Every mother-to-be’s diet should include a variety of nutritious whole foods that nourish both the mother and the developing fetus. To ensure adequate nutrition critical for maternal health and fetal growth and development, the American Pregnancy Association encourages fine-tuning overall nutritional status prior to conception. Ideally, a healthy eating plan established pre-pregnancy should be adhered to during gestation and lactation post pregnancy. A healthful way of life, that includes balanced nutrition, gaining a proper amount of weight, enjoying regular physical activity, avoiding alcohol and tobacco and taking a recommended vitamin and mineral supplement translates to a healthy pregnancy outcome. Unless there are complications, exercise during pregnancy improves stamina, naturally relieves stress and anxiety, and releases endorphins that provide a general sense of wellbeing.
Ideally those who are considering becoming pregnant should start taking prenatal vitamins up to three months before conception.
Maternal nutrient and caloric intake requirements increase during pregnancy. Per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a pregnant woman requires up to 300 additional calories daily, as well as higher amounts of calcium, folate, vitamin B12, iron and protein. Prenatal vitamins can complement a healthy diet during pregnancy and can help ensure there are no essential nutrient gaps in the daily diet. Similar to a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, prenatal vitamins include a vitamin and mineral profile with an emphasis on folate and iron, and often include DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid essential for fetal brain and eye development.
A word about folic acid and folate
Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9, which must be converted into bioavailable 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) by the liver, a process that is slow and inefficient in 40 – 60 percent of the population. Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 found in foods such as leafy greens, beans and citrus fruits. Before entering the bloodstream, folate is converted by the digestive system into the biologically active form, 5-MTHF. A particularly important nutrient for mother and fetus, folate is needed to produce healthy red blood cells, critical during periods of rapid growth, such as during pregnancy and fetal development.
A prenatal supplement that contains folate in its active bioavailable form helps to ensure that adequate amounts of folate are provided. Adequate intake of folate before and during pregnancy can help prevent major congenital abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Current dietary guidelines recommend that pregnant women get at least 600 micrograms of folate daily from all sources. As it’s difficult to get the recommended amount of this vital nutrient from dietary sources, women’s healthcare providers recommend that all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant take a daily vitamin supplement that contains bioavailable vitamin B9, as folate is particularly critical during the first few weeks after conception.
Iron, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3’s
- Iron: During pregnancy, a woman requires about twice the normal daily iron intake. Sufficient iron is needed make hemoglobin that transports oxygen to both mother and fetus, as well as to prevent iron deficiency anemia and fatigue in the mother. The daily recommended dose of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg, which is found in most prenatal vitamin supplements. Iron from dietary sources, such as red meat, poultry and beans, is more easily absorbed when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods.
- Calcium: Sufficient calcium intake of 1,000 mg daily is needed for bone, teeth, heart, muscle and nerve development. If calcium intake is inadequate, the body will take calcium from the mother’s bones, which can cause osteoporosis later in life. Pasteurized milk, cheese and yogurt, as well as beans, almonds, fortified foods and supplements provide good sources of calcium.
- Vitamin D: Along with the general population, statistics show a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among pregnant women. A critical nutrient for a healthy pregnancy, the fetus is entirely dependent on maternal stores. Vitamin D is necessary to promote calcium absorption and enable bone mineralization and growth, as well as support the immune health of the mother and fetus. Research shows that sufficient vitamin D may reduce the risk of certain pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, preterm birth and low birth weight. Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women should consume at least 4,000 IU of bioavailable vitamin D3 prior to conception and throughout pregnancy and lactation.
- DHA: Found naturally in cold water fish, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid important for fetal brain and eye development. As not all prenatal vitamins contain DHA, the March of Dimes recommends getting 200 mg of DHA daily from either fortified foods, fatty fish or supplements. As many are concerned about heavy metal concentration in fish, choosing clean omega-3 supplements takes away that worry.
Eating a variety of healthy foods is essential for a healthy pregnancy and directly affects an infant’s birth weight and health status. A balanced diet pre-pregnancy starts with adding more healthy foods and slowly eliminating unhealthy foods. Add more fresh fruits and vegetables for their fiber, nutritional and antioxidant benefits. Include healthy 100 percent whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, oats and quinoa. Protein sources include meat, dairy and tofu, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes and beans. Olive oil, nuts and avocado provide healthy fats that help the body absorb the vitamins essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Foods that should be avoided during pregnancy include raw sprouts, unpasteurized foods, raw fish and shellfish, undercooked meats and poultry, and certain fish known to contain high amounts of mercury. As with all healthy diets, avoid processed foods, fast foods, salty foods and sugary foods and drinks. Be sure to speak to a healthcare professional for detailed information on healthy food choices and supplementation when planning a pregnancy.
Professional Supplement Center offers these and other high quality prenatal vitamin supplements:
PreNatal Nutrients by Pure Encapsulations®: This hypoallergenic formula for pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of childbearing age, provides essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients in bioavailable forms. PreNatal Nutrients supports hormone, neurotransmitter, DNA, protein and energy production, as well as optimal neural and cellular health and development. Gluten free, Non-GMO, vegetarian formulation.
Prenatal DHA by Wiley’s Finest™ Wild Alaskan Fish Oil: This concentrated sustainable fish oil provides 120 mg of EPA and 600 mg of DHA omega-3 essential fatty acids per serving for nutritional support before, during and post pregnancy. Mercury free, NSF third party certified for quality and purity. Non-GMO formulation.
Daily Multi Powder for Baby & Me™ by MegaFood®: Formulated from real food, carefully selected herbs, wholesome nutritional yeast and other nutrients, this easy to take powdered formula delivers guaranteed potency vitamins, minerals and health promoting compounds. No additional ingredients. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO, NSF Certified, kosher, vegetarian formulation.
PreNatal Multi-Nutrients by Vital Nutrients: This well-tolerated, high potency supplement is specifically formulated to provide nutritional support for all body systems during pregnancy. Ingredients include bioavailable folate, B12 and D3. Free of coatings, binders, gluten (wheat, rye barley), milk/dairy (casein, whey), soy protein, egg protein and sugar.
Prenatal DHA 500 mg by Nordic Naturals®: This pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled omega-3 fish oil provides EPA, DHA and bioavailable vitamin D3 in support of fetal neurological, visual and immune development. Third party tested to be free of heavy metals and environmental toxins. Free of gluten, milk derivatives and artificial colors and flavors. Non-GMO formulation.
Prenatal Pack by Douglas Laboratories®: This pack provides a comprehensive blend of bioavailable vitamins and minerals plus EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids in support of maternal health and wellness during pregnancy and lactation. Free of yeast, wheat gluten, soy protein, milk/dairy, corn, sodium, sugar, starch and artificial coloring, flavoring and preservatives.
Should I change my lifestyle when I am planning a pregnancy? https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/pre-pregnancy-health/should-i-change-my-lifestyle-when-i-am-planning-pregnancy
Eating Right During Pregnancy. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/what-to-eat-when-expecting/eating-right-during-pregnancy
Nutrition During Pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/patients/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
Multivitamin Supplementation During Pregnancy: Emphasis on Folic Acid and L-Methylfolate. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250974/
Nutritional Concerns of Women in the Preconceptional, Prenatal, and Postpartum Periods. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235913/
The Implications of Vitamin D Status During Pregnancy on Mother and her Developing Child. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127214/
Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Vitamin-D-Screening-and-Supplementation-During-Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false
Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx