Nutritional Requirements For Pregnancy
By Cynthia L Huddle
“You are what you eat.” Most of us have heard this saying since we were kids. But, did you ever stop to think what it meant, then? It took us getting older, and wiser, to understand that it refers to what we put in our bodies today that makes us healthier tomorrow. However, once you become pregnant, it isn't that simple. The saying should be changed to “Your baby and you are what you eat”. What you absorb in your body from food, beverages, and through your general surroundings will effect your unborn child forever, not to mention how you feel during pregnancy, as well as labor. When you stop to think about what your body does to create a new being, it truly is a miracle! Everything that you do, see, say and think is critical and important at this crucial stage. The first thing to concern yourself with is if you are getting adequate nutrition to cover all of the new cell growth for your baby, and make sure that you stay healthy too!
Folate is one of the highest deficiencies in women, not just pregnant women. Folate, or the synthetic form called folic acid, has been proven to reduce the risks of spina bifida, a neural tube birth defect.1 You will want to take folate before you get pregnant. Even if your plans to have a baby isn't anytime soon, you never know what could be in store for you. Spina bifida can occur even before you get that exciting double line, or positive sign on your pregnancy test. So, it is a good thought to take some as soon as you are able to get pregnant, or as soon as you begin to have sex. The average pregnant woman should consume at least 600 mcg of folic acid, also known as B9, no matter what your age. The minimum amount a nonpregnant woman should consume starts at 400 mcg. Since the UL is 800-1000 mcg, it is safe to consume the 600 mcg daily, even with no growing fetus. Eating things like oatmeal, beans, nuts and green leafy vegetables can provide you with natural folate, so supplementation can be kept to a minimum. But, remember, if you are taking any type of anti-inflammatories, like Tylenol (which is the more common form of pain relief in pregnancy since aspirin can cause high blood pressure and preeclampsia2), you can reduce your absorption.
The next major nutrient you need to make sure you get a sufficient amount of is Calcium. Calcium helps build strong bones for both you and your baby, and will help prevent you from getting bone diseases like osteoporosis later on in life. This is even more crucial in teen pregnancies. In the last trimester, your baby will need the calcium most. If you are not getting enough in your diet, then the baby's needs are drawn from your bones, which is the reason for causing problems later on. The RDA for teen pregnancies is 1300 mg, and 1000mg for adults. Remember that this is very important to your health as well as your baby's, so it is a good idea to eat lots of dairy products. If you are lacto-vegetarian, then you can supplement with tofu, soy milks and cheeses, brazil nuts, kale, kelp, as well as many other nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The other main concerns in your essential nutrients while pregnant, is Iron. According to the Institute of Medicine's Prevention of Micronutrient Deficiencies: Tools for Policymakers and Public Healthworkers-approximately 7% of women in the US are deficient in iron. In developing countries, 51% of children under the age of 4, 46% of choolage children, and 42% of women are alldeficient. We are talking half of the population!3 Lean red meat, eggs, and fish are all high in iron. Doing something small, like starting to cook with cast iron, will help, too. Many prenatal vitamins have iron added in, because of this problem. Deficiencies lead to anemia, and possible death to the mother after giving labor, as well as causing the infant to be anemic as well, and high risks of death.45 The fetus absorbs most of its iron in the last trimester, and if there is not enough in the mother's body, then her level will continue to decrease, in order for the child to have the adequate amount. 27 mg of Iron taken daily, is the recommended dose. Be sure that you don't overdo it (UL is 45 mg), causing toxicity in your body leading to other problems. If you are a vegetarian, or a vegan, be sure to eat lots of grains, beans, and green leafy vegetables. Also, make sure that you eat iron with vitamin C, in order to increase the absorbtion.
Out of all of the essential vitamins and minerals, these three are the most important, because they are the most deficient. In addition to these, all of your other vitamins and minerals will need to be increased, as well. Never forget, if you don't have enough for both of you, the baby will be taking their needs from your body. This causes you to be deficient. It also causes you to become overly tired, and feeling worn out. There is a lot of activity going on in your body, and it uses up a lot of your essential nutrients, as well as calories. So, be sure that you eat enough, and get enough of your essential nutrients.
The first trimester is when you need the most nutrition, because of all of the amount of work your body has to double up on. However, it may be hard to eat a lot of extra foods, especially if you start with morning sickness. A lot of times this is caused by a Vitamin B6 deficiency. Eating foods rich in B6, like pineapples, and kiwi fruit will help with this, as well as taking zinc. In pregnancy your body needs at least 1.9mg of B6. In order to prevent other B vitamin deficiencies, it is a good idea to take them all together. Another thing to help ease your morning sickness (which is something that can occur all throughout the day, not just in the morning) is to be sure you have an adequate amount of protein, approximately 20 grams a serving, and 3-4 servings a day. This helps with the toning of muscles and the increase in blood that you will begin to produce in the placenta, fetus, uterus, and breast. Good sources of protein are in dairy products, nuts, grains, meat, eggs, fish, and sprouts.
All of these foods will provide enough good fats to help prevent your skin from drying out. A complete plus side is that it will also help the skin have enough elasticity to prevent stretchmarks. They also supply enough complex carbohydrates to help your body have enough energy to produce a whole new being in your belly, while giving you the energy you need to make through an ordianry day. With that said, try to stay away from refined carbohydrates, like sugars, and white flour. These will strip your body of other essential nutrients that you need, causing you to become more deficient, and craving more refined carbs.
Other things you need to stay away from include smoking, which is another essential nutrient robber. Smoking also causes low birth weight and premature babies. If possible, request that no one smoke around you as well. Cola's, coffee, chocolate and tea all contain caffeine. Caffeine can be passed through the placenta to the baby. It can, also possibly cause low birth weight, and miscarriages, although there is no conclusive study supporting this. However, other studies have found it possible to raise the babies heart rate, and stay with the baby longer than with the mother. Other findings include the baby's inability to sleep as much as a baby with no caffeine, soon after birth.6 The rest in the first few days are much needed after such an overwhelming and long journey through the birth canal. Interuption with this can cause a very irritable crying baby, which, in my personal opinion, leads to colic. Another no-no or something that needs to be used rarely would be salt or sodium. This can cause water retention which is mostly a problem in the third trimester. Water retention makes your hands, legs, and feet swell, makes you miserable, and in extreme cases, unable to walk. It is best to stay away from salt as much as possible.
Salt and sugar are the most craved “foods” in pregnancy. Usually, you either crave one or the other, but sometimes you crave both. In some cases, salt cravings means you are low in sodium due to increase of blood volume, and cells. Pay close attention to what your body is saying, and what you eat. Are you getting natural sodium in your diet? If not, try substituting kelp or sea salt instead of table salt. It provides a lot more of the other essential minerals you need. If you are getting enough sodium in your diet, your cravings are probably caused by habit. Try doing something else to get your mind off of it. Making sure that you eat multiple meals a day, and start off with breakfast will be a way to help curb those cravings. With some discipline and will power, you can beat those old habits, and begin healthy living for you and your baby.
Other ways to be healthy is by adding some herbs in your daily diet. Drinking red raspberry leaf tea in the last few weeks of pregnancy prepares and tones uterine muscles helping with a faster, easier delivery. I am living proof of that. I drank a lot of red raspberry leaf tea in my last 2 weeks of pregnancy with my daughter. She was a first child, and her delivery was 11 hours 6 minutes from the time my water started leaking to the time I held her in my arms and looked into those deep blue eyes for the first time. Other herbs that are safe to ingest are chamomile, lavendar, ginger, celery, parsley and peppermint, as well as a long list of others. These can help everything from providing essential vitamins and minerals, to easing morning sickness and digestion. You can also use some of these as essential oils. Add them in your bath water, or in an oil burner, to soothe your mind, as well as your body. Some of them can be sniffed right out of the bottle. Be sure to use with caution some of the oils you use, as well as some of the herbs. Make sure that they are safe in pregnancy, and be sure to use the guidance of an herbalist, aromatherapist, and/ or a naturopathic doctor to provide you with the safest measures possible.
Making sure that you keep proper nutrition and optimum health is essential to you and your baby. Exercising daily can help with this. Walking, swimming, yoga, stretching, and other joint easy exercises are excellent ways to increase energy, ease cravings, and helps to prepare your body for the extra weight that it will be carrying around. A good guideline for weight gain is 20-30 lbs. Imagine if you never exercised and had to carry around an extra 20-30 lbs. Your bones, muscles, and entire body would be sore. Granted this weight is gained over a period of 40 weeks, but that is broken down to 8 lbs for the first 20, and then about 1 lb a week after that. A pound a week doesn't give the body enough time to get used to the extra weight, before another pound is added on. Be easy on yourself, you aren't training for a marathon, even though it may feel like one, just to keep your body in shape. It is amazing what something so little can do for you. My midwife had me prepare for labor by holding a squat in the water. It opens the pelvic area to widen the birth canal. I started doing this in my own bathtub (preparing for a water birth) at 5 minutes. By the time I finished, I could hold a squat for 45 minutes straight. The pushing stage of my labor lasted a whole 30 minutes!
Making sure that you are free from fear, and any other stresses can ease labor and delivery. Keeping all negative thoughts away from your mind, and trading those out for positive thinking is an excellent way of keeping on track with making sure you eat right and exercise daily. Plenty of sleep is a helper also. Nothing can replace the need for your body to regenerate itself like rest and relaxation. A good way to achieve this when you have that extra weight is by meditating before bed, listening to some good relaxing music as you lay down, drinking some chamomile, and lavendar tea, and snuggling up to a body pillow.
Pregnancy is a life changing event. You determine if that life change is going to be a positive one or a negative one. By making sure you get the proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep, you can make sure you have a good peace of mind. You have seen how I refer back to my pregnancy here and there, so let me elaborate on it a bit. I made sure I had a high protein diet, with many complex carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. I had plenty of exercise daily by changing little things, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and sitting on my birthing ball, instead of a chair at the computer. The ball helped improve my posture, as well, as allowed me to roll my hips in order to move my pelvic area around in preparation for childbirth. I took Hypnobirthing classes to teach me what my body would be doing during labor. Knowing these things helps release fear, and helps you be able to go into a world of no pain without the help of harmful drugs. I added essential oils to my bath daily, and rubbed my tummy right afterwards with a fabulous essential oil recipe, resulting in no stretch marks. Adding to all of this, having a great support team from my husband, family, midwives, and doula, I was able to have an extremely peaceful, and amazing birth and pregnancy, with no added stresses, or any medications. My daughter was 6 lbs 7 oz, 19 1/2 inches long, and had amazing muscle tone. My midwife tested her muscle tone at the age of 3 days. She could hold herself up on the midwife's fingers, and she said she had such good tone, she could be a monkey. She is still a very healthy, vibrant child.
Whenever I know of anyone who is pregnant, I try to teach them how to have as wonderful experience as I did. Granted, no one is the same, we are all different, and each pregnancy is different. There are some people who just can't achieve the everything that I did, and some extreme cases that can cause major troubles. But I have talked to many people, and most of them were able to have the same experience as I did, just by following a few guidelines. Plus, after doing all of this for at least 9 months, you end up with a life altaring experience, causing you to live life to the fullest with optimum health. You teach yourself with pregnancy to lead you into a wonderful fulfilling life of motherhood. Plus, this is just the beginning of teaching a whole new generation to live a healthy, and peaceful life. It begins with just one... well, two.
1.Kurtzweil, Paula(1999) How Folate Can Help Prevent Birth Defects, from http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/796_fol.html
2.AmazingPregnancy.Com (2003) Aspirin During Pregnancy, Retrieved August 27, 2004 from http://www.amazingpregnancy.com/weekbyweek/aspirin.html
3.Institute of Medicine. Prevention of Micronutrient Deficiencies: Tools for Policymakers and Public Healthworkers .Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998
4.Solanzo, Florentino(2002) Benefits of Adequate Iron Stores During Pregnancy, from http://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph/wp/pregnant.htm
5.Dr Joseph Mercola (2004) Importance of Iron Metabolism and Anemia During Pregnancy, Retrieved August 27, 2004 from http://www.mercola.com/2000/jul/9/iron_pregnancy.htm
6.Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction(2003). Caffeine and Pregnancy, retrieved August 27, 2004 from
This article was posted by Cynthia Huddle