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Essential Supplements During Pregnancy

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The preventive value of supplementation begins before a woman becomes pregnant. Deficiency in specific nutrients is known to put a baby at risk for birth defects. The best example of this is the B vitamin folic acid.

The preventive value of supplementation begins before a woman becomes pregnant. Deficiency in specific nutrients is known to put a baby at risk for birth defects. The best example of this is the B vitamin folic acid. For years, research demonstrated that folic acid helps prevent birth defects in newborns. This includes neural tube defect, the incomplete development of the spinal cord and/or brain. Folic acid deficiencies can also lead to heart, urinary tract, cleft palate, and limb defects. For this reason, health authorities recommend all women of childbearing age capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folate daily.

In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency is thought to be an independent risk factor for neural tube defects. I recommend a prenatal supplement that contains 200 micrograms or more of B12 daily.

Both folic acid and vitamin B12 work in tandem for fetal development such as cell division and the formation of the myelin sheath (nerve covering). They also prevent the buildup of homocysteine, a toxic by-product of protein metabolism that is thought to contribute to birth defects. The key point in regards to these two B vitamins is they should be taken before conception.

Prenatal multivitamins also contain iron. This is to meet the increased blood production needs of the baby and so iron deficiency, known as anemia, is prevented. Extra iron supplementation beyond the multivitamin should only be used under the recommendation and supervision of a physician. Avoid iron sulfate (ferrous sulfate) as it causes constipation.

In addition to the benefits attributed to specific supplements, a 1998 study found that a child’s risk for developing a brain tumour decreased in relation to the number of trimesters the mother took multivitamin supplements during pregnancy, with the greatest benefit being when the mother took prenatal vitamins during all three trimesters.

Calcium and Magnesium

Calcium is important for the skeletal development of the fetus and also to maintain the mother’s bone health. I have also found when taken with magnesium, calcium helps prevent and treat muscle cramps and spasms that can be encountered during pregnancy. Supplemental calcium has also been shown to reduce blood pressure during pregnancy. As an added bonus, many of my patients report sleeping better when taking their calcium supplement in the evening. I recommend a total supplemental dosage of 1000 to 1200 mg of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium daily.

Essential Fatty Acids

Long chain fatty acids, also known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are important for fetus growth and development. Specifically, a type of omega 3 fatty acid known as DHA is involved with brain and retina development. Many human pregnancy supplementation trials with omega-3 fatty acids have shown a significant reduction in the incidence of premature delivery and increased birth weight. Coldwater fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources include nuts such as walnuts and flax seeds. Fish oils are a direct source of DHA and vegetarian algae forms of DHA supplements are available as well. I recommend taking at least 300 mg of a DHA rich omega-3 fatty acid supplements daily. When using fish oil, make sure the product has been thoroughly screened for heavy metals and other contaminants.

Probiotics

Supplementing probiotics, also known as beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus, during pregnancy and breastfeeding may reduce the risk of the child developing eczema. This is important, as close to 15 percent of children develop eczema. While the exact mechanism is not known, good bacteria such as acidophilus is known to help with the digestion of food and may reduce food reactions, a common reason for eczema. Also, beneficial bacteria promote a healthy immune system. I particularly recommend probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium if a pregnant woman has been on antibiotics or needs antibiotics throughout pregnancy. I recommend a product that contains a daily total of four billion active organisms, to be taken 30 minutes after a meal.

These key supplements will contribute to the health and happiness of your newborn.

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