Essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy

When expecting a baby, diet is very crucial. The diet of a woman preparing for a pregnancy should be healthy and consist of a variety of foods including proteins, carbohydrates,

  • PublishedJune 10, 2014

When expecting a baby, diet is very crucial. The diet of a woman preparing for a pregnancy should be healthy and consist of a variety of foods including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats. This helps her to get the right nutrients for her health and for the baby’s development. But even with a good diet, additional specific nutrients may be necessary before and during pregnancy, as not all the nutrients may be enough from the diet alone.

Some of the necessary nutrients include but are not limited to the following:

Folic acid. Folic acid is sometimes called folate. When a woman is preparing for a pregnancy, she should take folic acid daily before conception and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of her baby being born with a serious neural defect (a birth defect involving the brain and spinal cord). Often, neural defects occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy, which is usually before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Thus it is so important for all women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid and not just those who are planning to become pregnant.

Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, beans, peanuts, citrus fruits such as oranges and also in fortified cereals. Since diet alone cannot provide enough folic acid, you can consider increasing your intake of folate by taking a suitable supplement with advise from your doctor.

Essential fatty acids. The benefits of Omega-3 for foetal brain and eye development cannot be overemphasised. Omega-3 helps maintain healthy foetal development and the benefits are carried to infancy and later life. Vegetable oils such as oils made from sunflower, corn or soya, soybeans, seafoods, oily fish or fish oils are good sources of fatty acids. The foetus relies on its mother to supply fatty acid through placental transfer while in the womb, and later on after birth during breastfeeding. After delivery, the fatty acid reserves in the mother are replaced slowly, thus she can increase her intake of fatty acids by consuming omega-3 capsules.

Minerals. Pregnancy is associated with increased nutritional needs due to the physiological changes of the woman and the metabolic demands of the foetus. Proper maternal nutrition during pregnancy is thus imperative for the health of both the mother and child. Maternal malnutrition during pregnancy has been associated with adverse outcomes including increased risk of maternal and infant mortality, as well as low birth weight, diseases and deformities.

Minerals such as magnesium, zinc and selenium play an important role during pregnancy. Selenium helps in preventing anaemia and the development of pre-eclampsia whereas adequate amount of magnesium intake is needed for normal embryonic and foetal development. Lack of zinc during pregnancy has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including premature delivery, labour and delivery complications, thus ensure to make it part of your diet. Oats, yoghourt, lamb meat and green peas are good sources of zinc. Supplementation during pregnancy may be necessary and is safe as long as you take the supplements in consultation with your personal doctor.

Vitamins. Vitamins are vital for a healthy pregnancy. Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to impaired immunity, increased susceptibility to infection, and increased risk of maternal mortality. There are two forms of vitamin A: retinoids (found in animal foods) and carotenoids (found in plant foods). The retinoid forms can be especially important with regard to pregnancy and childbirth, infancy, childhood growth, and resistance to infectious disease. Although there are few animal sources of vitamin A, they are also available in form of dietary supplements.

Vitamin B6 helps in the nervous system function and red blood cell formation. Supplementation of vitamin B6 may help mitigate nausea and vomiting in pregnancy commonly called morning sickness. Additionally, inadequate dietary intake of vitamin B12 causes elevated homocysteine levels, which have been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Women who are planning a pregnancy should take a daily multivitamin supplement, or eat a breakfast cereal fortified with vitamin B12.

A report by Professor John Scott, the founder of the Vitamin Research unit at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, shows that taking folic acid supplement of 400 mcg daily together with a supplement of a vitamin B12 component of at least 2.5 mcg daily reduces the risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) significantly. Thus pregnant women are recommended to take this daily as well as eat a well-balanced meal.

Published in December 2013

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