Certain nutrients gain more importance during pregnancy because of the specific physiological changes in the body. There is expansion of blood volume, increase in heart rate and growth of placenta. In addition to the macro nutrients such as carbohydrate, proteins and fat, one has to pay attention to certain vitamins and minerals. Iron, folic acid and calcium are three vital nutrients that are often found to be lacking in our body and need to be supplemented during pregnancy right from the beginning. Deficiency of these nutrients can have detrimental impact on pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, poor neurological and physical development, etc with effects that are irreversible
Don’t underestimate the power of the iron man! Iron is one of the most important nutrients to watch out for during pregnancy. The body absorbs iron more efficiently during this phase but the expansion of blood volume often leads to iron deficiency anaemia and low haemoglobin
Risks associated with Anaemia in Pregnancy
Severe or untreated iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy can increase risk of having:
A preterm or low-birth-weight baby
A blood transfusion (if you lose a significant amount of blood during delivery)
A baby with anemia
A child with developmental delays
While ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) recommends 35mg/day of iron, USRDA for iron is 30 mg/day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women.
Eating at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day will help ensure 30 mg of iron in daily diet. Note that iron intake is not equal to iron absorption. Absorption of iron into the body is greatest with meat sources (heme iron) of iron.
The best sources of iron include enriched grain products; lean meat, poultry, and fish; and leafy green vegetables.
We know that calcium is good for bone health and teeth but it also has more complicated physiological roles to play such as normal blood clotting, smooth functioning of muscles and nerves and maintaining normal heart beat.
Role of Calcium in pregnancy
Growing baby needs a considerable amount of calcium to develop.
An inadequate supply of calcium at this time can diminish bone strength and increase risk for osteoporosis later in life.
The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for calcium is 1200 mg/ day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women over age 24. The USRDA for women under age 24 is 1200 to 1500 mg. of calcium per day.
Eating and drinking at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day will help ensure that we are getting 1200 mg. of calcium in daily diet.
Dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc
Til (sesame seeds/ gingelly seeds)
Green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, and greens), seafood, dried peas, and beans.
Vitamin D will help body to use calcium. Adequate amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in eggs, fish, and fortified milk.
Start Folic Acid supplements in pre-conception stage/ childbearing age itsel. f. Birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy which makes early initiation of folic acid supplements necessaryBaby’s brain and spinal cord are developing rapidly during the early stages.
Without enough folic acid, baby’s neural tube may not close correctly and may develop health problems called neural tube defects.These include:
Spina bifida: incomplete development of the spinal cord or the vertebrae
Anencephaly: incomplete development of major parts of the brain
Risk associated with low folic acid intake
– When taken before and during pregnancy, folic acid may also protect your baby against:
- Cleft lip and palate
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Poor growth in the womb
– 400 micrograms (mcg) before and during pregnancy
Good sources of Free folate from foods
Food Folic acid (mcg)
Liver sheep 65.5
er 25Spinach 51
Green gram dal 24
Gingelly seeds 51
Curry leaves 23.5
Cluster beans 50
Whole wheat 14.2
Amaranth tender 41
Tomato ripe 14
Outside the womb, one can monitor the developmental milestones but while the baby is inside; the changes are not visible or easily detectable. Every pregnant woman should gain access to foods rich in the above nutrients or their supplements to ensure that the baby is normal and healthy.