A new study published by Purdue University suggests that pregnant moms aren’t getting the ideal amount of nutrients. Researchers led by Dr. Regan Bailey tracked the nutrients found in the bodies of over one thousand pregnant women. Most of the expectant mothers were taking prenatal supplements, but most of the test results showed they were absorbing fewer nutrients than pregnancy demands. Almost 70% of the pregnant study subjects were taking supplements to bolster their nutritional intake.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine set the standard for appropriate nutrition during pregnancy with their Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) model. When Dr. Bailey and her team compared their test subjects’ vitamin and mineral levels to the DRI model, they found most of the mothers weren’t getting enough nutrition - but some were getting too many nutrients. This overdose of vitamins and minerals can create problems during pregnancy.
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Wholesome nutrition is extremely important to foster healthy pregnancies and, ultimately, healthy babies. Most pregnant women are conscientious about what they’re putting into their bodies while they’re gestating a tiny human. Even those with a maternal drive to provide what their unborn child needs weren’t meeting the levels set forth by the DRI model.
"Many pregnant women do not consume enough of key nutrients: specifically, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, folate and choline -- even with the use of dietary supplements."
The findings troubled dietary scientists, who point out the importance of balanced nutrition for healthy fetal development. It would appear that those who showed a deficit of one vitamin or mineral were likely to lack multiple major nutrients. At least one in ten study subjects weren’t receiving enough magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, vitamin A, folate, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and zinc. Note the keyword “and”. To translate: over 10% of subjects showed measurable shortages of each and every one of those vitamins and minerals.
Each of the nutrients Bailey deems essential to a healthy pregnancy supports a specific facet of fetal wellness. For example, folate is a B vitamin known to prevent neural tube defects and spine/brain abnormalities. In addition, folate and its synthetic counterpart, folic acid, can prevent preterm labor. This is why The March Of Dimes makes folic acid their focus in their fight against premature birth.
Calcium and Vitamin D promote strong bones and teeth for both mother and baby. If a pregnant person doesn’t consume enough calcium, their unborn child will leach the nutrients from their mother’s bones!
Pregnant people also require twice the typical level of iron in their daily diet. Iron helps the body produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body and to the unborn baby. It’s quite common for a pregnant person to develop anemia due to insufficient iron; anemia can cause weakness, fatigue, postpartum depression, preterm birth, and low birth weight for the baby.
One of the most troublesome findings of the Purdue University study is the subjects’ level of salt intake. Nearly all test subjects - 95% - were eating too much sodium. Dr. Rahul Gupta, Chief Medical Officer for The March Of Dimes, reiterates the importance of limiting salt intake during pregnancy. “We know there is a direct correlation between salt and high blood pressure,” Gupta explains. High blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia, a condition that can permanently damage the liver, kidneys, and cause preterm birth. In the most severe cases, preeclampsia is fatal for the mother and/or baby.
Dr. Regan Bailey’s team of researchers at Purdue see the potential for expectant people to achieve an appropriate balance of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. Since most of the study subjects were already taking prenatal supplements, it’s feasible to take things one step further and draw up tests in normal prenatal care. The results of said tests could help doctors and patients find the right combination of supplemental nutrition they need for a happy and healthy pregnancy.