Pregnancy is a wonderful phase in a woman’s life. The ability to nurture a young one in their womb is almost a spiritual experience. This is the phase when the right nutrients in the right amounts can make a big difference to the health of the baby throughout his or her life.Also Read - Health Tips : Ghee Vs Oil, Why Is Ghee Better Than Other Oil? Watch Video To Find
These 7 important nutrients are all important in their own right for achieving a good outcome for the mother and the baby. Also Read - Lean PCOS: How is it Different Than Regular PCOS, Causes And Treatment
Folic acid or folate – This is a B vitamin that is very important for the healthy growth and development of the fetus (developing baby in the womb). This essential nutrient can help prevent neural tube defects (defects in the brain and spine). They may even prevent heart defects and cleft lip and palate. It is important for all women wishing to conceive to start taking this vitamin about 3 months before conceiving. A dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily is recommended. A higher dose may be required in certain situations and can be taken as per the obstetrician’s advice. Folic acid is also available in green leafy veggies, citrus fruits, etc. Also Read - Feelings Vs Emotions: What is The Difference Between Them? Watch Video To Find Out
Iron – This essential mineral is used by our body to produce haemoglobin- the protein which helps carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. In pregnancy, there is a higher demand for this mineral. The baby derives the iron from the mother to produce the haemoglobin in their red blood cells. There is a dilution of blood in a pregnant woman due to a higher blood volume and hence the haemoglobin may drop during pregnancy. Also, most Indian women are deficient in iron. If the Haemoglobin concentration falls below 11.5 gm/dl, the woman is said to be anaemic. This may lead to a higher risk of several health problems in pregnancy including infections, fatigue, premature labour, high blood pressure, smaller babies, and more blood loss during delivery. Hence, iron supplementation is very important. About 27 milligrams of iron is required daily in pregnancy. Iron-rich foods include meat (especially red meat, liver), cereal, bread, green leafy veggies, nuts, beans, and dry fruits. Vitamin C helps absorb iron. Hence, having citrus fruits before taking iron tablets may help better absorption. Certain foods reduce iron absorption such as coffee, tea, fibre, calcium, and egg yolk. Hence, these should not be taken along with iron tablets or iron-rich foods.
Calcium – This essential mineral is very important for helping muscle and nerve function and maintaining the metabolism of the pregnant woman. It is also important for the developing bones of the fetus and maintaining the bone health of pregnant women. At least 1000 mg of calcium is required daily. Calcium is available to us in all dairy foods such as milk, curd/ yoghurt, paneer, etc. Also, dark green leafy vegetables and millets such as ragi are a good source.
Vitamin D – Without this vitamin, all the calcium you eat will not be absorbed from the intestines. Vitamin D is also important for the proper functioning of the nerves, muscles, and reproductive and immune systems. About 600 IU is required each day during pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in India and hence checking the levels and supplementing appropriately is vital. It is produced by our skin on exposure to UV radiation from the sun. However, since most of us do not spend much time in the sun, supplementation in the form of capsules, syrups, sachets, or injections is required. In pregnancy, calcium and vitamin D combination tablets are given to satisfy the demand. Foods like oily fish contain vitamin D. Also, fortified milk and cereal are available.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – This is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that improves the brain and eye development of the fetus. Seafood is an excellent source of DHA. However, the fish must be low in mercury. DHA supplements are also available for use in pregnancy. Some foods like orange juice, milk, etc may have DHA added to them.
Iodine – This mineral is very important for the functioning of the thyroid gland which produces Thyroxine, the ‘vitality hormone’. The baby’s nervous system development is also dependent on this mineral. About 220 micrograms are required every day. Cooking salts are generally fortified with iodine. Foods such as fish, dairy products, fortified bread, or cereal are sources of iodine.
Protein-Protein is the macronutrient essential for promoting growth and repair. This should be in constant supply all through pregnancy. About 71 grams per day is what is recommended. Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products are good sources of protein. For vegetarians, beans, peas, pulses, nuts, seeds, and soybeans are good sources of protein. There are also many protein supplements available for pregnant women in the form of flavoured powders to be mixed in milk and biscuits.
Not only is it important to get a balanced diet, it is equally important to mindfully eat small, frequent meals at timely regular intervals to help better digestion and avoid excessive weight gain during these nine months.
(Inputs from Dr. Aruna Muralidhar, Senior Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Fortis La Femme- Bangalore)