Why is maternal nutrition so important?
If you are pregnant, it’s essential that you visit your doctor to determine your nutritional needs, and to screen for any medical conditions or risk factors that you need to consider.
The meal plan that you have been provided is intended for use by the general healthy population, with no specialised nutritional requirements. As such, the specific needs that you have in pregnancy have not been catered for. When you are pregnant, your nutrition has a significant impact on you and your baby’s health. By eating in a way that supports your nutritional needs when you’re pregnant, you can help to keep you and your baby safe and happy. As such, if you are pregnant or actively trying to become pregnant, it’s essential that you get personalised advice from your healthcare professional.
Nutritional requirements vary between pregnancies, so it’s important to visit your doctor to find out exactly what yours are. Let’s take a closer look at the vitamins and minerals that are required to develop a fully functioning human body:
- Folate is the one we’ve all heard about, and all pregnant women should eat a diet with plenty of folate in it. Most pregnancy multivitamins will contain it, but it’s important to find out from your doctor how much you should be aiming to have each day; this varies depending on your family history, existing medical conditions, and potential malabsorption issues. Adequate folate helps to prevent neural tube defects and helps to support a healthy pregnancy overall.
- Iodine is essential for normal growth and development, and deficiency is very common in women who could become pregnant. On top of this, requirements are increased during pregnancy, then even more whilst breastfeeding. It’s important to find out your iodine levels by consulting your doctor so that any deficiency can be addressed as early as possible.
- Vitamin D deficiency is very common, and vitamin D is essential for foetal growth. It helps a baby to take on calcium and therefore is essential for healthy bone development. There are a number of conditions and medications that can make it harder for your body to absorb vitamin D, so it’s important to speak to your doctor about your specific requirements.
- Zinc is required to develop a healthy immune system, sensory responses, and to reduce the risk of low birth weight or premature delivery. Zinc can also have an effect on male fertility. Supplementation with some of the other vitamins and minerals we have mentioned can affect the absorption of zinc, so it’s important to consider the whole picture rather than taking supplements as a one size fits all solution!
- Iron is in high demand during pregnancy as a mother’s blood volume increases by around 150%. This means that more iron is needed in your diet to reduce your risk of anaemia, and reduce the risk of poor mental processing, behavioural and motor development in your baby.
- Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory effects, can help to decrease insulin resistance, is important for brain and eye development, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and allergies. It’s important to make sure you’re consuming enough omega 3 during pregnancy by checking with your dietitian or doctor.
Beyond this, some foods may put mother and baby at risk of disease, so it’s important to find out what these may be for you (recommendations also vary between countries) and steer clear!
This is where it gets even more personal. Being a parent is very physically demanding, so it’s important to continue exercising in a safe way during pregnancy. Consult your doctor and if necessary, request a referral to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist to ensure you’re doing exercises that are safe for you and your baby.
Usually during pregnancy, you need to be particularly careful with lower body exercises where you are using one leg at a time and with core exercises, particularly where you are contracting your core. This means avoiding exercises like lunges, crunches, single leg deadlifts and so on. It’s also important to consider your growing stomach; you should avoid putting weight on it by either laying on it or resting weight on top of it.
Picking up and holding a little one takes a significant amount of upper body strength. Most of the time, upper body exercises pose very little risk to you and your baby’s health, so get ready to be doing plenty of bicep curls and tricep dips!
At the end of the day, everyone’s pregnancy is different. We all start from a different place when it comes to nutrition and exercise, and all babies have their own demands as they grow. No two pregnancies are the same so there are no absolute rules or regulations when it comes to how you should eat and exercise while you’re growing a baby. Always consult your doctor or relevant health care professional when you become pregnant and before changing your nutrition or exercise regime. Be careful of programs that label themselves as ‘safe for pregnancy’ without knowing your individual situation. Most importantly, have a happy and safe pregnancy!