Essential Prenatal Nutrients For You, Too

Essential Prenatal Nutrients For You, Too

Ask about pregnancy nutrition, and you’ll almost certainly receive a detailed shopping list of needs for the baby. Don’t eat uncooked fish, unpasteurized cheese, sushi, runny eggs. Be wary of listeria, make sure you up your fresh veggies, down your caffeine, take folate. When we consider optimal pregnancy outcomes, we’re pretty aware of how deficiencies can affect pregnancy, and the heath of the growing baby. What’s less common is to highlight the specific nutritional needs of the mother, who is also experiencing a period of rapid growth, development and change. But it is possible to prioritise you too, ensuring both you and your babe are nutritionally covered. So let’s unpack it all.

It is possible to prioritise you too

For your growing bump 

Your growing babe relies heavily on you for all of its nutritional needs, so it’s best to be prepared. Eating a well balanced diet is helpful advice, but what does this actually mean? Here are some key nutrients to make sure you’re across: 

  • Folate, the most talked about nutrient in prenatal nutrition, is famous for its ability to reduce the risk of neural tube defects and spina bifida. Almost all medical professionals will recommend a supplement of this nutrient, but it’s usually the synthetic form- folic acid- which appears in most multivitamins. It’s best to consider an activated form, such as methylfolate or folinic acid instead, to ensure the folate can actually do its job.

    Great food sources of folate: edamame, lentils, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, egg, citrus fruits, liver and any fortified grains (it's mandatory to fortify commercial bread with folate and iodine in australia).

  • Choline is critical in pregnancy, but is absent from most prenatal vitamins currently on the market. Choline ensures optimal brain and cognitive development for the baby, and low intake during pregnancy can increase the risk of both neural tube defects and cleft palates. Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to be low in choline- so make sure your prenatal supplement contains it.

    Great food sources: the richest dietary sources are in animal products; meat (esp. liver), dairy, eggs. veg sources include peanuts, broccoli, brussels sprouts and chickpeas.

  • B vitamins (Bs 1,2,3,5,6,12) are important for healthy foetal brain development. Deficiency can be associated with difficulty conceiving, and increased risk of early pregnancy loss.  
    • New research involving Vitamin B3 reveals it has the potential to treat molecular deficiencies which can cause miscarriages and birth defects. 
    • This landmark discovery has been likened to the revolutionary breakthrough made last century that confirmed folate supplements can prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects in babies. This is kind of huge.

      Great food sources: animal products again. Think meat, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, cheese. Nuts, broccoli, potatoes, oats and whole grains, soy products and legumes are also great.

    • Including antioxidants such as Selenium in prenatal nutrition, can have a significant impact on the neurodevelopment of the foetus, and improve overall pregnancy outcomes.

      Great food sources: seafood, meat, poultry and eggs. Vegetarian sources include nuts (particularly brazil nuts), seeds, pulses.

    • Iodine and zinc are important nutrients to adequately consume when pregnant, as severe deficiency is associated with some congenital abnormalities.

      Great food sources of iodine: the best sources all come from the ocean. This includes fish, as well as seaweed/ nori/ wakame.
      Great food sources of zinc: protein containing foods like red meat, shellfish, wholegrains.

    • Adequate intake of magnesium is needed for normal embryonic and foetal development. Supplementation has been advised to decrease the chances of poor foetal growth.

      Great food sources: nuts, legumes, wholegrains, dark leafy greens, seafood, chocolate, cocoa.

    With you in mind 

    With such a strong focus on baby’s health, it’s rare to find recommendations on the nutritional needs of pregnant women. We scoured the literature, but couldn’t find the specifics. So we formulated the following, just for you:

    • Iron is another common prenatal supplement, but it’s good to know, routine supplementation is not recommended. Just taking it, without checking if you’re deficient, can lead to an overconsumption of iron in those who don’t need it, challenging immunity and threatening toxicity. But, iron deficiency is so common in pregnancy, so if you find you’re exhausted and deficient, the small amount found in most prenatal vitamins isn’t really going to cut it. Current practice in Australia recommends screening for deficiency through a blood test. And if needed, picking up a high quality iron tablet at a dose that will actually work is best for you and your energy. Read more here.

      Great food sources: red meat, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, legumes and dried fruits.

    • Our connective tissue is expected to grow and change, along with our bodies. Ensuring good levels of zinc and protein helps to support the building of new tissue. Vitamin C helps support collagen formation which allows for the maintenance of healthy skin, tendons, cartilage and teeth throughout the process.

      Great food sources of zinc: 
      protein containing foods like red meat, shellfish, wholegrains.
      Great food sources of vitamin c: citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dark green veggies, rockmelon, capsicum, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, mangos.
    • Good levels of vitamin D ensure your bones stay healthy in pregnancy. Supplementation can be particularly relevant for vegetarians, those avoiding dairy and if you have limited time in direct sunlight. With different forms of supplementation available, always check to see what type yours contains. Cholecalciferol is the most effective and best absorbed form.

      The best source of vitamin D is the sun. 5-10 minutes of sunshine on your skin daily is all we need.

    • Adequate amounts of B Vitamins are needed to help metabolise food into energy. Especially important in pregnancy, these vitamins can help provide a natural energy booster and lethargy lifter- most needed in the draining first and third trimesters.
      • Supplementary B1, B5 + calcium have been found to help ease painful leg cramps, an irritating pregnancy symptom we’re often quick to dismiss
      • Increasing B6 consumption has been found to help ease mood swings, alleviate nausea and vomiting. It can also decrease risk of dental decay.
    Great food sources: animal products again. Think meat, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, cheese. Nuts, broccoli, potatoes, oats and whole grains, soy products and legumes are also great.
      • Another good one for bone health is supplementary vitamin K, which can reduce the risk of bone-related pain as your skeleton changes to prepare for birth.

        Great food sources: Green leafy veggies, milk, liver.

      • For luscious locks, and reduced hair shedding, ensure adequate levels of biotin.

        Great food sources: liver, egg yolks, fish, soybeans, wholegrains.

      Sharing the focus

      Adequate vitamin and mineral consumption undoubtedly improves both fetal and maternal health. But rarely does prenatal education include nutritional advice for us, too. 

      “A healthy diet during pregnancy is essential for normal growth and development of the foetus” states a 2016 literature review, confirming pregnancy nutrition is heavily focused on a healthy baby only. But we understand the connection between healing, growing and nutrition too well for this to go on. When we train for a marathon, we nourish our bodies accordingly. When unwell, we ensure our food doesn’t aggravate us further. But when we’re pregnant, we do everything we can to help grow our baby, without considering our own health needs too. We are very ready to change all that.
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