Nutrition Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

February 17, 2015 Updated: February 18, 2015

This week’s blog is dedicated to Fit Kids February, which from my mind’s eye starts with a healthy pregnancy.  Rather than write on nutrition for children, I thought to take a step back and focus on ways that women can nourish themselves during their nine month journey.  Nutrition during pregnancy, in turn, can greatly impact the health of infants.

In terms of diet, consume a minimum of processed foods, especially those containing trans-fats and hydrogenated fats that are commonly found in baked goods, harder stick margarine, candies, snack foods, and fried foods.

Sally Fallon in her book, Nourishing Traditions, reports that trans-fats can accumulate in mother’s milk, which can lead to decreased visual acuity and learning difficulties in infants.  Hydrogenated fats can reduce the fat content in mother’s milk and fat is crucial for brain development.  Therefore, a low fat diet is not recommended during pregnancy.

Pregnancy increases the need for more calories to nourish mother as well as infant.  The following nutrients are crucial to a healthy pregnancy:

* Normal protein intake is usually between 40-50 mg a day, but should be doubled during pregnancy, according to Paula Bartholomy, CHN, MS, CNC (Hawthorn University Lecture Series), and starting in 10 mg. increments each trimester.  Protein is especially important during the last trimester when the brain is developing most rapidly.  When the body does not obtain enough protein, it is pulled from lean muscle.

* There is an increased demand for essential fatty acids during pregnancy and these fats   must be obtained from foods since the body does not produce them on their own.  Look for foods high in omega-3 rather than omega-6 fatty acids, which in excess can lead to inflammation the body.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include deep sea fish, flax seed oil, wheat germ oil, and hemp seed oil.  Paula Bartholomy recommends a tablespoon of omega-3 oil a day during the first trimester and increasing the dose to three tablespoons toward the end of the last trimester.

* During pregnancy there is an increased need for calcium to ensure bone health and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Bartholomy also recommends that calcium should be added incrementally – 200 mg each trimester until an optimal level of 1,200 -1,600 mg. is reached.

Good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, canned salmon and sardines with bones, and seafood.  If calcium supplements are added, they should be taken along with magnesium and vitamin D to increase calcium absorption.

* Folic acid needs increase during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, which most typically occur during the first three to four weeks of the first trimester.  It is wise to begin supplementation before pregnancy and ideally while trying to conceive.

Bartholomy also points out that folic acid stimulates the appetite, which is most helpful during the first stages of pregnancy.  Folic acid is involved in blood cell formation and anemia prevention as well, and can help to reduce anxiety and depression that some women experience during pregnancy.

The typical recommended dosage of folic acid before pregnancy and during the first trimester is 400 mcg daily, which should be increased to 600 mcg starting in the second trimester.

Green leafy vegetables, whole wheat, and brewer’s yeast are good sources of folic acid.

* Vitamin C is recommended during pregnancy to support veins and capillaries, prevent miscarriages, and reduce hemorrhoids during pregnancy (Bartholomy, P., Hawthorn University Lecture Series). The typical recommended dosage is between 70-90 mg daily.

Good food sources of Vitamin C are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. In terms of supplements, taking vitamin C with flavanoids helps with its absorption.

* The need for iron increases during pregnancy, usually from 10 mg to 30 mg daily.  This amount helps to support the infant’s blood and placenta, and is an essential component of many enzymes.  Ingrid Kohlstadt, M.D. in her book, Advancing Medicine Through Food and Nutrients, points out that deficiencies in iron can result in poor mental development in infants and compromise as already immature immune system.  

Iron is most absorbable from red meat.  There are non-animal sources of iron, including green leafy vegetables, potatoes, fruit, milk, and iron-enriched cereals and breads.   It is best to combine iron with vitamin C to increase its absorption.   Kohlstadt, in her book , Advancing Medicine with Food and Nutrients, points out that adding vitamin C can decrease gastric upset associated with iron supplementation.

As with any kind of supplementation, it should only be considered under the supervision of one’s treating physician.  Open communication with the doctor also will help to develop a trusting working relationship, which can make women feel more secure and less anxious during pregnancy.