Nutrition and Pregnancy

Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is important for maintaining optimal health throughout life. For women of childbearing age, good nutrition is important for preparing the body for the demands of pregnancy.

It is a proven fact that the nutritional status of women when becoming pregnant and during pregnancy can have significant influence on both fetal, infant and maternal health outcomes. Micronutrient deficiencies such as calcium, iron, vitamin A and iodine can lead to poor maternal health outcomes and pregnancy complications which put the mother and baby at risk. Poor maternal weight gain in pregnancy due to an inadequate diet, increases the risk of premature delivery, low birthweight and birth defects. (“WHO | Nutrition Counselling During Pregnancy”)

It is important to know which foods and what quantities are essential for achieving optimal dietary intake. Emerging evidence now suggests that use of micronutrient- containing prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy is associated with reductions in the risk of congenital defects, preterm delivery, low infant birth weight, and preeclampsia.(Scholl, 2008)

Prenatal vitamins contain many vitamins and minerals. Their folic acid, iron, iodine, and calcium are especially important.

Folic Acid

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube birth defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord.

Neural tube defects develop in the first 28 days after conception, before many women know they are pregnant. Because about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it’s recommended that any woman who could get pregnant take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily, starting before conception and continuing for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Foods containing folic acid include green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, and many fortified foods.

Calcium

Calcium is also important for a pregnant woman. It can help prevent her from losing her own bone density as the baby uses calcium for its own bone growth.

The main sources are milk, yogurt, and cheese, but leafy greens, seafood, legumes, and fruit also contain calcium.

Iodine

Iodine is critical for a woman’s healthy thyroid function during pregnancy. A deficiency in iodine can cause stunted physical growth, severe mental disability, and deafness. Not enough iodine can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.

Seafood, milk and yogurt—as well as eggs rank as very good sources of iodine.

Iron

Iron helps blood — in both the mother and baby — carry oxygen.

High iron foods include liver, sunflower seeds, nuts, beef, lamb, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens (spinach), dark chocolate, and tofu. Iron supplementation is recommended throughout pregnancy. (“WHO | Daily Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy”)