Before mom is even expecting, doctors recommend she take a prenatal vitamin to make sure she is receiving the essential nutrients to help sustain a pregnancy and help a baby develop. While it's important to take a prenatal vitamin, it's also a good idea for mom to know what nutrients she needs and to use food to place them in her system as well.
It's obviously important for mom to provide healthy, nutrient-rich food for her baby, but the effects of what mom eats during pregnancy have an even bigger impact than first suspected. Researchers have now found that mom's food and nutrient consumption while she is expecting can affect her child's health for many decades. That means our babies are what we eat, and that can be an overwhelming prospect.
Before mom buckles under all this responsibility, she should know that research has also pinpointed the right nutrients for mom to consume while carrying her baby. By taking a prenatal vitamin and making good decisions about diet, mom can give her child a head start on a healthy life outside of the womb.
To choose wisely, mom should know how to read ingredients and try to cook at home using nutrient-rich foods when possible. This approach helps her keep the good stuff in her food without any unnecessary additives. Eating during pregnancy can be a delicious journey, and with all the positive health benefits that can come out of it, mom is already giving her baby the best by including the following nutrients.
15 Omega 3
Many women are skeptical when it comes to eating fish during pregnancy, and it's true that there are certain fish that should be avoided during pregnancy. Fish known to be high in mercury are on the no-no list, but 12 ounces of salmon, tilapia, cod, and other low-mercury fish a week are the perfect choices if mom wants omega-3.
DHA is part of omega-3 fatty acids, and it is connected to brain development. It also helps with memory and vision. This powerhouse, which can also be consumed in supplement form, may also boost baby's language abilities and motor skills.
The fish taste of the supplement sometimes puts new mothers off, but omega-3 can also be found in flaxseed. Flaxseeds can be added to smoothies or other drinks so mom can still consume her omega-3 without the fishy aftertaste. Just don't forget this one when deciding what to take during pregnancy. It's a must.
Protein is a basic building block for the body, so it makes sense that we need more of it when we're expecting since we are literally building a human. The recommended protein requirement for moms-to-be is 25 grams higher than for non-expectnant women, and moms carrying multiples will need even more.
Most of us eat enough protein in our everyday diet, but adding more in a healthy way can feel tricky, especially during the weeks when mom doesn't feel like she can eat anything at all. Chicken is packed with protein, but many a mom-to-be has complained of chicken aversions, which is why it's great that there are so many other choices.
Eggs, red meat, and fish are also good sources, and for the vegetarian or vegan moms, nuts, seeds, and legumes are powerhouses when it comes to protein. However, if mom doesn't eat meat or dairy during pregnancy, she should let her doctor know so her protein intake can be monitored since it's harder for vegans to consume enough protein.
One fact that is true of babies is that they are takers, and that starts in the womb. Need an example? If mom isn't providing baby with enough calcium, the baby will just take it from mom, robbing her bones of this necessary nutrients and leaving her at risk for problems like osteoporosis in the future.
Calcium is important for the development of a baby's bones and teeth in the womb. The good news is if mom suffered with horrible morning sickness and didn't hold much down during the first trimester, she can rest a bit knowing bone and tooth development happen in the second and third trimesters.
Calcium supplements abound, but calcium is also readily available in the food we eat. Almonds, broccoli, and okra are excellent sources, as are the old dairy staples, cheese, milk, and yogurt.
Anemia is a common problem in many pregnancies, and it makes sense if we take a look at how the body works. The amount of blood in mom's body increases substantially when she is expecting, and iron, the vitamin that is deficient when mom has anemia, carries oxygen to mom's organs, as well as to the baby. As the blood in mom's body increases, so does the need for iron.
While some doctors will test mom for anemia in the first trimester and then never check again through the pregnancy, anemia can strike anytime. That's why consuming enough foods rich in iron is essential, as is taking a supplement if mom is found to be iron-deficient.
Good sources of iron are red meat and green leafy veggies, so a salad with flank steak on top is a great order! Many cereals and breads are also fortified with iron, so mom should read the labels and find out which ones have the most to offer.
11 Folic Acid
There's a reason moms hear about folic acid the minute they talk about wanting to start a family. It's very important for a healthy pregnancy and baby, and mom should be taking it before she tries to conceive.
Why? The chance for neural tube defects that happen during development in the first trimester decrease by over half when mom consumes enough folic acid. That means the chance of a child suffering from spina bifida plummet with the addition of folic acid to mom's diet.
Mom should rely heavily on a prenatal vitamin to receive her required folic acid. While most nutrients are absorbed just as well, if not better, when we consume them in food, folic acid doesn't work that way. Even foods with folic acid, like lentils or avocados, don't provide us with enough folic acid. Researchers aren't sure why, but one possibility is that foods that are stored or cooked can lose the amount of folate they started with.
The effect of the nutrient choline is much like that of folic acid. Choline helps with brain development and serves as an aid in spinal cord development. Both folic acid and choline are important for the development of the baby.
If mom likes liver, she should be fine when it comes to choline because beef liver offers plenty. If liver isn't her ideal meal, eggs, scallops, many seafoods, and peanut butter are also great sources. Mom doesn't have to worry as much about her daily intake of choline. It's more her average over the week that counts.
Choline may or not be in mom's prenatal, so mom may have to grab a separate supplement to make sure she has enough. Talking to the doctor will help mom know what to do, and mom will need this nutrient when she is breastfeeding as well.
There is plenty of good news about iodine. First of all, mom probably won't need to pop a pill to receive enough of it. Most moms, especially Americans, tend to get enough iodine from their food because we use too much salt in everything, and salt is enriched with iodine in the states. Iodine also supports the baby's brain development, and studies show it may also be linked with kids having a higher IQ.
Since we eat so much salt, iodine consumption during pregnancy is generally not a problem, but if mom wants to make sure she is eating iodine-rich foods, she should look to turkey breast, navy beans, or seafood.
Don't undervalue the importance of iodine. A lack of it during pregnancy has been linked to an increase in bad outcomes, such as miscarriages and stillbirths. Not consuming enough during pregnancy is also associated with preterm delivery.
Fruit lovers shouldn't have a hard time meeting their potassium requirements during pregnancy since bananas, raisins, and prune juice offer plenty of this nutrient. Baked potatoes are also a good choice, and consuming enough potassium helps keep mom's body running properly and may also help her avoid aches and pains.
Potassium sends nerve impulses and helps with muscle contraction. In conjunction with other minerals and nutrients, it also helps balance fluids and electrolytes in mom's body. That's a pretty big job during pregnancy because mom has so much more blood running through her.
Women who aren't receiving enough potassium often suffer with leg cramps that may make it hard for them to sleep. While cramping of many kinds is common during pregnancy, it's not a bad idea to have potassium levels tested to see if they are too low. If so, that may be the reason for the excess discomfort.
Riboflavin is in the B vitamin family—it's officially B2—and it has many important functions during pregnancy. B2 helps mom's body produce energy, and as any expectant woman can explain, energy is desperately needed during pregnancy.
Riboflavin also helps keep baby's skin healthy, helps with vision, and assists a baby with growth. Riboflavin is soluble, so mom will not store it in her body. That means replenishing riboflavin daily is essential through either a supplement or food, or a combination of both. Not enough riboflavin has been linked to an increased risk of preeclampsia.
While many wheat flours and breads are fortified with riboflavin, those who need to avoid wheat due to a gluten allergy needn't worry. Meat, almonds, and eggs are great sources, as are asparagus and broccoli. Just remember that light can kill riboflavin, so keep foods containing it stored in a pantry or somewhere it won't be constantly exposed to sun or interior light.
6 Vitamin B6
Another important B vitamin is B6. Besides helping with brain and nervous system development, B6 helps babies properly handle protein and carbohydrates by aiding the body in metabolizing them. An added bonus? B6 may also offer mom relief from nausea during pregnancy.
New blood cells and neurotransmitters are created with the help of B6, and many healthy foods contain this vitamin. Nuts, fish, and avocados are great sources, and vegetables are also a good choice for moms who can't seem to stomach much food.
Prenatal vitamins tend to contain plenty of B6, but it's still a good idea to eat a diet with plenty of B6 in it to make sure our bodies absorb enough. However, mom should not up her B6 supplement intake without doctor's approval, no matter how bad her morning sickness is. Too much can be a problem for mom and her baby.
5 Vitamin C
Baby's bones and tendons depend on vitamin C because it helps make collagen, a protein needed for the other two, as well as for the skin and cartilage. Vitamin C is not stored in the body, so mom needs to get enough every day.
Vitamin C is also necessary for the body's tissue to repair itself, and wounds heal slowly if mom doesn't have enough. In fact, wounds that don't heal quickly and bruises that stay for a while are signs of vitamin C deficiency.
Most prenatal vitamins have mom covered here, but orange juice, broccoli, and most other fruits pack loads of vitamin C. Between the prenatal and food, mom should receive plenty, and taking an extra vitamin C supplement isn't needed or encouraged. In fact, some studies link too much vitamin C during pregnancy to preterm labor, and it can also upset mom's stomach.
4 Vitamin D
Though mom always needs to talk to her doctor before taking more of a supplement than is in her prenatal vitamin, vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that is recommended in high doses during pregnancy. The average prenatal vitamin has about 400 IU of vitamin D. Researchers recommend moms-to-be consume 10 times that much!
Why? The short answer is vitamin D is a powerhouse with major health benefits for mom and baby. Women who took 4000 IU a day during pregnancy were less likely to experience preterm labor or infections. Vitamin D also helps with the immune system and is necessary for bone development. In fact, the body can't absorb calcium without it.
Women deficient in vitamin D are at an increased risk of developing preeclampsia. While there are foods that contain vitamin D, like milk and cod liver oil, taking a supplement is the best way to make sure mom has enough of this extremely important vitamin. Mom should also spend some time in the sun as well since vitamin D can be absorbed this way.
For proper cell growth and DNA function, baby needs zinc. Cell growth happens quickly during pregnancy, so not having enough zinc is a real problem. Zinc also helps with healing and will keep mom tasting her foods during pregnancy. Women who are deficient in zinc tend to deliver babies who are at a lower birth weight, a problem that puts them at risk for other complications.
Meat and foods fortified with zinc are good choices, as are cashews and pork. Mom may also hear that oysters are high in zinc, and that's true. However, they are also high in mercury and not recommended for moms-to-be. Plus, raw oysters can carry food-borne illnesses and aren't worth the risk during pregnancy.
Mom does not want to get too much zinc since too much can cause nausea, pain, and diarrhea, not fun conditions to deal with anytime but especially not during pregnancy.
Not consuming enough magnesium is not an option if mom wants to ensure a safe pregnancy for her baby. Magnesium is necessary for calcium consumption, and magnesium is also needed to relax muscles. Relaxed muscles mean mom shouldn't start having contractions too early resulting in preterm labor.
This nutrient is easy for moms to consume, no matter what diet they follow. Magnesium is abundant in seeds, whole grains, and vegetables, so vegans can easily take in plenty. Almonds and certain fish also contain an adequate amount.
Though it's hard to be deficient in magnesium, mom should definitely speak to her doctor if her morning sickness is bad and she isn't holding food down or if she is eating only a couple of foods. Diets with variety that are relatively healthy are packed with magnesium, but mom may need magnesium supplementation beyond her prenatal vitamin if she isn't able to eat much.
Fiber is always important, and when mom thinks of fiber, she probably thinks of staying regular in the bowel department. Fiber is essential for that, and more than ever mom will need assistance with this during and right after pregnancy.
Our digestion slows down during pregnancy, and some moms barely eat enough that first trimester, so they have a hard time producing stool anyway. Constipation is not comfortable, and many times during pregnancy it leads to hemorrhoids which are painful, itchy, and gross.
Besides helping to keep things flowing, fiber can help mom avoid gestational diabetes. It helps prevent glucose intolerance, and that's important if mom doesn't want to deal with diabetes.
Beans, brown rice, and nuts all offer fiber, and mom should be able to get down plenty of food with fiber throughout her pregnancy by eating balanced meals.