omega 3s?
Your are probably wondering about the best time to begin taking Omega 3 supplements or increase your natural intake of the fatty acid. Omega 3 is actually something that you should be including in your diet on a regular basis. Even when you are not pregnant, you should aim to get a fair bit of Omega 3 into your body.
During pregnancy, it is recommended that you get at least 250 mg of Omega 3 every day. However, Omega 3 oils are especially important during the last three months of pregnancy. It is during this time that your baby uses Omega-3 to form approximately 70% of her brain system. She is also working on the rest of her nervous system.
Omega 3 is best found in fish and fish oil products. High levels of Omega 3 are found in: oily fish, like mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, salmon, and pilchards.
Omega 3 fish oil supplements fresh or frozen tuna. However, it is important to keep in mind that fish can be contaminated with mercury, so make sure that you choose safe types of fish.
Omega 3 can also be found in non-aquatic sources. Good choices include:
Fortified foods, like eggs, bread, and juice dark green vegetables canola, sunflower, and flaxseed oil walnuts.
Omega-3 supplements are available but check to make sure that your supplements are not made from fish livers. The liver can contain high amounts of Vitamin A, which has been linked to birth defects. Omega-3 supplements not derived from fish livers but rather from the body of the fish are less likely to contain this type of vitamin A. If you would prefer to err on the side of caution, you can always look for supplements that are made specifically for pregnant women.
Vitamin supplements in Pregnancy
There are two broad groups of vitamins. The four Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. The rest, that is the B group and C are water-soluble. The importance of the distinction is that water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body so regular replenishment is essential.
The B Group: There are 8 different vitamins which fall in this group. These are:Thiamine (B1) Riboflavin (B2) Niacin (B3) Pantothenic Acid (B5)Pyridoxine (B6) Biotin (B7) Folic Acid (B9) Cyanocobalamin (B12)
Which Vitamins in Pregnancy?
Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for good vision. The commonest problem associated with Vitamin A deficiency is Night Blindness. Deficiency in modern times is very rare and it is difficult to justify supplements of this Vitamin during pregnancy. Moreover, high doses of Retinol which is the form of Vitamin A found in animal sources (liver, cod liver oil etc) are known to be harmful to the baby especially if consumed in the early weeks of pregnancy. Birth defects could result. The plant-sourced Vitamin A (beta-carotene) is safe.
Vitamin D: Adequate intake of Vitamin D in pregnancy is essential for the future well-being of the child. Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin when exposed to sunlight. There is a recognised problem of Vitamin D deficiency among women who are rarely exposed to the sun and those who dress by covering practically the whole body.
The recommended Vitamin D supplement intake is 10 mcg (400IU). However, it is increasingly evident that this may not be enough during pregnancy especially for those women who do not get the vitamin from the natural sources.
Deficiency of Vitamin D during pregnancy means the baby is born with poorly mineralised bones and in severe cases could result in rickets.
The poor bone mineral density that result from Vitamin D deficiency puts the children on the road to possible development of osteoporosis and bone fracture risk later in life.
There is also emerging credible evidence that deficiency of Vitamin D during pregnancy might increase the risk of pre-eclampsia one of the most serious pregnancy complications.
This is on top of research findings which have associated Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy to increased risk of development of diabetes for the child. There is also evidence that the deficiency may increase risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis.
All in all, Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy is clearly beneficial and something to be encouraged. Of course, for those who can get adequate exposure to sunlight; that is the best and most reliable source of Vitamin D. However, sometimes this is impractical especially in temperate countries of the North during bleak winter months.