By Dr. Stephanie Rubino, ND
Pregnancy is often an exciting time, but it is easy to become overwhelmed with advice. Although healthy eating and physical activity are important factors for a healthy pregnancy, specific nutrients can support conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Let’s explore which key nutrients are needed for a healthy pregnancy, and why.
Folic acid is an important B-vitamin needed by women of child-bearing age. Folate supports the development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord, helping to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida. Since neural tube defects can occur during the first four weeks of pregnancy when some women may not even be aware that they are pregnant, ensuring appropriate folate supplementation (400 mcg–1 mg per day) is an important preventive step before becoming pregnant.2 Clinical studies show that folate supplementation at least three months preconception and during early pregnancy reduces the overall incidence of neural tube birth defects by 42–87%.3 Folate is available in active and non-active forms. Unfortunately, many people have genetic differences that impair their ability to convert non-active folate into active folate. This can be overcome by choosing folate or prenatal multivitamin supplements that provide the active form of folate known as methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF.44
Another important nutrient required for a healthy pregnancy is iron, a mineral that helps form and support red blood cells. Iron is used throughout pregnancy and becomes especially important during the last trimester when the baby starts to build its own stores for the first six months of life. Iron deficiency is a global nutritional problem affecting up to 52% of pregnant women.5 Women with low iron levels may experience fatigue, dizziness, and sleep difficulties, and have an increased risk of developing preeclampsia and bleeding.5 Iron levels can be supported with the use of prenatal multivitamins It is also important to consume iron-rich foods such as dark leafy vegetables, beans and lentils, red meat, eggs, and poultry.
Vitamin D is a well-known nutrient that supports calcium absorption for general health and wellbeing. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight, however we can also obtain vitamin D through diet and supplements. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is prevalent around the world.6 It’s often recommended to obtain at least 1000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, but speak to your health care provider for guidance regarding dosing. Vitamin D3 is commonly found in prenatal multivitamins, along with other supportive nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin K2.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that cannot be made by the body. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most biologically active omega-3 fatty acids that can be found in fish and plant sources such as flax seed oil and algae. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support foetal eye and brain development and have also been shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth and low birthweight.8 In addition, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may help improve maternal well-being.9 If consuming fish, choose ones low in mercury and high in essential fats, such as wild salmon, anchovies and sardines. Taking a fish oil supplement may be a suitable alternative to eating fish and offers a number of health benefits for both mum and baby.
In addition to those discussed, other nutrients such as vitamins B6, B12, C, and E, along with minerals like iodine, zinc, copper and selenium, support positive health outcomes for mothers and their babies. High-quality prenatal multivitamins often provide many of these nutrients. Take the time to read the labels of the products you are purchasing to ensure they have been tested for contaminants such as heavy metals, solvents and pesticides. Look for key features such as vegan or vegetarian friendly, non-GMO and free of artificial preservatives, colours or sweeteners and major allergens/sensitivities like dairy, gluten or soy. Always remember: Appropriate nutrition, nutrient supplementation, and physical activity can support a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.
*References available on request