By Karen Appold
Never is it more important to eat a healthy diet consisting of whole foods such as fruits and vegetables; whole grains; adequate protein from beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and lean meat; and plenty of good quality fats from avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, coconut, and fish as when you’re pregnant.
“Avoid processed food, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, and remember to eat organic whenever possible—it’s good for you and good for your baby,” said Aimée Gould Shunney, ND, a licensed naturopathic physician in Santa Cruz and Campbell, California.
Regardless of your diet, however, when you’re pregnant it’s advisable to take certain supplements. Here’s what nutritionists recommend:
Sometimes you don’t feel like eating much when you’re pregnant, especially in the first trimester. “A good multivitamin is extra insurance that you’re getting enough nutrients to support your baby’s growth and to prevent you from becoming depleted,” Shunney said.
The daily requirement for folic acid (folate) doubles in pregnancy, increasing to 800 mcg. This nutrient plays a critical role in preventing birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects, according Michele McRae, certified nutritionist at Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems in Santa Cruz, California. Defects of the spinal cord originate in the first month of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. This is why all women of childbearing age should consume at least 400 mcg daily. Folic acid plays other important roles including helping you to produce additional blood cells, aiding in the growth of the placenta and fetus, and producing new DNA as cells multiply.
It is essential to get adequate calcium during pregnancy because if you don’t, the calcium you do have will go to your baby, and you will potentially end up with bone loss. “Work with your healthcare provider to determine how much calcium you are getting in an average day of food consumption, and then be sure to supplement the rest, which is usually around 400 to 600 mg daily of calcium citrate or chelate,” Shunney said. You may get some calcium from your multivitamin, so be sure to check labels.
Shunney said she considers omega-3 fish oil as a womb-to-tomb nutrient. The long-chain omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid pre-formed in fish and algae are essential throughout the lifespan and have been shown to support fetal brain and nervous system development, labor and delivery outcomes, infant and childhood immunity, behavior and attention, and post-partum mood health when taken by pregnant women.
Shunney said she recommends 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) to support mom’s bones, as well as mood and immunity. Better quality prenatals will contain D3, and you can get fish oil with D3 in it, as well. Again, check labels. Most vitamin D3 comes from lanolin made from sheep’s wool.
Ongoing data continues to compel Shunney to prescribe beneficial bacteria. “A healthy balance of gut flora not only helps with digestion, but also seems to support immunity, mood and insulin sensitivity,” she said. “When you’re pregnant, you are also laying the groundwork for your baby’s flora and subsequent gut health.”
Consult your doctor
Pregnant women should always consult with their healthcare provider regarding which additional supplements they should take.
Do no just begin taking supplements after learning you’re pregnant, McRae cautioned. Do so as soon as you begin trying to conceive—to build a strong nutritional foundation for your infant’s development. The developing baby takes the nutrients he or she needs from mom. If her nutrient stores are low to begin with, both she and baby are behind the eight ball, nutritionally, which can present risks.
Karen Appold is a writer in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.