We all want the best for our babies. Getting the right nutrients is crucial for our baby’s development. Our modern day lifestyle often leads to our body’s nutrient stores being severely depleted. Tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, oral contraceptives, stress and pollution in the form of chemicals, radiation and heavy metals all contribute to this nutrient depletion, including the many years of eating refined, processed food.
So, what can we do about it?
Start eating a varied wholefoods diet, go organic where possible, lead a healthier lifestyle and take supplements to ensure you meet the increased nutritional requirements of pregnancy. The needs of reproduction are so critical; a deficiency in certain nutrients can have detrimental effects on the development of your baby. Avoid this risk by taking a complete and well-balanced supplementation of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids during pregnancy.
Important supplements for pregnancy
Iodine deficiency in pregnant women leads to defects in brain development in the baby. Even a mild deficiency can adversely affect the baby’s mental development. Pregnancy iodine requirement is 250 – 300mcg/day with the upper limit being 1000mcg/day. Avoid excessive supplementation of iodine .
Food sources: seaweed, spinach, lettuce, eggs, wholewheat bread, prawns, haddock, salmon.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs are essential for the development of foetal brain and nervous system. They may also help protect against cot death (SIDS). Some effects of EFAs deficiency include chromosomal defects, spontaneous abortion and subtle brain disorders such as dyslexia. Supplementation of eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) up to 3g/day is safe during pregnancy.
Food sources: salmon, cod, trout, herring, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts
Vitamin A is important as it helps the baby to develop strong lungs, healthy eyes and it aids skin cell production. Its deficiency has been linked to abnormalities such as cleft palate and the absence of eyes. Recommended intake during pregnancy is 800mcg/day with an upper limit of 3000mcg/day (10,000IU). Please note that excessive intake has been linked to birth defects. However, intake of less than 3000mcg/day (10,000IU) is not associated with this increased risk. Alternatively, you can take 6mg of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.
Food sources: carrot, sweet potato, red capsicum, butternut pumpkin, parsley, spinach, watercress
Supplementation of the B vitamins should be in the form of a B complex supplement.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Supplementation with this vitamin can help with nausea of pregnancy and fluid retention. It can also reduce the risk of losing the baby during early pregnancy. Recommended dosage is 50mg/day but higher doses of 150mg/day appear to be safe.
Vitamin B9 (folate)
Folate is essential in the formation of DNA and RNA , the genetic material. Sufficient supply of this vitamin is especially important during the first three months of pregnancy as that is the time when cells are dividing and organs are forming. Supplementation with this vitamin can prevent neural tube defects. The recommended intake during pregnancy is 600mcg/day. For women with a history of having a child with neural tube defects, the recommended dose is 1000mcg - 4000mcg/day (4mg).
Food sources: soybeans, kidney bean, mung beans, lima beans, lentils, barley, whole wheat, broccoli, kale, spinach
Vitamin B12 is important for the formation of red blood cells and to build a healthy nervous system. Low maternal intake of this vitamin leads to a low infant status at birth. The therapeutic dose range is 300-800mcg/day and there is no upper limit as there is no evidence of adverse effects.
Food sources of B complex vitamins: whole grains, wheatgerm, legumes, sunflower seeds, nuts, chicken, egg, seafood
Maternal deficiency in vitamin D is associated with poor skeletal growth and mineralisation of the baby and has shown to be a factor in many congenital abnormalities. The upper limit of recommended vitamin D is 3200IU. However, no adverse effects were found at higher doses of 4000IU. In fact, current research is showing that the amount of vitamin D required to avoid insufficiency during pregnancy is higher than the usual recommended amount. Sun exposure is the best natural source of vitamin D and it’s usually difficult to obtain adequate daily amounts through diet alone.
Calcium requirement increases during pregnancy, especially during the second trimester. Calcium is essential for the formation of muscle and nerve tissue and for proper dental and skeletal development in the baby. The recommended daily intake is 1000mg with the upper limit being 2500mg/day.
Food sources: seaweed, spinach, parsley, watercress, broccoli, almonds, brazil nuts, tofu, sardines, milk, yoghurt
Deficiency in magnesium can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight and retarded development in the baby. Deficiency can also lead to increased labour pains by causing a low level of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers) and toxaemia of pregnancy. The suggested dosage for pregnancy is 400 – 600mg/day.
Food sources: wheat germ, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado, tofu, spinach
Iron is needed for the correct formation of baby’s blood, brain, eye and bone, and for a healthy growth rate. Inadequate iron intake leads to depletion of the body’s reserve and may cause iron-deficiency anemia. Anemia has been associated with an increased risk of maternal mortality, low birth weight, premature delivery, infection and inadequate iron stores in the baby which affects its development. Recommended intake is 27mg/day and a highly bioavailable form of iron should be taken.
Food sources: lean beef, egg yolk, wheat bran, millet, pumpkin seeds, almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, cashews, dandelion greens, swiss chard, seaweed
Zinc is crucial in pregnancy as it is involved in many biological functions during pregnancy such as gene expression, cell division and immune function, to name a few. It has the widest range of essential functions and is the most important nutrient for pregnant women. Zinc deficiency has been associated with growth retardation in babies and also can cause prolonged labours. Recommended intake for pregnant women is 20 – 60mg/day.
Food sources: steak, lamb, chicken, pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, rye, oats, sardines, anchovies
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can protect against genetic abnormalities. It is especially important during pregnancy when the baby’s skin and bones are developing. Vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of spontaneous rupture of the membrane, miscarriage and brain tumours in the baby. Recommended intake is 2000 – 3000mg/day.
Food sources: kale, spinach, parsley, broccoli, brussel sprouts, watercress, red cabbage, berries, cherries, papaya, citrus fruits, grapes
Vitamin E is necessary for a healthy pregnancy and an easy delivery. Deficiency in vitamin E can lead to spontaneous abortion and can increase the risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis. Recommended dose is 500IU/day.
Food sources: whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, wheat germ and oil, sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, olive oil, spinach
Chromium is involved in the metabolism of glucose. The baby is dependent on a constant and stable supply of blood glucose for its energy so if the pregnant mother is deficient in chromium, this steady supply of glucose will be affected and foetal development may be affected. Chromium can also stabilise blood sugar levels and help alleviate pregnancy nausea and sugar cravings. The recommended dose is 100 – 300mcg/day.
Food sources: wholewheat bread, wheat bran, wheat germ, rye bread, beef, fresh chilli, green capsicum, potato, apple, parsnip, chicken