There is no magical formula for nutrition during pregnancy. The basic principles of healthy eating remain the same- plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and leaner sources of protein. However a few essential nutrients that do deserve some special attention. Here is what tops the list.
This B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, which is a serious abnormality of the brain and spinal cord. Lack of folic acid also increases the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight and poor foetal growth.
How much is needed: 1 mg(400mcg) per day before conception and during pregnancy .
Sources – Fortified cereals are great sources of folic acid. Various fruits and vegetables also act as excellent sources. A daily prenatal vitamin- starting at least 1 month before getting pregnant is strongly recommended.
Both the mother and the baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps the circulatory, muscular and nervous system t run properly .
How much is needed- 1000mg a day
Sources- Dairy products are the richest sources of calcium. Fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium.
Protein is extremely crucial for baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. Protein also repairs cells as the body undergoes changes. At the same time excess protein supplementation has been found to lead to the birth of small for gestational age babies (SGA). Small for gestational age is a term used to describe a baby who is smaller than the normal size for the number of weeks of pregnancy. Small for gestational age babies usually have birth weights below the 10th percentile for babies of the same gestational age.
Babies with SGA may have problems at birth including the following
- Decreased oxygen levels
- Low Apargar scores ( an assessment that helps identify babies with difficulty adapting after delivery)
- Merconium aaspiration (inhalation of first stools passed in utero) which can lead to difficulty in breathing
- Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
How Much is needed
At least 60 grams /day. Excess should be avoided. WHO guidelines suggest balanced protein energy supplementation <25% calories from protein during pregnancy.
Lean meat, poultry fish and eggs are good sources of protein. Other options include dried beans and peas, tofu and peanut butter.
The human body uses iron to make hemoglobin that carries oxygen to various tissues. During pregnancy the need for iron nearly doubles. The risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight are also higher in case of iron deficiency.
How much is needed.
37.5mg of dietary iron /day on a mixed cereal diet.
Lean red meat, poultry and fis are good sources. Iron fortified breakfast cereals, nuts and dried fruits are other options. Iron supplement is recommended.
Choline is a nutrient that has gained prominence in the recent years. This nutrient is basically needed for health promotion and disease prevention in individuals of all ages. It is vital for many of life’s most basic functions including the normal functioning of all the body’s cells, brains and nerve functions, liver metabolism as well as transportation of nutrients throughout the bod.
The majority of body’s choline is found in phospholipids, the most common of which is lecithin, the strctral component of cell membranes. Choline is an essential nutrient during pregnancy as well in lactating mothers , as these are periods during which maternal reserves of choline gets depleted. Choline has been shown to influence brain and spinal cord structure lifelong memory function and learning ability.