• Alex Bovell

The Importance of Nutrition During Pregnancy

Updated: Mar 22, 2019



I’m at that age where everyone around me seems to be buying houses, getting married & having kids, while I’m sitting here confused about what to eat for lunch! Growing up with 3 older sisters I’ve been surrounded by baking making machines popping out kids left, right and centre. I really can’t keep up! I was an aunty at age 12 with my first nephew was born when I was in year 7, so naturally, I’m the coolest aunty!


Pregnancy, babies, toddlers & young children have surrounded me from my pre-teens throughout the rest of my life. It truly amazes me what the female body is capable of, carrying a child for 9 months and growing this mini human in a belly. I still remember feeling Zac my oldest nephew kicking in my sister Jodi’s belly imprinting his foot in her skin, it was incredible we could even see all 5 toes! I was lucky enough to hold each and every one of my nieces and nephews as babies, play games with them as toddlers and annoy them like the pretend older sibling when they’ve lived with us. Just recently I was privileged enough to go along with my sister Kate to one of her scans and see the baby growing inside her belly, spine and all! Pregnancy amazes me and all my respect goes to each and every mum out there, you’re incredible!


Maybe this is why I’m so passionate about nutrition in pregnancy, even though I’ve never had a baby myself, I’ve got to experience what amazing, precious, tiny little beings are created! It’s our job as women carrying a child to nurture and nourish them with every chance we get. I’m definitely not trying to pressure pregnant women because you’re already overwhelmed with information in society! There’s a huge amount of debate about what a pregnant woman can and can’t eat! I’m here to educate and inform the best I can what nutrients are critical in your pregnancy and how you can obtain enough of these through the nausea and morning sickness. Without trying to add any pressure, there is an abundance of research emerging suggesting the food a mother eats during her pregnancy can affect the metabolism of not only the immediate child, but up to three generations (decades) later [1]! This is why, the mother’s diet and maternal weight can affect the baby’s birth weight, size and future health and obesity risk. I personally think it’s pretty cool how much impact we can have on our children and grandchildren!


Nutrients

Iron

Pregnancy can lower a mother’s Iron stores meaning it’s EXTRA important to consume enough iron to maintain your own stores. Additionally, you need around TWICE the amount of iron as before when you’re pregnant because your body is making all that extra blood for your lil bub. As well as making blood for you and bub, Iron helps your body move oxygen from your lungs all around your body and your baby’s too!

It’s recommended a pregnant woman consumes 27mg of iron daily which can be found in the following sources [2]:

100g Red meat = 3.5mg Iron100g Lamb = 2.5mg Iron100g Salmon = 1.3mg Iron1 Cup Kidney Beans = 3mg Iron1 Cup Green Lentils = 3mg Iron1 Cup Chickpeas = 2.7mg Iron20 Cashew nuts = 1.5mg Iron1 Cup raw spinach = 1.2mg Iron

Keep in mind, iron is best absorbed from (heme) animal sources rather than (non-heme) plant food sources.


You can enhance iron absorption through consuming your iron with a vitamin C rich food such as orange, lemon, tomato, broccoli, capsicum. Additionally, cooking your plant food sources will also increase the absorption. Whereas, consuming coffee or tea with your iron-rich foods will actually reduce the absorption, so wait an hour between these. It’s best to speak to your doctor about iron supplements if you’re worried you may be deficient or not absorbing enough.


Folate

Folate is incredibly important during pregnancy for healthy growth and development. It’s particularly required to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Prior to conception & during the first few weeks of pregnancy, adequate  folate intake is vital because within the first trimester your bubs brain and spinal cord begin forming! Folate will also help your body create healthy red blood cells to fuel your energy!

During pregnancy, folate requirements increase to 600 µg per day [3]. However, as I mentioned before, in the months before conception the mother needs to also be consuming enough Folate. Although folic acid can be found in green leafy veg, berries, bananas, legumes & fortified foods, it’s best to speak to your doctor about supplementation when baby making is on the cards to ensure your levels are optimal!


Folate can be found in:

Lentils & chickpeasSpinach, asparagus, lettuce, beets, broccoli, corn, peas, Brussels sprouts, bok choyBanana, raspberries, strawberriesWhole grain breadsPeanut butterSunflower seeds


Zinc

Zinc is the REAL MVP! Let’s be honest, what isn’t it used for?? Zinc is part of almost every major enzyme involved with protein structural integrity and gene expression making it critical to get an adequate amount during pregnancy. Gene expression WHAT? All this means is the process where instructions in your DNA are converted into functional products like proteins! In pregnancy, think about the amount of tissue & cell growth and DNA making that’s happening for your baby. This is why zinc is important, to make sure all these processes occur as they should, to ensure your baby grows from 1 single cell into a tiny functioning lil person! Zinc is also important for immunity, especially in pregnant women who need extra protection against illness & infection due to suppressed immune system.


The requirement for zinc during pregnancy is 11mg per day [4]. Zinc can be found in:

1 Oyster = 5.3 mg zinc100g beef = 5.5mg zinc100g lamb = 5.5mg zinc1/2 Cup raw rolled oats = 3mg zinc


Iodine

Iodine is crucial to your baby’s brain and nervous system development. Additionally,  it’s required for the production of thyroid hormone which regulates body temperature, metabolic rate, reproduction, growth, blood cell production and nerve and muscle function. Pregnant women are recommended to consume 220µg of iodine daily. Consume foods including:

Seaweed/Nori sheetsCottage cheeseGreek Yoghurt85g shrimp = 35μg Iodine85g tuna = 17μg Iodine1 Egg = 24μg Iodine


Vitamin D/Calcium

Vitamin D helps keep bones & teeth healthy through controlling calcium and phosphate absorption. Only a few foods contain vitamin D but the best source of vitamin D is from sunlight. If you feel your levels may be low, definitely speak to your doctor about a possible supplement containing 400iu of Vitamin D. Calcium is crucial for your baby’s development of healthy bones and teeth. The recommended dietary intake of calcium per day for pregnant women is 1000 mg.


This can be found in:

1 snapper fillet = 100mg calcium150g Yoghurt = 200mg calcium200mL milk = 235mg120g Tofu = 125mg calciumGreen leafy vegetablesBroccoli30g Almonds = 75mg calcium30g hard cheese = 240mg calcium


If you don’t eat enough calcium in your daily diet, talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement.


Vitamin C

This is another nutrient the body requires in a larger amount during pregnancy due to larger blood volume in both the mum and unborn bub. Vitamin C helps in the formation of collagen which is critical in healthy blood vessel development. Also, as previously mentioned, Vitamin C assists in the absorption of Iron in the diet and just like zinc, vitamin C is super important for immunity. 


Pregnant women need around 60mg per day which can be found in:

1 red capsicum = 150mg vitamin C1 Cup broccoli = 100mg vitamin C10 strawberries = 100mg vitamin C2 kiwi fruits = 160mg vitamin C1 orange = 100mg vitamin C


Energy Requirements

1st Trimester

During the first trimester energy requirements are generally the same as before, when you weren’t pregnant. However, it’s the perfect time to make healthy nutritional choices.

2nd Trimester

During the second trimester, energy requirements increase by around 350 calories on top of your previous intake [5]. This could mean adding in an extra snack for your day such as a smoothie. Or another option would be increasing your meal portions by adding some extra avocado or hummus on top of main meals.

3rd Trimester

During the third trimester you need approximately 450-500 additional calories per day [5]. Again, this is on top of what you were eating previously. While it might sound like a lot, taking in 300-500 extra calories can be achieved easily through extra snacking and upping your portion sizes a little. Keep in mind that energy requirements do vary from every single person depending on their age, height, activity level and other factors.


References

[1] Saben, J. L., Boudoures, A. L., Asghar, Z., Thompson, A., Drury, A., Zhang, W., … Moley, K. H. (2016). Maternal Metabolic Syndrome Programs Mitochondrial Dysfunction via Germline Changes across Three Generations. Cell Reports, 16(1), 1–8. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2016.05.065

[2] Nutrition Australia. (2014). Iron. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/iron

[3] National Health and Medical Research Council. (2014). Folate. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/folate

[4] Australian Health and Medical Research Council. (2014). Zinc. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/zinc

[5] Kominiarek, M. A., & Rajan, P. (2016). Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. The Medical Clinics of North America, 100(6), 1199–1215. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004