During pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrient requirements are different, and dietary supplementation may be beneficial. Folate, iron and calcium are the part of important nutrients needed to maintain a healthy environment for conception as well as a healthy pregnancy and healthy development of the baby. Sufficient protein, magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine, copper, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C, D, E and B vitamins are all required in optimum amounts for the health of mother and child. Dietary fibre is also important to ensure good elimination of the natural detoxification process and extra hormones that pregnancy produces. Your daily food intake is the primary source and adequate levels of many required nutrients can be maintained through eating a high-quality balanced range of nutrient-dense foods.
During pregnancy, the body’s priority is to ensure that the nutritional needs of the growing fetus are met. This might mean that in case of deficiency nutrients are taken out of mum’s tissues. To ensure mums wellbeing too it is very important to ensure sufficient intake of all necessary nutrients mentioned above. Supplementing with a Pregnancy multi, which can be taken during pre-conception already and continued during breastfeeding is a supportive option for busy women.
Your protein needs increase during pregnancy, requiring amino acids as the raw materials for cell formation and growth. About 70 gm per day is the recommended protein intake during pregnancy. Good sources of protein include beans and legumes, vegetables like spinach, asparagus, Brussel sprouts or broccoli, nuts and seeds, organic dairy products, organic free range eggs, grains like quinoa, wild rice or chia seeds, organic lean meat, fish and spirulina or bee pollen.
Folate is the naturally occurring form of the water-soluble vitamin B9, found in high amounts in leafy green vegetables, beetroot, citrus fruits, legumes and liver. Most fruits and vegetables contain good levels of natural folate while bread, cereals and yeast extracts are generally fortified with folic acid.
The importance of adequate folate levels during the pre-conception period is well established, to support healthy brain and spinal cord development. Although the risk of having a child with the related serious birth defects is low, your need for folate is higher during pregnancy and taking a supplement from the preconception stage onwards is accepted best practice. In New Zealand, supplements can contain 500 mcg of folic acid and the Ministry of Health advises women taking 800 mcg per day a month prior to conception and in the first 3 months of pregnancy.
It is recommended that supplementation of any individual B vitamin is accompanied by a B complex containing other B vitamins as they all work in a team.
Iron is the most common micronutrient found to be low in pregnant women. Iron requirements vary throughout each stage of pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Sufficient iron levels support healthy ovulation and pre-conception. It’s also important to have enough iron at the start of the pregnancy because once conception happens the needs of the growing foetus and the mother’s increased blood volume create an ongoing requirement. If iron levels are low the needs of the foetus will override maternal needs and risk of developing iron deficiency is increased.
During breastfeeding, iron requirements drop below what is needed prior to pregnancy. Breastfeeding helps restore iron levels by delaying menstruation so maintaining sufficient iron intake will support healthy stores.
Dietary sources of iron
There are two main forms of dietary iron: haem and non-haem. Haem iron comes from animal protein and is better absorbed. Best sources include organic pasture-fed beef, lamb and pork, free range chicken and eggs, fish and mussels. A weekly meal of liver or other organ meats is another concentrated source of dietary iron.
Non-haem iron describes plant-based sources of iron. Good sources include nettle tea, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, whole grains, bread and cereals, oatmeal, figs, beans, tofu, potatoes, dried fruit, nuts and seeds and hummus. Iron absorption is inhibited by drinking black tea, coffee and soft drinks with a meal. Calcium and zinc, also tend to inhibit iron absorption so it’s better to not take your iron supplement with a calcium-rich meal (e.g. dairy products) or together with a zinc supplement.
Vitamin C aids absorption of non-haem iron so consuming sources of both nutrients at the same time is recommended.
Calcium intake in pregnancy is most important for teenage mums – because their bones are still growing they have a high need for calcium and so does the baby’s developing skeletal system. Studies indicate the risk of imbalanced blood pressure in advanced pregnancy is reduced by a significant 52% when prenatal calcium supplements are taken. If calcium levels are low, calcium may be leached out of bones and teeth to provide for both your needs and the developing baby.
Maximising calcium absorption
Efficient absorption is a key issue with calcium intake, and this depends on other minerals being present in the right ratios. Sufficient amounts of magnesium and vitamin D are essential for calcium absorption. Foods high in silica also help to increase calcium absorption. Sources include raw oats, oat straw tea, horsetail tea, beets and alfalfa. Women having babies at a later age may need to supplement silica as part of their nutrition plan.
Vitamin D regulates calcium absorption from the intestines, which is the body’s primary mechanism for increasing calcium levels during pregnancy. Research indicates that getting the calcium and vitamin D balance right may contribute to the male hormonal health and be a supportive factor in pre-conception health. Recent studies reveal up to 40% of the New Zealand population has insufficient levels of vitamin D, indicating supplementation during pre-conception and pregnancy may be required.
Calcium-rich foods can be found in this article
Iodine is another trace mineral deficient in New Zealand soils, and food sources alone may not provide the iodine needed for extra thyroid hormone production demands in pregnancy. The baby’s brain and the nervous system relies on these thyroid hormones for normal development. Consequently, the Ministry of Health recommends women take a supplement of 150 mcg per day from preconception through pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The best food source of iodine available to us is sea vegetables – various forms of seaweed which are also rich in all the other essential trace minerals. Adding a small quantity of seaweed to the daily diet is a good way to increase the supply of these vital nutrients.
Getting optimal amounts of Omega 3 essential fatty acids (especially DHA) during the preconception stage will improve the conditions for brain development, eyesight and nervous system function in the early stages of the developing foetus from conception onwards. Learning potential, behavioural development and mood stability throughout life are all influenced by the quality of Omega 3s available in utero.
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