Pregnancy is a state that brings many changes to a woman’s body. Not only will there be breast engorgement, widening of hips, belly enlargement, and loosening of joints; but there are also these changes in metabolism or organ functions which women will feel during this period. The importance of good nutrition is always emphasized for the mom’s well-being, and for the optimal growth and development of the baby in her womb. Some women are encouraged to “eat for two”. However, it is not the quantity, but the quality of what is consumed that’s considered more important.
In my experience, as a mother and a physician, I really became mindful of my diet for my daughter. Mine was a difficult pregnancy, but the morning sickness and spotting episodes did not stop me to consume more fruits and vegetables. I also took recommended supplements dutifully. Some good-intentioned women advised me to eat cakes and other sweets for calming hyperactive salivary glands, but I stuck to yogurt with fruit and ice chips. After all, the reward was sweeter when I finally held my healthy baby for the first time.
Baby depends on mommy
Vitamins and other nutrients are needed for normal body functions. This requirement may be increased for a pregnant mom since her baby also gets nutritional support from what she consumes. The fetus’ growth and development will be affected by the nutrients available from her mother. Some babies may have congenital issues or retarded growth because of a pregnant mom’s poor diet choices.
Even before conception, women who want to bear children need to watch their nutrient intake, too. Obstetricians say that malformations, like neural tube defects, happen in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy. Thus, it is strongly advised that planned pregnancies be nutritionally supported as early as three months before the expected release of eggs from the uterus.
Food alone is not enough
A person can only take in so much food because overeating may result to indigestion; or worse, throwing up of a previously consumed meal. In fact, it is strongly recommended for pregnant women to have smaller, but frequent, meals. Specific amounts of food may provide just a definite value of nutrients. This is the reason why supplements, in the form of “prenatal vitamins”, are also helpful for a successful pregnancy.
A prenatal supplement may contain other nutrients aside from vitamins. Most important for pregnant women are supplements with iron, folic acid, and calcium.
Calcium maintains maternal bone strength and aids in fetal bone as well as teeth formation. It may be obtained in large amounts from milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli and kale. The RDA (1,000 mg) for this mineral may not be available in a single food or supplement, though. Many supplements may only have 150 mg – 250 mg, as more than that may render the multivitamin unstable. Some experts suggest the consumption of antacids with calcium carbonate to augment the daily requirement; and also prevent osteoporosis later in life. A supplement with vitamin D may also be needed for better calcium absorption, especially when a pregnant woman is not able to have a healthy dose of sunshine.
Different brands may contain different amounts of a particular nutrient, so a consumer should be meticulous in reading labels, package inserts, or product information that come with the supplements she chooses. The opinion of a specialist may also be helpful, particularly if a pregnant woman has specific nutrient requirements or other health considerations.
Beyond vitamins and minerals
Another important nutrient for pregnancy is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Deep sea fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts are good sources of this nutrient.
This type of omega-3 fatty acid is essential for the brain and eye development of a growing fetus. Duration of pregnancy was also observed to be prolonged, with higher-birthweight-and-length babies, in mothers who live in communities with high DHA consumption (from fatty fish).
Furthermore, other benefits on women’s health may be enough for many to consider increasing omega-3—in the form of DHA— in their diet. It treats pregnancy’s negative symptoms including cramps and breast pain. It is also helpful in weight management and maintenance of skin turgor. It has good effects on hypertension and dyslipidemia or abnormal cholesterol levels. It may also improve exercise performance and help patients in recovery after a surgical procedure. It should also be noted that women who have given birth had higher risk for depression, when their DHA levels are low.
Supplementation can be considered safer for pregnant women; compared with consumption of fatty fish in large amounts that may be contaminated with lead, mercury, or other toxic heavy metals. This is especially true, when one is not sure of her food sources. Vegetarians may also opt for a supplement with algae as DHA source, rather than fish oil. Obstetricians recommend 200 mg of DHA daily for pregnant (and even breastfeeding) women.
Pregnancy, although not a diseased state, is a very special period in a woman’s life that requires a special nutritional consideration. Fortunately, a preggy mom need not tackle this by herself. Apart from best-practices tips from other women, information may also be obtained by researching online or consulting experts in the field of medicine, nutrition, and pharmacology. A balanced diet, together with supplementation of important nutrients, will have good effects beyond nine months. Not only will a mom experience faster and better recovery from the delivery, but her newborn will also have a good headstart in development. Nothing could be closer to the adage: an ounce of medicine is better than a pound of cure. As a last reminder, it may be best to take the supplements daily at bed time. This will minimize nausea or stomach upset for a woman on the family way.