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Nutrition and supplementing in pregnancy: The benefits for you and your baby

by Sara Jackson

During pregnancy, it is important that your diet is delivering your increased nutrient and mineral requirements to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible. Every woman’s particular needs will differ slightly, but here is some info that covers the crucial minerals and vitamins that you need to consider and how to make sure you’re getting enough of them.

Some of your nutrient requirements change during pregnancy so pay particular attention to these:

  • Lots of high quality protein to cover the extra foetal and maternal tissue made during pregnancy. You need approximately 10 extra grams per day, which you can get from sources like grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild-caught sustainable seafood (smaller fish preferable). Great plant-based protein sources include properly prepared lentils, chickpeas and beans. Lentils are super easy to make and they’re my favourite legume because they’re so versatile and are the highest in both fibre and protein per serving, coming in at a whopping 11g of protein and 15g fibre per one cooked cup!
  • Large amounts of vegetables, especially green ones. Green and cruciferous veggies like kale, spinach, swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus and brussels sprouts contain folate, which is important for foetal growth, and they’re high in many other nutrients like iron, magnesium, vitamins C and A, fibre and calcium. They help prevent the dreaded constipation that can sometimes occur during pregnancy, and are great for ensuring nursing mamas are getting enough vitamins. You can never have too many veggies in your life!

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  • Have healthy fats! Pregnancy and breastfeeding are not times to skimp on healthy fats. Quality fats are absolutely vital for baby’s brain development, healthy immunity, organ and tissue growth, and encourage good milk production for nursing mamas. Coconut oil actually contains many of the components found in breast milk. The best sources of fats include healthy meats, olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts, which are all especially good during pregnancy. The latest research shows we were duped all those years thinking fat will make you fat—in fact, it’s the opposite, but the right kind of ‘good fat’ is key. Invest in a good quality cold-pressed coconut, flaxseed or avocado oil and include one or two tablespoons of these oils daily—they’re yummy drizzled on your vegetables or salad, over porridge or mixed into your fresh juices and smoothies.
  • Other high-nutrient foods that are fabulous during pregnancy and breastfeeding include homemade bone broth soups (see the broth queens Hemsley + Hemsley for recipes and more info), fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, fruit (especially berries) and green smoothies.

It’s important to note that even with the most considered diet, it can be difficult to get enough of the necessary nutrients for pregnancy from food alone, especially with our often lacking modern food supply. So I feel some supplements are necessary, though they can’t replace a healthy diet and good lifestyle habits.

I usually recommend the following key supplements to my pregnant clients:

Folate

The supplement folic acid is commonly recommended, but there is substantial difference between folic acid (the synthetic form) and folate (the natural form). The dosage also varies and some sources recommend as much as 1200 mcg of folate per day (from all sources, so take into account folate from multivits here too) for maximum benefit. Folate has been extensively studied for use in pregnancy and has been proven effective against neural tube defects, especially when taken in the first trimester. It is also very affordable and easy for every pregnant woman to take.

Prenatal Multivitamin

A good quality multivitamin is a great insurance policy during the intensive developmental phases of pregnancy, as a nutrient deficiency really can have lasting consequences for baby, but it should always accompany a high-nutrient diet. Just make sure it doesn’t contain folic acid, but folate or methyl folate instead. I personally recommend Nutri Advanced ‘Pregnancy Multi Essentials’ as it provides high levels of the vitamins and minerals in the right forms that you need to keep you and baby healthy.

Probiotics

Probiotics are critical, especially during pregnancy. I feel they’re the most important thing I can educate people on as most people don’t know how important they are. Good gut health has a significant impact on lifelong health, and giving your baby this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby’s health. During the birth process, babies receive their beneficial gut bacteria from what their mama passes on through the birth canal and from breastfeeding in the following months. Unfortunately, this process doesn’t happen in the same way with caesarean deliveries, however quality probiotics go some way towards rectifying this and exposing the baby to important bacteria strains that they might have missed out on.

I believe probiotics should be taken throughout pregnancy but particularly in the last three months as by helping improve the gut bacteria in mum you’ll be ensuring that baby will get a good dose of beneficial bacteria during a normal vaginal delivery. Studies have shown that using probiotics can reduce risk of ear infection and illness in the first few years as well as helping mamas keep illness and constipation at bay during pregnancy, even possibly reducing the risk of Group B strep. A baby’s gut bacteria continues to culture during the breastfeeding period, so should you choose to breastfeed, it is good for mums to continue to take probiotics during this time as well.

Fish Oil – Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are also super important in pregnancy, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Found in all the cells of our bodies, DHA is critical for brain, eye, and central nervous system development, and it increases a developing baby’s cognitive functioning, resulting in higher IQ levels and longer attention spans. Who doesn’t want that for their baby? For mum, it reduces the risk of pre-term labour and postnatal depression. You pay for what you get, so stretch yourself to the best you can afford here. I like Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil because they’re sustainable, pure and they actually extract the oil on the fishing boats, so you couldn’t get fresher.

Vitamin D3

The latest research shows that vitamin D can help minimise the risk of many pregnancy-related complications including gestational diabetes. It is important for baby’s bone and hormone development and helps support mama’s immune system during pregnancy. Some research suggests that nursing babies may be able to get vitamin D from the mother’s milk if mum is getting more than 5,000 IU/day. When pregnant or breastfeeding, I’d take 5,000 IU/day, unless I’m able to get 20 minutes or more of morning sunshine. Most people in the UK are significantly deficient in vitamin D, but if you think you have good levels, ask your midwife or doctor to check during one of the millions of blood tests you have in pregnancy to make sure you’re not supplementing unnecessarily as it’s equally as dangerous if your levels get too high.

Magnesium

I personally take magnesium most of the time, but it can be very helpful in pregnancy. Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to poor foetal growth, pre-eclampsia or even occasionally foetal death. Proper magnesium levels also aid mum’s tissue growth and recovery during pregnancy and may help baby receive more nutrition through the placenta. As a general rule, don’t exceed 500 mg from all sources, unless advised by your midwife or doctor.

I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy pregnancy!

This post is strictly informational and should only give you a starting point for a conversation between you and your medical provider about the best supplements for your specific pregnancy.

Sara Jackson
Author

Sara Jackson is a registered naturopath and nutritional therapist who runs SJ Health, a busy London clinic specialising in women’s and children’s health. Head over to her blog at www.sjhealth.co.uk or her Instagram feed sjhealth.co.uk for more top health and wellbeing tips and delicious recipe ideas.

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