Pregnancy is a biological phase that involves development of a new human inside a woman’s womb. Vitamins and minerals are prerequisites to healthy bodily function. They are often called micronutrients because our bodies need only tiny amounts of them, yet, the deficiency is risky. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies because of the increased metabolic demands in growing placenta, foetus, and maternal tissues. It is recommended that pregnant women consciously include some specific vitamins and minerals in their diet. While it is attainable to get most of them from a balanced diet, the typical western diet is low in several nutrients.
This article lists top ten nutritional needs of a pregnant woman.
- FOLIC ACID
Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate or called vitamin B9, is a water-soluble vitamin absorbed primarily in the duodenum and jejunum, which is of much importance during pregnancy. In fact, for women who are planning to get pregnant, it is so important! If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine. There are serious birth defects such as spina bifida, when the foetal spine and back do not close in the womb. Therefore, as a pregnant woman, it is important to incorporate folic acid into one’s diet as early as possible. Folic acid is also involved in producing the genetic material called DNA, which stores and transfers genetic information. Furthermore, it prevents miscarriage and improves gum disease during pregnancy. These and many other bodily functions are what folic acid does during pregnancy. Women capable of becoming pregnant should take 400mcg of folic acid per day from fortified foods or supplements, while, women who are already pregnant are advised to take 600mcg per day from same. Folic acid can be gotten from consumption of natural foods such as green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and beans.
- VITAMIN D
Vitamin D, also referred to as calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin stored in the body’s fat cells. Vitamin D has the ability to reduce risk of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure. Early in pregnancy, new blood vessels develop to efficiently send blood to the placenta. In women with preeclampsia, these blood vessels do not develop properly so there is an increased pressure on the present blood vessels as they have to still send blood to the placenta. If this disorder is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause maternal and infant death. Consequently, it is important for a pregnant woman to supplement her diet with Vitamin D. It also reduces the risk of preterm birth and low birth-weight. Now, how do you get this functional vitamin? Well, while vitamin D is produced endogenously when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis, it is not gotten from the sun singly. In fact, black pregnant women do not derive sufficient vitamin D from the sun due to the reduced synthesis of vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) in the black skin. Therefore, if a pregnant woman is not getting enough vitamin D from the sunlight, she can obtain it from foods like fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon), cheese, egg yolks, beef-liver and fortified cereals.
Iron, also known as ferrous salt, is a mineral found in every human cell-essential for growth. It is vital to the transportation of oxygen in the haemoglobin of red blood cells throughout the body. When iron levels are low in a pregnant woman, the red blood cells reduce in number and can cause iron deficiency anemia; a condition which cause the mother to feel tired consistently. Severe anemia may put the baby at risk of premature delivery and low birth-weight. Also, if twins or multiple babies are involved, it is very important to get iron supplements in order to give the mother energy and stamina through the day, improve babies’ strength and performance in their growing years, and of course increase blood production. An approximate time to begin iron supplementation is after week 12 of gestation. A pregnant woman needs 27 to 30mg of iron a day. That dose should not be exceeded to avoid excess blood production. Some of the best sources of iron are: beans, tofu, potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, red meats, dry fruits and fortified breakfast.
Docosahexaenoic acid, also known as DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, namely: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They are all necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons and improve bone density, but DHA is much more needed in pregnant women. It is essential for brain development during pregnancy till early childhood, and accounts for 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids found in the brain. DHA is also linked to improved heart health, better vision, and reduced inflammatory response. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed children of mothers who supplemented during pregnancy demonstrated better problem-solving abilities during the first year of their life than control subjects whose mothers did not supplement. Therefore, during pregnancy, women are advised to take prenatal supplements containing 200mg to 300mg of DHA. DHA is produced in our bodies, but to achieve adequate amounts, it needs to be taken in through dietary sources or supplements.
Calcium is an important nutrient found in many foods. Every day, we lose calcium through our nails, skin, hair, sweat and faeces. It is important to replace them in the body, especially in pregnant women. It is necessary in building bones and keeping them healthy. If a pregnant woman cannot sustain the needs of the developing baby, her body will take calcium from her bones, decreasing her bone mass and putting her at a risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes dramatic thinning of the bone, resulting in weak, brittle bones that can be easily broken. Lack of calcium can also cause foetal growth disorder. During pregnancy, a simple way to add calcium to many foods is to add a single tablespoon of non-fat powdered milk, which contains about 50mg of calcium. However, in some cases, supplements are needed. The amount of calcium a pregnant woman needs from a supplement depends on how much she gets from food. If she gets enough calcium from foods (2,500mg of Calcium is enough), there is no need for supplements. Taking more calcium than needed carries risks such as kidney stones, constipation and headache.
- VITAMIN B6
Vitamin B6, also known as Pyridoxine, is a water soluble B-vitamin that is not produced in the body. Due to its presence in most foods, dietary deficiency is rare. Pregnant women need to be conscious of its availability in their diet as it is important for baby’s brain development and immune function by helping in the formation of red blood cells, and antibodies. Taking vitamin B6 may also help reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It helps the body metabolize protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 deficiency causes seborrheic dermatitis, a red, itchy rash on the scalp, face, neck or upper chest. It could also cause depression or other mood symptoms in the mother. An average of 1.9mg of vitamin B6 should be taken per day during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is found in a wide variety of foods, including: poultry, fish, peanuts, oats, bananas, milk, eggs, beef, tuna, potatoes, fortified cereals and pork.
- VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12, also known as Cyanocobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for proper bodily function. It is necessary for healthy nerve tissue, brain function, and red blood cell production. All these are important for the wellbeing of the foetus. Poor maternal vitamin B12 status may also increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as neural tube defects. It can also elevate plasma Hcy levels (hyperhomocysteinemia), which usually contributes to arterial damage and blood clots in blood vessels. Therefore, incorporating vitamin B12 into one’s diet as a pregnant woman is a necessity. It could be gotten in form of supplements, injections or as high dose oral vitamin B12. It can be found naturally in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products, and fortified cereals. An overdose can cause dizziness.
Iodine is an essential mineral to get as a pregnant woman. It helps to maintain normal function of the thyroid, a gland in the base of the neck that regulates hormones. It also has a large role to play in controlling metabolism, heart rate, and body temperature. Iodine deficiency in pregnant women is usually associated with an array of adverse effects, including goitre, cretinism, neonatal defect, hypothyroidism, growth retardation, and increased risk of pregnancy loss and infant mortality. Consequently, it is important to source for iodine and especially include it into pregnancy diet. Iodine can be gotten from iodized salt, fish (such as cod and tuna), shrimp, dairy products, and all other sea foods. Iodine is also included in most supplements sold in pharmacies, or supermarkets.
- VITAMIN C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vitamin found in various foods and most commonly sold as a dietary supplement. Vitamin C is undoubtedly one of the most common vitamins and well-known to people. It is found abundantly in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red peppers, sweet and white potatoes, tomatoes and tomato juice, etc. Vitamin C is needed for tissue repair and wound healing, it also helps the baby’s bones and teeth develop, too. Vitamin C also aids the mother’s production of collagen, helps bolster immunity and, to crown it all, improves her ability to absorb iron. The most common daily dosage of vitamin C is 1000mg for pregnant women but they can still take lesser milligrams.
Magnesium is an essential mineral required to regulate body temperature, nucleic acid, and protein synthesis. During pregnancy, it also plays an important role in maintaining nerve and muscle cell electrical potentials. Magnesium may reduce foetal growth restriction, as well as increase birth weight while also preventing preeclampsia. In case of deficiency, a contracted womb cannot relax any longer. Consequently, there are cramps that could trigger premature contractions-and lead to premature delivery in some severe cases. This shows that magnesium is definitely a mineral to look out for! It is widely distributed in plant and animal foods and in beverages, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and some breakfast cereals that have been fortified. The recommended dietary allowance for a pregnant woman is 400-420mg per day.
This article encapsulates the top ten important nutritional needs during pregnancy.There is no need eating for two, instead, a pregnant woman must eat a varied diet containing all these vitamins and minerals to avoid complications.