Did you know that what you eat before conception and during your pregnancy can have a profound effect on your baby’s health?
In this article I shall focus on the key nutrients that should feature in your diet during your pregnancy in order that you can ensure the healthiest pregnancy and outcome.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are found in vegetable oils, oily fish, nuts and seeds. A good intake of EFAs is essential before, during and after pregnancy. They are especially important during the first 3 months of pregnancy as this is when your baby’s brain, nervous and cardiovascular systems are forming. They are beneficial to women throughout pregnancy as they are essential to maintain hormone balance, prevent pre-eclampsia, control mood swings and help with avoiding post natal depression. Studies have proved that a mother’s intake of EFAs has a direct effect on her child’s IQ as the brain and nervous system are composed primarily of fats. A good intake of EFAs is also vital when breast feeding as via breast milk they protect your baby from developing food allergies and intolerances.
A lot of research has been carried out on Probiotics (good bacteria which populate your gut) to determine if they can reduce the incidence of asthma, eczema, and hayfever in children. Taking a probiotic supplement throughout your pregnancy can reduce your baby’s chances of developing these atopic conditions. If you are not keen to take a supplement or cannot afford to take it throughout your pregnancy, then eating plain, live, probiotic yoghurt on a daily basis will improve your gut flora, and therefore the flora that you pass on to your baby.
A good intake of vitamins and minerals is essential for a healthy pregnancy, and I would recommend that you take a good pregnancy specific supplement before and during pregnancy to ensure that you are getting adequate levels of all these vital nutrients. These days it is very hard to get all the nutrients we need from our diets, and this is especially true during pregnancy when our bodies are using all their resources to create another life. Studies have shown that women who take supplements reduce the chances of having a baby with a birth defect by 30 – 35%, and are less likely to have a premature or low birth weight baby.
The following vitamins and minerals are especially important during pregnancy:
Folic Acid – we are told that this vitamin is vital during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but it is important to take it up to 4 months before conception and throughout the entire pregnancy. Our need for folic acid doubles during pregnancy which is why we need to supplement it, rather than rely solely on dietary sources. Research has shown that it helps prevent spina bifida, and also that those who took it throughout pregnancy had babies with a good birth weight and higher Apgar scores. Rich food sources are: green vegetables such as lettuce, avocado, asparagus, spinach, broccoli; and beans and pulses, especially lentils.
Zinc – is needed for hormone balance and for all aspects of your baby’s growth. A good intake in the mother has been directly correlated to good birth weight. During pregnancy you need at least 20mg a day. Good food sources are seeds (especially sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds), brazil nuts, egg yolks, oats, almonds, meat, poultry, brown rice and peas. White spots on your nails are a sign that your zinc levels are low.
Vitamin C – has many functions including boosting the immune system; acting as an antioxidant to detoxify pollutants, and protect cells; being an integral part of collagen formation, keeping skin healthy and reducing the likelihood of stretch marks; and many, many more. Our bodies cannot store vitamin C as it is water-soluble, therefore it is essential that we eat good sources throughout the day to keep our levels high. Rich food sources include: strawberries, red and yellow peppers, blueberries, cherries, citrus fruit, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, pineapples, sweet potatoes and dark green leafy vegetables including watercress, spinach and kale. Vitamin C also helps with the absorption of iron, so if you are taking an iron supplement, taking it with a glass of orange juice will increase its effectiveness.
Iron – many women find that their iron stores become depleted during pregnancy, as blood volume increases to support the growing baby. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin and a sore tongue – please ask your GP for a blood test if you are experiencing these symptoms. Iron stores can be enriched by eating more of the following foods: lean red meat, dried apricots, raisins, almonds, dried prunes, walnuts, brazil nuts, chickpeas, spinach, curry powder and ginger.
By ensuring that these nutrients feature regularly in your diet you will be helping to give your unborn child the best possible start in life, as well as experiencing some health benefits yourself.
If you would like more advice on any of the points mentioned in this article or would like to find out how nutrition can support fertility or pregnancy, please contact Emily on 07967 639347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer one to one consultations from my family friendly clinic.To find out more about me, please visit my website www.4wellpeople.co.uk.