Michael T. Murray, ND
Pregnancy obviously results in an increased need for vitamins and minerals. Deficiency or excess of any of a number of nutrients can lead to birth defects and/or complications during pregnancy.
Pregnancy obviously results in an increased need for vitamins and minerals. Deficiency or excess of any of a number of nutrients can lead to birth defects and/or complications during pregnancy. What is a mother-to-be to do?
Eat a Highly Nutritious Diet
High quality nutrition during pregnancy is vital, so focus on natural, whole foods and stay away from those that have no real nutritional value. Also, read food labels carefully and try to avoid foods that contain trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils, including margarine, shortening and most processed foods. Studies have shown that the higher the intake of trans fatty acids, the greater the risk of delivering a premature baby. These fats interfere with fetal development, especially in the brain. Other foods to avoid are cured and smoked meats, which contain compounds (nitrites and nitrates) that appear to be very harmful to the fetus. Studies implicate diets high in nitrites and nitrates during pregnancy with higher rates of brain cancer, diabetes and leukemia in the offspring.
Increase Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
My second recommendation is to take a high quality fish oil supplement supplying a daily dosage of 600 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. One of the more important omega-3 fatty acids for fetal development is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In fact, DHA is essential for proper brain and eye development. Adequate levels of DHA are important for all ages, but it is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women. Significant brain and eye development occurs while the fetus is in the womb and continues during the first year after birth. Infants rely on their mothers to supply DHA initially through the placenta and then through breastmilk.
Take a High-Potency Multiple Vitamin/Mineral Formula
The discovery that folic acid supplementation in early pregnancy can reduce the incidence of neural tube defects by as much as 80 percent has been referred to as one of the greatest discoveries of the latter part of the 20th century. But folic acid is just one of many essential nutrients, so what about the others? A deficiency of virtually any nutrient during pregnancy is going to have serious repercussions for mother and baby. Furthermore, adequate levels of key nutrients such as antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and other B vitamins may help ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery by preventing complications of pregnancy as well as the potentially life-threatening condition of pre-eclampsia (also known as toxemia of pregnancy).
Simply stated, taking a multiple vitamin and mineral designed for pregnant and lactating women makes perfectly good sense. The only caveat is to make sure that vitamin A content is provided by beta-carotene rather than retinol. Do not take more than 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day if you are pregnant unless it is provided in the form of beta-carotene.
Take Additional Iron if Needed
The dramatic increase in the need for iron during pregnancy cannot usually be met through diet alone. Supplementation is often warranted. Usually, the amount of iron contained in a prenatal multiple is sufficient, but if a mother-to-be develops anemia or has evidence of low iron stores, then additional supplementation is required. For iron deficiency during pregnancy, a woman will need an additional 30 mg of iron twice daily between meals for best absorption. If this recommendation results in abdominal discomfort, then 30 mg can be taken with meals three times daily.
Pregnancy carries with it tremendous responsibility.
I urge all mothers-to-be to follow these simple nutritional recommendations to help give your developing baby the best odds of growing into a healthy child.