You’re pregnant, that is great news, congratulations!  You are embarking on the most important 40 week contract of your life.  You are building an entire human being from scratch.  Your baby will be made up of the nutrients you choose to nourish your body with.  It is vitally important you think about what you eat and the effect it will have on your baby.

What you eat provides the raw materials to build your baby.  The food you eat supports the general constitution and health and well being of your baby for life. 

First and foremost you need to eat food — real food, nourishing food, unprocessed unadulterated food.  When possible choose organic meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables.  Eat whole foods in their most natural state; foods with lots of minerals, vitamins, fibre, phytonutrients and so much more.

It is important to note during your pregnancy your needs for certain nutrients will increase.  Here are ten important nutrients you should pay special attention to:

Iron

Iron builds red bloods cells in both mom and baby – your blood supply increases by a third during pregnancy, and your baby grows his or her entire blood supply from scratch.  Iron is the main component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body.  Iron aids in disease resistance and is the foundation building block for muscles and enzymes.  Your needs double during pregnancy increasing to 27mg per day.  Good sources include liver, meat, eggs, chicken, salmon, seaweed, brewers yeast, molasses, millet, quinoa, prunes, raisins, apricots, mushrooms, spinach, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, nuts, seeds, legumes, peas, oatmeal and soy beans.  Eat iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods for better absorption.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is essential for protein synthesis, the formation of new cells, and the production of new blood. It is required for your increasing blood supply and the growth of tissues in both you and your baby. Folic acid is also necessary for proper formation of the neural tube, which occurs in the first 28 days of pregnancy.  It is suggested that all women of childbearing age supplement with folic acid because most women do not know they are pregnant during the first 28 days when the neural tube is being formed.  The recommended intake during pregnancy is 400mcg per day.  Foods rich in folic acid include eggs, leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes, and wheat germ.

Protein

Your protein needs increase during pregnancy, up to 70g per day.  Protein helps support the growth and development of the baby.  Protein plays a role in building muscles, tissues, enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds and dairy.

Zinc

Zinc aids in the normal healthy development of your baby’s immune system, is found in almost every cell in the body, is needed to make each new copy of DNA and plays a critical role in over 100 different biochemical reactions in the body.  It is also required for your baby’s growth and development. It can be found in all the iron rich foods above as well as pumpkin seeds and whole grains.  During pregnancy zinc needs increase to 11mg per day.

Calcium

During pregnancy your calcium needs do not go up — you will need approximately 1200mg per day.  The big issue here is that most women are not meeting their daily intake, so there is an importance placed on this mineral.  Calcium forms your baby’s bones and teeth, aids in muscle and heart function as well as blood clotting, and nerve transmission.  Good sources include dairy products, nuts, seeds (especially sesame seeds), grains (quinoa is an excellent source), leafy greens and sea vegetables.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 needs increase to 1.9mg per day.  It is vital for your baby’s brain development and muscle function.  Vitamin B6 has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of morning sickness.  Good source include dairy, meat, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, legumes and avocado.

Iodine

Iodine is a mineral that is essential to the proper functioning of your thyroid gland.  It is vitally important for your baby because the thyroid hormone regulates the developing brain, heart, kidneys, muscles and pituitary glands.  During pregnancy your demand for iodine also goes up. Good sources of iodine are from foods and plants grown in the sea – think nori, kombu, seaweed, etc.  Iodine can also be found in salt.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is necessary for development, growth and maintenance of a healthy body – for both you and your baby. It is also necessary for your baby’s bone development.  There are many studies linking low vitamin D levels during pregnancy to low birth weight, pre-eclampsia, and pre-disposition to multiple sclerosis, among other things.  During the summer, the sun on unprotected skin will provide more than enough vitamin D.  Fortified foods are the best source of vitamin D in the winter, and in most cases will not provide nearly enough, so supplementation is necessary.  The Vitamin D council recommends 4000 to 5000IU for pregnant women.

Probiotics

Probiotic means “for life” and use during pregnancy is linked to a decrease in eczema and other allergies in babies. Probiotics act as natural antibiotics, helping to fight off bad bacteria in the gut, improve digestion by stimulating peristalsis and have an antibacterial effect on the body.  Probiotic cultures can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh and sauerkraut.  Probiotic supplements are also available.

DHA

DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, is needed for your baby’s brain and retina development (the brain is 60 per cent fat — if your supply is lacking your baby will assemble their brain from substitute ingredients).  DHA also reduces the inflammatory response in the body, provides antioxidant properties, and is necessary for hormone, antibody and bile production.  Demand during pregnancy increases in the third trimester to 2400mg per day to support the rapid growth and development of the brain at this stage.  This amount is very difficult to get from your diet, so supplementation is necessary.  Food sources of DHA include cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds, fish oil and algae.  Supplementation with a good quality fish oil or algae-based supplement can help to meet your needs during the third trimester.

Paying special attention to your diet during your pregnancy and including a variety of nutrient dense whole foods will give your baby the very best start in life, a start that will lead them to optimum health and well being.  Happy eating!

Resources

Staying Healthy With Nutrition – The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, Elson M. Hass

From First Kicks to First Steps – Nurturing Your Baby’s Development from Pregnancy Through the First Year of Life, Dr. Alan Greene

by Kim Corrigan-Oliver

Kim Corrigan-Oliver is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and a Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner.  Her practice Your Green Baby specializes in nutrition for mom, baby and toddler – preconception to preschool.  For more information please check out her website at www.yourgreenbaby.ca