Key nutrients for pregnancy
Pregnancy can be both a magical and daunting experience for women, particularly the first time around. The body changes in unique ways, and although hopefully the expectant mum will enjoy every moment of her pregnancy, she may at times struggle both physically and emotionally. If you’re expecting, or thinking of starting a family, it’s important to make sure you get off to a good nutritional start so that you can enjoy an easy pregnancy and labour, and cope with the demands of your newborn.
During pregnancy the need for certain nutrients doubles, but the calorie intake should stay more or less the same. It’s common practice for midwives to recommend a multivitamin mineral specifically formulated for pregnancy, as the need for nutrients such as iron, zinc, and folic acid increase at this time. According to nutrition expert Patrick Holford, having sufficient amounts of these nutrients will prevent pregnancy sickness. Folic acid is needed to help create a healthy spinal cord and prevent spina bifida. As the spinal cord is formed during the first few weeks of pregnancy, it’s best to start taking a pregnancy multivitamin before you fall pregnant. These multivitamins should contain vitamin A in the plant form of beta carotene, which the body converts into retinol as and when needed. Excessively high amounts of retinol have been linked to birth defects, so take care to limit the amount of foods like organ meats which are rich in retinol.
Naturopaths and Nutritional Therapists often prescribe additional nutrients which help to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Recent research has indicated that women who are pregnant during the winter months (and most are), would benefit from supplementing additional vitamin D3, as it may help to prevent their baby from developing Multiple Sclerosis. Vitamin D has been very thoroughly researched in recent years, and found to have low toxicity but multiple health benefits, whether or not you’re expecting.
Brain and eye tissue is largely made from omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), so it’s important to get adequate amounts of these during pregnancy. Eating oily fish from the lower end of the food chain, such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines 3-4 times a week may also help to prevent post natal depression, as it supports mum’s brain health too. Naturopaths recommend supplementing an absolute minimum of 1g omega 3 daily, of which as much as possible should be made of the 2 main active EFAs: DHA and EPA.
If you’re worried about post natal depression, take some extra zinc and vitamin B complex as well, both throughout your pregnancy and afterwards.
Some fascinating research has been done recently into ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ and ‘Gut and Physiology Syndrome’ (GAPS for short), by Dr Natasha Campbell McBride. Dr McBride and other experts have found that the immune system is highly dependent on healthy gut bacteria if it’s going to work normally. The baby swallows their first dose of this vital bacteria as they pass through the birth canal, but only if both mum’s and dad’s intestinal flora is healthy too. Mum in particular needs a good balance of healthy gut flora to produce probiotic breast milk, which tops up baby’s levels even more. As the bacteria in the birth canal originates in both parents’ intestines, it’s very important for both mum and dad to regularly eat probiotic foods such as live yoghurt, miso, or sauerkraut, and take a probiotic supplement every day.
Pre eclampsia is now being treated with magnesium in some US Hospitals, and along with selenium has been found to be a safe, effective form of treatment for this condition. Taking these supplements as a matter of course throughout the pregnancy may help prevent this from developing in the first place, and both have many other health benefits too.
There has been some controversial research into the use of soya during pregnancy and nursing, which has lead some women to keep their intake down to a minimum. The research currently available is very contradictory, and there are no definitive answers yet. If you use a soya protein, you may prefer to switch over to a pea or whey protein instead, and vegetarian/vegan women may wish to reduce the amount of soya in their diet too. Drinks containing alcohol or caffeine should be a very occasional treat, and even then, it’s better to dilute them first e.g. have a wine spritzer, or a very weak cup of coffee. Chamomile or ginger tea is better than fennel tea if you’re feeling nauseous during pregnancy, but fennel is perfect to take whilst breast feeding.
And finally, don’t let all your hard work go to waste when your little one is born. As soon as he or she arrives, your placenta will pump around a pint of blood rich in vital nutrients to your baby, including vitamin K. If you’d prefer your newborn not to have an immediate vitamin K injection, ask that the cord is not clamped until it’s stopped pulsing, making sure that they get off to the healthiest start possible. Videos about delayed cord clamping can be found on YouTube.
Please seek advice from a Naturopath or Nutritional Therapist before adding these supplements your diet during pregnancy, or a Medical Herbalist about using herbs.