Nutrition Before, During, and After Pregnancy

Getting essential vitamins and minerals

Vitamin and Mineral Needs
Vitamin and mineral needs also increase with pregnancy. Unlike calorie needs, your increased need for vitamins and minerals is immediate. Certain ones are especially important, such as folate, calcium, and iron.

Folate is especially important for women during the first three months of pregnancy. The body uses folate to manufacture new cells and genetic material. During pregnancy, folate helps develop the neural tube, which becomes the baby's spine. Because most women do not know immediately that they are pregnant, and because the neural tube and brain begin to form so soon after conception, taking enough folate on a regular basis is important if you are of childbearing age. Taking enough folate can help to greatly reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects like spina bifida and birth defects of the brain (anencephaly). The National Academy of Sciences recommends that women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate each day, especially one month prior to conception.

Fact: National surveys show that the average folic acid intake by women of childbearing age is about 230 micrograms daily. Folic acid intake should be kept below 1,000 micrograms per day to avoid excessive intake.

Most women get folic acid daily through fortified products and other foods. To get more folic acid in their diets, women anticipating pregnancy should eat more citrus fruits and juices, leafy dark-green vegetables, legumes, and fortified breakfast cereals. To ensure adequate intake, woman can take a multivitamin that contains folic acid, in addition to eating a healthy diet.

Not all vitamin supplements contain folic acid, so check the label to be sure. Also, not all multivitamin supplements are optimal before or during pregnancy. Pregnant women and those anticipating pregnancy should consult their doctor for advice about taking folic acid or any other vitamin or mineral supplement.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is important for promoting the growth and health of cells and tissues throughout your body and the baby's. A healthy diet should provide enough vitamin A during pregnancy so there is no need for a supplement.

New research has shown that consuming too much vitamin A—in excess of 10,000 IU daily—may increase the risk of birth defects. This is twice the RDA. Eating foods such as fruits and vegetables that are high in beta-carotene is not a problem, because beta-carotene does not convert to vitamin A when blood levels of vitamin A are normal.

Other Vitamins
With your increase in calorie intake, your increased need for most of the B vitamins will be met through your dietary intake. Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods such as milk, eggs, meat, and cheese. Women who are vegetarian and don't consume any type of animal foods need to make sure they consume a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as fortified breakfast cereals and/or a B12 supplement. If you don't feel you are meeting your B12 needs, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

Vitamin C needs increase slightly during pregnancy, but can be met easily with a glass of orange juice, an orange, or another citrus fruit. Vitamin C is important because it helps the body absorb iron from plant sources, and iron needs almost double during pregnancy.

Vitamin D is essential because it helps the body to absorb extra needed calcium. A glass of vitamin-D fortified milk will take care of your extra needs. For vegetarians who do not consume dairy products, your doctor may prescribe a supplement. Make sure your doctor knows your eating habits!

Pumping Up Calcium and Iron
Two minerals that deserve special attention are calcium and iron. If you don't consume enough of either of these minerals during your pregnancy, the baby will actually use the calcium in your bones and the iron in your blood.

Essential! The estimated calcium needs for pregnant girls under eighteen is 1,300 mg per day. For pregnant adult women aged nineteen to fifty, the recommended intake is 1,000 mg per day. There is also an Upper Tolerable Limit for pregnant women set at 2,500 mg per day.

Although it is important to get calcium throughout your life, it is especially important during pregnancy. Calcium helps ensure that your bone mass is preserved while the baby's skeleton develops normally. Consuming plenty of calcium before, during, and after pregnancy can also help reduce your risk for osteoporosis later in life. Good sources of calcium include dairy products and some green leafy vegetables. If you are vegetarian or lactose intolerant and do not consume dairy products, consume plenty of other good calcium sources, such as calcium-fortified orange juice or calcium-fortified soy milk, along with special lactose-reduced products.

The increase in the blood volume of a pregnant woman greatly increases her iron needs. A woman's need for iron increases to 30 mg per day. Several foods supply iron, including meat, poultry, fish, legumes, and whole-grain and enriched grain products. Iron needs during pregnancy can be more difficult to meet because iron isn't always absorbed well, and many women have low iron stores before they get pregnant. Most prenatal vitamins contain iron, and your doctor may also prescribe an iron supplement. Keep in mind, though, that supplements are just to help out; you still need to eat a diet rich in iron. Iron from plant sources is not as easily absorbed as that from animal sources. Eating a good source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or juices, broccoli, tomatoes, or kiwi with meals will help the body absorb the iron in the foods that you eat. The absorption of iron from supplements is best when the stomach is empty or when taken with juice containing vitamin C.

excerpted from:

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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