Providing the best start possible for your precious baby is one of the most important things you will ever do. New research shows that what you eat and the nutrients you consume even prior to conception, all impact the short and long term health of your child.
You may spend months preparing the new nursery, but the most important ‘nursery’ your baby will ever have, is the one inside you!
So how do you give your baby the best start possible?
The hero nutrients
Folate is essential during all stages of rapid development and is particularly vital for neural tube development. The neural tube connects the brain and spinal cord and is fully developed and closed within the first 4 weeks of pregnancy, which is often before you even realize you are pregnant. So it’s important to start boosting your folate intake as soon as you begin planning for a baby to prevent the development of neural tube defects.
Good sources of folate include asparagus, green beans, lima beans, soy beans, peas, broccoli, sweet potato, sprouts, oranges, oat meal, wheatgerm, spinach and pretty much all your green leafy vegetables.
However folate is an unstable nutrient and often lost during cooking and processing, so these foods should ideally be consumed raw or just lightly cooked. As folate is do important during this developmental process, supplementation is recommended, as kind of an insurance policy, to help ensure you’re getting enough for your precious baby. The best source of folate to look for is ‘activated’ folic acid, known as calcium folinate or folinic acid. These have been shown to boost folate levels more effectively than basic folic acid. Aim for a supplement providing 500mcg of calcium folinate/folinic acid per day.
Choline has been hailed as the new rockstar pregnancy nutrient! Like folate, choline also supports development of the neural tube as well as being essential for healthy brain development. Choline also supports the growth of the placenta, which is the sole source of nutrition for your growing baby. “The importance of choline cannot be overstated as we continue to unravel the role it plays in human health and development.” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal
Good sources of choline include lecithin granules, eggs, beef, salmon, chicken, baked beans, kidney beans, lentils, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, wheatgerm, oats and milk. Supplementation is also recommended during this crucial time to ensure healthy choline levels.
Aim for a supplement providing 500mcg of choline per day.
Vitamin D is essential for formation and growth of bones and teeth. It helps to transport calcium into the bones and teeth where it is needed. Low levels are linked to low birth weight, slowed growth and premature labour. Low levels can also affect the health of the mother, increasing the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and infection. So ensuring adequate levels during pregnancy is vital. Unlike many nutrient deficiencies, where your baby will leave you deplete yet take everything it needs for growth, vitamin D deficiency can be passed onto the child and is much harder to treat after birth.
The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight, however some people are able to absorb this form of vitamin D through the skin better than others so it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much is enough.
Therefore due to the detrimental effects of too much sun exposure Australian and New Zealand guidelines recommend supplementation over sun exposure to help ensure adequate levels during crucial times. Good food sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, milk, prawns, egg yolk and sprouts plus aim for a supplement providing at least 1000IU of vitamin D per day.
Iron. During pregnancy your recommended intake of iron jumps from 18mg to 27mg due to the increase in blood volume. Iron, works alongside folate and B12 in the development of DNA and is therefore essential for healthy growth and development.
Iron also helps carry oxygen around the body to facilitate energy production, which is essential to all human life. As iron is so essential to life, to help ensure levels never become deplete our body stores all iron consumed and has no means by which to excrete excess. Therefore, supplementation should not exceed the upper safe limit of 45mg per day unless under medical supervision. This is because iron is a heavy metal and can be potentially toxic and harmful in excess.
Good sources of iron include beef, chicken, pork, turkey, tuna, fish as well as vegetarian sources such as soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, spinach and tofu.
Meat sources of iron (heme iron) is more rapidly and easily absorbed than vegetarian sources so vegetarians should be pay particular attention to their iron intake during pregnancy. Supplementation is recommended during pregnancy to help meet requirements however some forms are not well absorbed and can cause constipation. Aim for a supplement providing iron amino acid chelate around 24mg per day to help maximize absorption and avoid side effects.
So do you deserve to be recognized on Mothers Day when you’re pregnant. Absolutely!