Nutrition during pregnancy is important as you are not only providing the extra required nutrients for your changing pregnant body but also for your growing baby. Supplementation plays an important role in ensuring that you meet those extra demands, develop a strong healthy immune system and provide your baby with that extra added health advantage earlier on in life.
What should I eat for pregnancy?
You should eat a balanced and healthy diet which include food rich in proteins such as milk, fish, eggs, meat and poultry; starchy food for example rice, bread and potato. In addition, include a lot of vegetables and fruits in your diet too. Remember as well to take food that are rich in folic acid such as spinach, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, chickpeas, soybeans, tofu, salmon, orange juice, avocado and fortified cereals.
Why do I need to get supplementation during pregnancy?
Even though a healthy balanced diet is the best way to get the essential nutrients that you require during pregnancy, the majority of us may not be able to eat a good balanced diet as much as we want or need to and often have to skip meals due to our demanding hectic modern lifestyle. Hence, there may be a role for supplementation for modern moms like you during pregnancy to ensure that you and your baby still have the right amount of nutrients.
What supplementation that I may need?
Vitamin supplementation maybe advised by your doctors to cover any possible deficiency of minerals in your diet.
This is one of the most important vitamin supplements to take and most likely would be included in your prenatal vitamin and supplement. It is a water-soluble vitamin B. It should be taken 3 months prior to pregnancy until the 12th week of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defect in your baby. The neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord of your baby. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect where the lower part of the spinal cord fails to close leading to paralysis and lifelong disabilities. Some studies have shown that reduced level of folic acid in pregnant mothers may be associated with low birth weight babies.
It is recommended to take at least 0.4mg a day of folic acid pre-pregnancy which could help reduce spina bifida by up to 70%. However, those women with a previous history of a child with neural tube defect, epilepsy and diabetes will require a higher dose of 4mg a day.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium is important for you circulatory, muscle and nervous system to function well. In addition, it helps to build strong bones and teeth for your developing baby. It is recommended that women take at least 1000mg calcium a day when trying to get pregnant. Vitamin D is important to promote calcium absorption for your gut.
You could get your calcium intake from dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Those women who do not eat dairy products or are lactose-intolerant could get their calcium from other sources such as tofu, calcium-fortified breads or cereals, sardines and salmon. In Malaysia, we have sunlight all year round, therefore vitamin D supplements may not be necessary because it can by synthesize through exposing our skin to sunlight.
Iron is an important element for formation of haemoglobin and transportation of oxygen. Iron storage can become low during pregnancy due to an increased demand. It is important to keep your iron level sufficient to prevent anaemia and to ensure your baby receive adequate iron supply. Iron deficiency may be associated with low birth weight babies and also increase your risk of bleeding heavily during labor.
Free fatty acids pass through the placenta and provide energy for the body. Essential fatty acids are structural components of all tissues and are considered the building blocks for all cells. LA and ALA are the precursors for AA (arachidonic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It is also important for the development of the brain, retinal and other neural tissues.
Proteins are transported as amino acids across the placenta and are the major functional and structural component of all cells in the body. Protein is essential growth and development.
Vitamin A is important for the development for the baby’s eyes, bone, skin and lungs. However, large doses of vitamin A can be associated with structural malformation in the baby. Some of the over the counter products for treatment of acne may contain high doses of vitamin A and therefore it is important that you ask your doctor before using these products.
Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from your gut and strengthens your immunity. It is important that you have enough intake of vitamin C. Most local fruits are rich in vitamin C and are a delicious source of vitamin C.
Apart from playing a major role in the development of teeth and bones, magnesium also is important for your enzyme system and muscle contractions.
Probiotics are live microorganisms which are naturally found in our intestines. They are known as the ‘good and friendly’ bacterias that help our body breaks down food in our guts. In addition, they form part of our immune system and prevent infections. They may also aid in proper digestion, reduce discomforts in pregnancy such as constipation, vaginal yeast infection, bloating, heart burn and frequent urination. Probiotics could be found in both food and supplements. Food containing probiotics include ‘live’ yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, fermented drinks, miso and some juices and soya drinks. In addition, there are also studies showing that probiotics supplementation during pregnancy could lead to reduced incidence of allergies and allergic diseases such as eczema or asthma in your child. The exact mechanism for this is still unknown.
So far, evidence from recent studies has indicated that taking probiotics during pregnancy have shown promising beneficial effects and are considered safe. In addition, there are milk supplementation products which are available locally for pregnant women containing probiotics as part of their formulary. Ask your doctor regarding this.
Prebiotics are nutrient that selectively stimulate the growth and activity of the good bacterias in the gut i.e probiotics. Simply put, prebiotics is basically food for probiotics. Prebiotics also helps to strengthen our immunity against infections. There have been encouraging evidence showing that the combination actions of prebiotics and probiotics known as ‘synbiotics effect’ (synergistic beneficial effect of both the probiotics and prebiotics that nourish them) leads to better gut and immune health. Not surprisingly, breast milk also contains these prebiotics.
Omega-3 Fatty acid (DHA)
This supplementation is recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers by the US National Institute of Health. Specifically, a type of omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA is important for your baby’s rapidly developing brain, nerve and tissue. Hence, it is considered as baby’s brain food! In addition, several studies where omega-3 is supplemented in pregnant women showed a reduction in premature delivery and an increased in birth weight. However, it is important to take pure high quality omega-3 fatty acid oil supplement which is purified and has all toxins especially mercury contaminants removed from it. Similar to DHA, AA which is a type of omega-6 fatty acid is also an important brain building block for the growing child. On the other hand, Sialic acid (SA) which is a type of carbohydrate is another important nutrient that plays a crucial role in transmitting chemical messengers in your child’s brain.
How would I know whether I am taking enough nutrients or taking more that I should?
There are a few tips that you could follow:
- Always read the label and information of the product before taking it. It is important that you follow the recommended dosage according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Dietary Reference Intake (DRI).
- Always check with your doctor whether the food or supplementation is safe during pregnancy.