Good nutrition for pregnant and mother’s preparing to get pregnant is critical. A nutrient-rich maternal diet before and during pregnancy has been associated with improved fetal health, particularly appropriate birth weight and increased maternal and infant survival chances.
Studies have indicated that mothers with poor nutrition status give birth to underweight babies with attendant inter-generational consequences. It has been observed that like maternal under-nutrition, maternal over-nutrition also subjects the infants to long-term undesirable health outcomes. Babies who are born to over-nourished mothers are more susceptible to contracting Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) later in life.
To overcome these challenges, mothers who are preparing to conceive are advised to consider diets that will prevent infant’s vulnerabilities to nutritional deficiencies and excesses, other than shielding their bodies from contracting opportunistic diseases. Seeking expert opinion on appropriate foods and nutrients can go a long in boosting the health of the baby and of the mother during pregnancy and beyond.
Important Nutrients to Consider
Mothers who are planning to get pregnant or those who are already pregnant should follow a diversified and nutritious diet complete with macronutrients and micronutrients. It is advisable for the mother to be to get all the essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, good amounts of vitamins and minerals from their diets. Vital nutrients to be highly considered pre-conception and during pregnancy include:
i.Folic Acid Supplement
Folic Acid prevents the occurrence of Neural Tube Defect (NTD) in infants. Neural Tube Defect is a type of birth defect where the embryonic neural tube that forms the future brain and spinal column fails to close properly. It is recommended that mothers who are planning to get pregnant should take 400ug of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy to prevent the occurrence of NTD. These should be taken alongside foods rich in folic acid like Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chickpeas, green beans, kidney, lettuce, peas, spring greens, most nuts and eggs.
Iron is a nutrient that the body needs to make haemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. During pregnancy, a mother needs twice as much iron before pregnancy. The body needs more iron to make more blood to be supplied to the baby. More iron is also needed by the baby to make her own blood. The recommended daily intake of iron for pregnant mothers is 27mg per day. To achieve the daily intake, supplementation is highly encouraged. Mothers can also get iron from foods like lean meat, poultry and seafood, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, raisins and dried fruit.
iii. Vitamin C
Vitamin C rich foods enhance the absorption of Iron in the body. It is, therefore, a good idea to take iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich food like oranges, tomatoes, strawberries and grapefruit every day. However, be very careful with calcium-rich foods in dairy products like milk and coffee, tea, egg yolks, fibre and soybeans. They are iron inhibitors hence can block iron from being absorbed in the body.
Calcium is vital for the development of the baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves. The daily recommended intake of calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg. This amount can be obtained through supplementation and eating calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt, Broccoli and kales.
v. Vitamin D
Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption in the body. It also helps the proper functioning of the body’s nerves, muscles and immune system. Vitamin D helps in the growth and development of the baby’s bones. Pregnant women need 600 I.U of Vitamin D daily. This amount can be achieved through supplementation and eating vitamin D rich foods like fatty fish and milk and cereals fortified with vitamin D.
vi. Omega 3- Fatty Acid
Omega 3-fatty acid is important for the growth and development of the baby’s brain and eyes. Good sources of omega 3-fatty acids are fatty fish, nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts) and plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil).
Iodine is an important mineral that the body requires to form thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone helps the body to use and store energy. Iodine is a very crucial mineral during pregnancy. It helps in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves). During pregnancy, you need 220 micrograms of iodine every day. Good sources of Iodine include Fish, Seafood, dairy products, whole grains, green beans, courgettes, kale, spring greens, watercress, strawberries and organic potatoes with skin.
1.Guoyao Wu, Fuller W. Bazer, Timothy A. Cudd, Cynthia J. Meininger, Thomas E. Spencer, Maternal Nutrition and Fetal Development, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 9, September 2004, Pages 2169–2172, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.9.2169.
3.Oxford Handbook for Nutrition and Dietetics By Oxford University Press.