This is the column where our readers can write in with their questions. We’ll field the questions to one or more experts in the subject and post the responses typically within 2 weeks. Write Us with Your Question!
Q: I’ve always had a pretty healthy diet but now that I am pregnant, what vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are critical to include for optimal health for me and my baby?
Response from Margaret Connor, MPH, CHC, The Wellness Pantry
A: It sounds like you have already helped yourself and your baby by eating healthy before your pregnancy began, which is terrific. Now let’s examine how our metabolic needs do increase during pregnancy. The following vitamins and minerals play a special role in your health and that of your child’s during pregnancy (and often postpartum as well). One exciting detail to consider is that the absorption of nutrients across our intestinal barrier typically increases during pregnancy, so eating good sources of these vitamins and minerals will go a long way towards keeping you equipped with the necessary nutrients.
FOLATE – You’ve probably heard your OB mention this as a valuable supplement that you might have been taking even before you became pregnant. The evidence that folate reduces the risk of neural tube defects is so compelling that the U.S. started fortifying grains with folate in 1998. The current recommendation is for women with child-bearing potential to be taking 400 micrograms/day and for pregnant women to take 600 micrograms/day. Good dietary sources of folate include broccoli, spinach, lentils and other beans. FUN FACT: Did you know that folate is actually Vitamin B9?
IRON – This is the most common deficiency we see in pregnancy and it typically appears in the second or third trimester. During the first trimester, your body’s increased metabolic demands for iron are balanced out by the fact that you are no longer menstruating each month. However, your body’s demands for iron will increase during your pregnancy and as such, your doctor will likely be keeping a close eye on your levels. On average, 13-40 mg/day of iron supplementation is recommended. Most prenatal vitamins (which we actually take during pregnancy) contain about 30mg. If you are found to be iron-deficient, or anemic, your doctor will place you on a higher dose and recommend that you continue supplementation postpartum. The best dietary sources of iron are read meat, poultry, fortified cereals and beans. Iron is best absorbed from food when it is eaten with foods containing Vitamin C.
CALCIUM – Calcium is required for your baby to grow healthy bones and teeth. Some studies have also shown that calcium supplementation during pregnancy can lower your risk for pregnancy-induced hypertension and preterm delivery due to preeclampsia. It is recommended that pregnant mamas get 1000mg of calcium per day. The average daily intake for most women is about half that amount. As a result, most prenatal vitamins provide calcium supplementation. Good dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, sardines, collard greens, sesame seeds and tofu. To be honest, with the exception of dairy (which I don’t tolerate) that can be a tough list of foods to find palatable during pregnancy. Just do what you can.