Maintaining a healthy lifestyle before, during and after pregnancy is a very worthwhile goal. When pregnant, it’s essential to carefully consider well-balanced nutrition, not only for the health of your baby but for yourself as well. As your diet is the main source of nutrients for both you and your baby, there is some truth to the old adage that you are “eating for two.” This doesn’t mean that you need to double down on your caloric intake, but it does mean that you will need approximately 300 additional nutrient dense calories daily. Eating well during pregnancy isn’t just about increasing the amount of food you eat, as we now know that all calories are not created equally. Pregnancy is not an excuse to binge on empty calories, as gaining too much weight can have adverse affects on your baby’s health and may increase the baby’s lifelong risk of obesity, heart disease or diabetes.
For pregnancy health and the baby’s development, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a nutritious diet containing a variety of proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and plenty of water. While patterns of weight gain vary, it’s normal to gain 25 -35 pounds throughout your pregnancy term. Your focus should be on eating a balanced variety of nutritious foods to ensure the baby receives the vitamins and minerals required for healthy growth and development. As your diet directly affects your baby’s health and development, strive to avoid extra calories from added sugars, refined and processed foods and unhealthy fats, and instead fill up on fruits, veggies, proteins, whole grains, dairy and healthy fats.
Many physicians recommend prenatal vitamins as an adjunct to a healthy diet. To ensure your individual needs for adequate nutrition during pregnancy, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about nutrition and supplements with your healthcare provider. The ACOG recommends the following key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy:
Folic acid – The ACOG and the March of Dimes recommends 600 mcg of folic acid per day to help prevent neural tube defects, support the growth of the placenta and baby, and help increase your blood supply during pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, your blood volume will have increased by up to 60% by the time your baby is born. Folate, or vitamin B9, can be found in foods such as spinach, green vegetables, beans and fortified foods such as cereals and orange juice.
Calcium – The ACOG recommends 1,000 mg of calcium per day during and after pregnancy. Calcium is necessary for the healthy development of a baby’s bones, teeth, heartbeat, nerve function and muscles. Pregnancy is a critical time for a woman to consume calcium. If there is not enough calcium in the diet to sustain a developing baby, the body will take calcium from the mother’s bones, which can diminish bone strength and increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Dairy products, dark leafy greens and fortified foods are all good calcium sources.
Iron – It’s relatively common to be deficient in iron during pregnancy, as pregnant women need about double the normal amount they needed pre-pregnancy. Iron aids red blood cells that carry oxygen to organs and tissues and helps to increase the normal blood volume, sending oxygen and nutrients to the baby. The American Pregnancy Association recommends 27 mg of iron daily during pregnancy. Good nutritional sources include beef, leafy greens, eggs and beans.
DHA – The March of Dimes and the American College of Nurse-Midwives recommends 200 mg of DHA omega-3 fatty acids daily to support a baby’s early development and eye and brain growth. To avoid mercury or PCB contamination, choose low mercury fish, fortified foods or purified fish oil supplements. Some prenatal vitamins are formulated with DHA and some are not. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking any additional supplements.
Iodine – During pregnancy, iodine aids in the development of the baby’s brain and nervous systems. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many pregnant and breast-feeding women are deficient in iodine and thereby recommends supplementing with 220 mcg of this important mineral daily if it is not included in your prenatal formula. Food sources of iodine include dairy products, enriched cereals or breads and fish.
Vitamin D – Adequate amounts of vitamin D are essential during pregnancy for both mother and baby. Vitamin D supports a mother’s immune function and a baby’s healthy bone development. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin D deficiency is common among pregnant women and is associated with increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm birth. Experts, such as ACOG, agree that during pregnancy supplementing with 1,000 – 2,000 IU’s of vitamin D daily is safe and beneficial for both mother and baby.
The quest for the healthiest possible pregnancy should include a diet of wholesome foods and a reasonable exercise program, such as daily walking or swimming. Additionally, drink plenty of water, avoid smoking, alcohol, excess sugar and unhealthy fats. Limit caffeine and salty foods and avoid raw or undercooked foods, unpasteurized dairy products, soft cheeses and high mercury level seafoods.
Supplements do not replace a healthy diet but rather ensure that a woman is receiving enough daily nutrients. Vitamin supplements work best when taken as part of a healthy diet and not as a substitute for a healthy diet.
Professional Supplement Center offers these and other research-based, high quality prenatal vitamins:Prenatal (201811) by Douglas Laboratories – This well balanced prenatal formula supplies essential vitamins and minerals to support maternal health and wellness and ensure adequate intake for both mother and child. Yeast, gluten, soy and dairy free formulation. Prenatal Complete with DHA by Ortho Molecular – This comprehensive, hypoallergenic prenatal multivitamin and mineral blend provides a full complement of high quality essential nutrients along with highly concentrated DHA to support all phases of pregnancy. Formulated to be free of common allergens and artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and additives. Fem Prenatal® by Metagenics – Formulated to provide a full spectrum of high quality, bioavailable essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Fem Prenatal® supplies important maternal nutrition and supports healthy fetal growth and development. Gluten, soy and dairy free, non-GMO formulation. Basic Prenatal (VMP) by Thorne Research – This comprehensive, highly absorbable formula provides high potency vitamins and minerals to support the optimal health of mother and baby. Gluten, soy and dairy free, no artificial color, sweeteners or flavors added. References: Nutrients & Vitamins For Pregnancy. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/nutrients-vitamins-pregnancy/ Eating and Nutrition. http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-minerals-during-pregnancy.aspx Pregnancy Nutrition. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-nutrition/ Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy. http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Vitamin-D-Screening-and-Supplementation-During-Pregnancy Iodine supplementation in pregnant and lactating women. Online. http://www.who.int/elena/titles/iodine_pregnancy/en/ Pregnancy and Nutrition. Online. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Am_I_Pregnant/hic_Good_Nutrition_During_Pregnancy_for_You_and_Your_Baby Food Safety During Pregnancy. Online. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/FOODNUT/09372.html Increasing Calcium in Your Diet During Pregnancy. Online. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Am_I_Pregnant/hic_Good_Nutrition_During_Pregnancy_for_You_and_Your_Baby/hic_Increasing_Calcium_in_Your_D