Finding an optimal balance of food and nutrition is top of mind for most pregnant women. Read on to find out if supplements can support your needs as you grow your beautiful bump.
Some of the most common nutrition questions asked by pregnant women are often in regard to supplements:
- Should I be taking supplements?
- What kind of vitamins are best for me?
- What are the most important supplements to take?
With the overload of nutrition information available on the Internet and overwhelm of new “nutrition products” on a daily basis, it’s easy to see why there is so much confusion surrounding this topic.
In general, supplements cannot replace a nutrient-dense diet, and it is always helpful to re-evaluate potential nutrient gaps with food intake first before adding any supplements. However, even the most well-intentioned diet may not be sufficient in providing all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies may need in the optimal quantities.
There are also specific times during a woman’s life where nutrient demands are increased, such as pregnancy and postpartum. Having adequate nutrient intake through diet and supplementation is especially important for both mother and baby through these crucial life phases, and when supplements can be helpful.
Meeting increased nutrient requirements through food alone can be challenging, especially for a mama who may be juggling multiple things in life while caring for little ones, making self-care even more difficult to keep a priority. Sitting down for a meal may be as rare as taking a long shower alone, and your food intake might be consistent of the leftovers on your kids’ plates. Even the most vigilant diet may have minor nutrient gaps, so supplements can ensure that nutrient needs are met on a daily basis.
So what are the nutrients deeded during pregnancy?
For a mama who is growing a baby, there are many increased nutrient demands in order to support a healthy pregnancy. Optimal nutrition and supplementation during pregnancy is important for both mother and her developing baby.
Some of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are important during pregnancy include but are not limited to folic acid, calcium, iron, and Omega-3 fatty acids.
This B-vitamin is crucial in pregnancy to help prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord. Neural tube defects can occur at the earliest stages of pregnancy, which is why it is important to supplement with folic acid before conception (when possible). Supplementation with folic acid before pregnancy and through the first trimester can help decrease neural tube defects by up to 70 percent.
Folic acid can also help reduce risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women as well as other defects in baby, including heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate. It is recommended to get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy.
Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding need 1,200 – 1,400 milligrams of calcium per day, which is equivalent to about four 8-ounce glasses of milk. Calcium is crucial for maintaining and building bone health in a pregnant mama and supporting the skeletal growth of baby.
Research has found that women who received about 1,500 milligrams per day of calcium during pregnancy had a decreased risk of preeclampsia, which is a leading cause of premature birth.
Pregnant women who do not get adequate calcium are at increased risk of bone loss, as the growing baby will take what is needed directly from it’s mother’s bones. Crazy, right? If you’re not a regular dairy consumer, a calcium supplement may be especially important during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases by 30-50% to support her growing baby, which can cause anemia for some pregnant mamas.
Women who may not be eating iron-rich foods, who are carrying multiples, or who have had two pregnancies close together may be at increased risk for developing anemia. Anemia during pregnancy can lead to a host of complications during pregnancy, for both mother and baby, so it is crucial to support your body with this important nutrient. The daily requirement for iron during pregnancy is 27 milligrams.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These essential fats are critical for fetal neurodevelopment. Research has also found that Omega-3 supplementation in high-risk pregnant women played an important role in reducing spontaneous premature births.
DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, is particularly crucial for fetal development of the brain and retina during the third trimester. Seafood consumption is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, but due to risk of mercury contamination, servings should be limited. For these reasons, Omega-3 supplements containing both EPA and DHA fatty acids should be considered during pregnancy.
It is especially important to reiterate that supplements cannot replace a balanced, varied diet.
Many women are able to obtain nutrients they need by eating a diet that includes a variety of foods from the major macronutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats. Choosing a diet that includes a wide variety of foods can offer your body the optimal opportunity for getting needed nutrients, and supplements can help provide back up support.
However, supplements can be helpful in complementing a nutrient-rich diet, which can be especially helpful when nutrient needs are higher during pregnancy. Nutrient deficiencies can be particularly harmful to a developing baby, so pregnancy is an important time to consider supplementation. Lastly, it is absolutely important to remember that you should always check with healthcare provider before beginning any supplementation regimen.
The information in this article is strictly informational and should not be used as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider to discuss an individualized approach for nutrient supplementation.
Adapted from the original article.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.