The nutrients you need during pregnancy
Pregnancy is both an amazing and trying time in a woman’s life. As your body goes through a whole slew of hormonal changes while it miraculously grows another person, it needs all the support it can get to keep both mum and bub healthy! Ideally you would get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs through foods, but during pregnancy in particular, it’s often the case that you will need to also take supplements to ensure you’re getting enough.
The list of things you’re not supposed to eat can often look like a list of your favourite foods which is depressing in itself. But rather than dwell on not being able to eat things you love for a while, let’s take a look at things you can and should be eating and the supplements you might need to take to give you and your baby the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you both need.
Folate and folic acid during pregnancy:
Folate is a B vitamin which naturally occurs in many leafy vegetables and plays an important role in the metabolism of your cells. When it’s added to foods or taken as a supplement, it’s known as folic acid. The key role it plays in cell development has been proven to reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida. You can add more folate to your diet by eating the following foods:
- Leafy greens like kale, spinach and lettuce
- Fruits including grapefruit, oranges, paw-paw and strawberries
- Lentils and bean
Vitamin C during pregnancy:
When you are pregnant your body is carrying a far higher volume of blood than usual. Vitamin C aids in the body’s formation of collagen, which is important for you blood vessels, as well as being the ‘glue’ that holds so much of your tissue together. Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid when you’re taking it as a supplement. Vitamin C also aids in your body’s absorption of iron (see below). Foods high in Vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Kiwi fruit
Iron during pregnancy:
Pregnancy can really deplete a woman’s iron stores, and low iron levels in early pregnancy have been linked to low birth weights, and premature births. Red meats are probably the best known of the sources of iron, but there are other sources, including vegetarian and vegan friendly ones:
- Raw spinach
- Red meat
- Cashew nuts
As we mentioned above, Vitamin C can help to aid your body to absorb iron, so adding a vegetable rich in Vitamin C to your meals when you’re eating something that is a good source of iron will make it even more beneficial.
Calcium during pregnancy:
It’s well known that calcium is good for your bones and teeth, and it’s also definitely vital for your developing baby’s. We all know that dairy is a good source of calcium, but it’s not necessarily suitable for everyone; don’t stress – you can get calcium from other sources too:
- Dried figs and apricots
Vitamin D during pregnancy:
Just like calcium, Vitamin D is also essential for strong and healthy bones and teeth. A Vitamin D deficiency can lead to Rickets; a bone disease that affects infants and young children which causes weakened and softened bones, stunted growth, and even skeletal deformities. The good news is it’s preventable through ensuring you’re getting enough Vitamin D, calcium and phosphate. Sunlight is one of the best-known sources of Vitamin D; just be sure you’re not getting a sunburn in your efforts to soak it up! Alternatively, some good dietary sources of Vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks
- Certain mushrooms
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Beef Liver
Do I need vitamin and mineral supplements during pregnancy?
Just like every other time in your life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to your pregnancy health. Your body’s unique set of circumstances will be different to the next person’s. Supplements and multivitamins can be of real benefit to you and your developing baby, but we would suggest you discuss your unique needs with your obstetrician before deciding to take any supplements during your pregnancy.
Dr Indika Alahakoon
Dr Indika Alahakoon is the head of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital and has specialized training in high-risk pregnancies.