You are embarking on a special journey called motherhood. Your pregnancy is a special time in your life that needs to be enjoyed and cherished and remember it with affection.
Pregnancy is also a time of great physiological change for both mother and the growing foetus and later infant. Nutritional status before, during and after pregnancy greatly influences maternal and infant health outcomes in the short term and the development of chronic disease later in life. A broad range of certain nutritional factors need to be accounted for and dietary as well as lifestyle modifications need to take place in order to achieve this.
- Poor nutrition before and during pregnancy has lifelong effects on the growth and development of your baby. If it’s ever important to eat healthy in your life then this is the moment.
However we cannot expect to get the entire nutrients mother and baby need through diet alone. Supplementation (where required) with micronutrients is an essential part of pregnancy (and pre-pregnancy) care. This is NOT just folate. Research shows that a multivitamin & mineral approach provides better outcomes for mothers and babies. (Zerfu TA, Avele HT. Nutrition Journal; 2013, 12:20). This is due to the fact that not one nutrient acts in isolation in the body – but all nutrients support each other in all physiological processes (eg. folate needs B6 &B12 to work more effectively).
Also, if one nutrient deficiency is identified then there is a greater likelihood that other nutrients are low as well but are yet to be detected.
Common nutritional deficiencies in pregnancy include:
- Vitamin D
- and Omega 3 fatty acids.
One of the first things to consider in pregnancy is the energy requirement which will vary from one woman to another.
A healthy ratio of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits whilst reducing and eliminating processed foods from the diet should be a priority.
During pregnancy there is an increased need for energy which is required for the development of the foetus, placenta and the wellbeing of the mother.
From the 3rd through the 6th month of gestation much of the energy is used for the growth of the uterus and other maternal tissues.
In the last trimester the focus is switched on the growth and development of the foetus and the placenta.
This does not mean that the “eating for two” principle should come along. Quality of food is the focus not the quantity!!!
- Protein is needed to support tissue growth in both mother and foetus and it provides the required amount of essential amino acids needed for optimum functioning of various bodily functions
- Iron is required mainly in the 2nd and 3rd trimester due to the increase in maternal and red cell mass and the developing foetus and placenta. Deficiency is related to increased risk in pre-term delivery, low birth weight, significant delays in nervous development that can persist into adulthood.
- Zinc is needed for growth and development and as such if the mother is deficient during pregnancy Zinc stores can be further depleted after birth andAlso poor zinc status has been linked with post partum depression therefore this nutrient must be part of any pregnant woman’s dietary intake.
- during lactation. Deficiency is related with increased maternal pre-eclampsia and toxaemia, premature birth, low birth weight infants to name a few.
- Calcium is one of the critical nutrients during pregnancy especially during the gestational period of 20-33 weeks when the greatest foetal mineral accretion is most active.
Prevention of Pre-eclampsia is also a key factor in pregnancy as women with the risk of hypertension and low calcium intake have been found to have share a strong link and calcium intake therefore in such group reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Magnesium is important as it reduces leg cramps which are a common issue in pregnancy. Also optimum magnesium levels are associated with fewer rates of preterm birth, low birth weight and fewer small-for-gestational age infants.
- Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for developing glucose intolerance during pregnancy and women with gestational diabetes have been found to have lower levels than women without, suggesting a strong correlation with insulin sensitivity. Also low levels have been found to raise risks of adverse musculoskeletal effects, bacterial vaginosis, small for gestational age babies, pre-eclampsia.
- Iodine– Maternal iodine is transferred to the foetus in the second trimester for the production of thyroid hormones, deficiency being closely linked with impaired foetal development, miscarriage and mental retardation in the offspring.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids-DHA is one of the main fatty acids needed for neural, visual and cognitive development of the growing foetus.
- Probiotics- specific strains of probiotics have been found to play an important role in reducing the risk of gestational diabetes, post-partum obesity, childhood asthma, eczema & hayfever, childhood diarrhoea& infection and mastitis risk.
During pregnancy some women have individual health needs that require professional assessment and prescription, these include:
- Significantly overweight – your nutrient demands will change;
- Significantly underweight – your nutrient demands will change;
- If you’re a teenager who’s still growing, you’ll need more nutrition (such as calcium) for the two of you.
- If you’re expecting multiples, you’ll have additional nutrition needs of course!
- If you develop gestational diabetes or have pre-existing diabetes, your diet needs to change and closely monitor your blood sugar levels and communicate regularly with your healthcare team.
- If you are an athlete– you may have entered pregnancy with specific nutritional deficiencies or demands.
- If you have a short space between pregnancies (less than 1 year between birth of one and conception of the next), you may not have repleted your nutritional reserves, especially if you breastfed.
- If you experienced a previous pregnancy with complications such as premature labour, pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure, a low birth weight baby, a baby with a birth defect or postnatal depression/anxiety you will benefit from extra nutritional supplementation.
Main points to follow for a healthy pregnancy are:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Follow a wholefood, unprocessed, fresh food diet.
- Avoid junk foods, processed foods, high sugar foods and high fat foods (trans fat).
- Use organic produce where you can, particularly when eating animal products such as dairy, beef, eggs and chicken.
- Aim for organic fruits and vegetables, and if this can’t be done ensure you always wash/scrub before eating.
- Read food labels and avoid additives.
- A healthy diet is the cornerstone of lifelong health and healthy eating habits from gestational stage, after birth and early childhood, as these have long lasting effects throughout life.
- Improving your nutritional status during pregnancy can help in establishing successful breastfeeding and by continuing healthy eating habits you will also help your child’s nutritional needs at each milestone he/she will progress to.
- By instilling healthy, nourishing and nutritious foods in your life you will avoid
- or at least reduce the chance of having a “fussy eater”.
- Seek professional advice for your individual needs in order to achieve a better outcome for your pregnancy and your future child as this is a lifelong investment.
Yours in health,
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