Even in a carefully planned diet, the demands of pregnancy can leech important vitamins and minerals – leaving both you and your baby at risk of poor health and possible complications.
While the best way to ensure a healthy and balanced pregnancy diet is to eat from all the five food groups, additional supplements, when needed, can also be a great way to ensure your baby has the best start to life.
Also known as folic acid is a B-group vitamin that is found naturally in many foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruit, orange juice, legumes, nuts, liver, and yeast. It can also be found in some fortified products, such as breakfast cereals, fruit juice and breads and can also be taken in supplement form (tablet or capsule).
By taking a folate supplement in the months leading up to conception, as well as in the first trimester of your pregnancy, the incidence of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocoele, can be significantly reduced.
Although your body’s natural menstruation-related iron loss is less during pregnancy, the demands of your developing baby does increase your need for extra iron in your diet. As your baby grows, it draws enough iron from you to last it safely through its first five or six months after birth
To ensure that your own iron levels keep you at optimum health, revamp your meal plans to include foods that are good sources of iron, such as red meat, in your diet every day.
Having foods that are good sources of vitamin C, such as oranges, at the same meal will increase your body’s ability to absorb the iron.
If you have your iron levels tested and your stores are low, you may need to take an iron supplement.
During pregnancy your body’s need for this vitamin will increase but be aware that vitamin A supplements are rarely recommended for pregnant women. This is because excessive doses of vitamin A may cause birth deformities.
The safest way to manage your vitamin A intake is through a sensibly balanced diet, including milk, some fish, cooked eggs and small amounts of margarine.
Although dietary recommendations once advised increased calcium intake during pregnancy and lactation, this thinking has changed in the last few years. Health experts now say that, although there is a large shift of calcium to your baby during the third trimester of pregnancy as your baby starts to develop and strengthen its bones, your increased capacity to absorb existing dietary calcium makes up for this loss without the need for any supplementary intake.
The recommended dietary intake for non-pregnant women doesn’t change when you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, and calcium-fortified soymilk are excellent dietary sources of calcium.
Multivitamins are not recommended during pregnancy due to the risks associated with excessive amounts of some vitamins (such as vitamin A) which could be harmful to your developing baby.