In a previous article, we discussed what you should look for when choosing a prenatal vitamin. The next question many women ask me is what else they could be taking during their pregnancy. Below are my 3 nutritional recommendations to support baby’s development as well as support the mama to be.
Baby begins to use a mother’s iron in the first trimester, which further increases by the third trimester. Iron is required for the production of both maternal and fetal haemoglobin, as well support growth and development of the fetus. Studies show that women who take an iron supplement during pregnancy were 76% less likely to have a baby with low birth weight compared to women taking placebo.
Developing iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy can be common, which leaves a mom feeling tired. I like to suggest mothers have their iron, ferritin, and haemoglobin levels checked during the first trimester and again in the third trimester.
If iron levels are borderline-low or low in the first trimester, it is good to start an iron supplement right away to support iron levels early on. Talk to your doctor about what dose of Iron is right for you. A typical dose during pregnancy can range from 20-50mg.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are known to support brain function in all stages of life. One of the Omega-3’s called DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is critical for fetal development of the brain and nervous system. DHA provides this developmental support starting in the first trimester, becoming more important in the third trimester, and continuing to play a significant role in cognition for the first 3 months to 2 years of life.
Studies have looked at the positive outcome of DHA supplementation starting in the 20th week of pregnancy, Babies who received an adequate level of DHA had better hand-eye coordination, as well as improved vision, hearing, speech and practical reasoning. They also scored higher in receptive language, average phrase length, and vocabulary scores. An optimal dose of DHA for fetal development during pregnancy is 500mg.
Omega-3’s can also be used during pregnancy to help reduce the occurrence of post-partum depression. A 2:1 ratio of EPA:DHA is important, so you will want to aim for 1000mg EPA and 500mg DHA.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient on so many levels, and this also applies to pregnancy. Vitamin D can be tested during pregnancy if there is a concern about low Vitamin D levels, especially in the winter. Vitamin D is optimal at 70 nmol/L and above.
Sufficient circulating levels of Vitamin D will support the development of a baby’s immune system and lungs. Babies born to mothers getting the highest Vitamin D levels had fewer colds and less eczema. Higher Vitamin D intake by pregnant mothers reduces asthma risk by up to 40% in children ages 3 to 5.
Women with Vitamin D levels below 25 nmol/L were more likely to have higher blood glucose levels after a 28 week glucose challenge test. Common complications of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, increased blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia were reduced by 30% when Vitamin D levels were sufficient.
To support your Vitamin D, gel capsules or drops in the fall and winter months (October-April) can be taken. In the summer, be sure to get 20-30 minutes of sun exposure during peak hours between 11:00AM – 2:00PM.
Remember to eat your fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats to get a well-balanced source of nutrients from your diet.
Dr. Stephanie Liebrecht, BSc, ND Naturopathic Doctor