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Henrietta Norton

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Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy

Posted: 27/01/2014 12:27

There is a wonderful opportunity these days to plan a pregnancy. In the four months that it takes to make healthy sperm and the month that it takes to mature an egg prior to ovulation, both parents can ensure that they get the nutrients required to increase their chance of conceiving a healthy baby. A pregnant woman is able to provide herself with vitamins and minerals that will maximise her health and her baby's when they ultimately meet each other and, after the birth, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression and improve energy levels by topping up some of the nutrients that may be lost during pregnancy and labour.

Preconception
Eating a variety of fresh, organic food whilst you are trying to conceive will help to maximise the nutrients available to you and your baby and will minimise your intake of additives and toxins. Even if you have an excellent diet, all women who are trying to conceive are advised to supplement their diet with 400 mcg folic acid, to protect against neural tube defects and vitamin D, to ensure that your baby has strong bones and developing teeth.

Zinc, vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids are important to make sex hormones. Zinc, found in oysters, lamb, nuts, seeds, eggs and oats, is also vital for the development of healthy sperm and eggs. However, if you think you might be pregnant, avoid peanuts (if there is any family history of allergy), shellfish, raw or lightly cooked eggs. Vitamin B6, found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, cauliflower, bananas and broccoli, is also important for ovulation. All B vitamins work together so it is useful to take a supplement containing the whole B complex. Oily fish is a good source of omega 3 fats and can be eaten twice a week, but avoid swordfish, marlin and shark and limit tuna to 4 cans or 2 fresh steaks a week to minimise mercury toxicity. Raw nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils are rich in omega 6 fats and can be eaten every day.

Pregnancy
Calcium works with vitamin D and magnesium to prevent muscle cramps during pregnancy and to provide energy. Cheese, nuts, green vegetables and wheat germ provide calcium and magnesium; vitamin D is made in the skin from sunlight and small amounts are available from oily fish and eggs. Avoid unpasteurised cheese as this may contain Listeria that can harm your baby.

Dangerous free radicals that occur naturally in the body can be disarmed with antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, selenium, zinc and phytonutrients, found in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. If supplemented, vitamin A must be in the form of beta carotene as retinol can be toxic to your baby. For this reason, avoid eating liver which can be high in retinol. Zinc, B vitamins, iodine and essential fatty acids remain important throughout pregnancy and it is a good idea to boost iron stores with dried fruit, nuts, seeds and lean red meat to prevent your increased blood volume from causing you to develop anaemia.

After birth
Your body will have been depleted by pregnancy and labour, yet needs to be in peak physical condition for the challenge of nurturing an infant. Eating the placenta really does make sense, but if you can't manage that then support the body with a wide range of nutrients. Extra antioxidants will nourish stretched skin and help damaged tissues to recover from any tearing or from a caesarean. Iron can replenish stores after blood loss and calcium and magnesium will replace that used up during muscle contractions. B vitamins help you to stay calm and relaxed; they may be depleted from the high energy expenditure of birth and from any stress. Zinc, vitamin D and essential fatty acids are all protective against postnatal depression.

Breast milk contains essential fatty acids, so it is important to replenish these in your diet if you are breastfeeding your baby. They are needed for healthy hormone balance and to protect against fatigue, allergies and the memory loss and confusion that is often attributed to tiredness after a birth. Breast milk will provide your baby with friendly gut bacteria which will make vitamin K once they have fully populated his digestive system. Formula fed babies may benefit from infant probiotics and essential fats to protect their digestive systems from infection and to strengthen the immune system.

By the time that many couples conceive, their bodies are low in many of the nutrients that are vital to make and grow a healthy baby. Fortunately, we know which nutrients are particularly important for conception, pregnancy and for after birth, so parents can choose foods that are rich in these vitamins and minerals and take a good quality supplement, preferably in a Food-State form (I recommend Wild Nutrition Food-State Pregnancy), to be sure that they are getting enough for their health and for their baby's optimum development.


References
Webb, G (2002) 'Nutrition: A health promotion approach' 2nd ed Arnold London
Sadler, M (1994) 'Nutrition in Pregnancy' British Nutrition Foundation' London
Morgan, J (1988) 'Nutrition for and during pregnancy' In Dickerson, J and Lee, H 'Nutrition in the clinical management of disease' 2nd ed Arnold London
De Kretser, D (1996) 'Declining sperm counts' BMJ 312 pp457-458
Barrington, J et al (1996) 'Selenium deficiency and miscarriage: a possible link?' British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 103 pp130-132
Laurence, K et al (1981) 'Double-blind randomised controlled trial of folate treatment before conception to prevent recurrence of neural tube defects' British Medical Journal 282 pp1509-1551
Rice, R (1996) 'Fish and Healthy Pregnancy: more than just a red herring' Professional Care of Mother and Baby 6(6) pp171-173
Sahakian, V et al (1991) 'Vitamin B6 is effective therapy for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: a randomised, double-blind placebo controlled study' Obstetrics and Gynaecology 78(1) pp33-36
Poston, L et al (1999) 'Effect of antioxidants on the occurrence of pre-eclampsia in women at increased risk: a randomised trial' Lancet 354 pp810-819
Tamura, T et al (1992) 'Maternal serum folate and zinc concentrations and their relationships to pregnancy outcome' American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 56(2) pp365-370
Doyle, W et al (1989) 'Maternal nutrient intake and birth weight' Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2 pp415-422
Goonewardene, M and Shehata, M (2011) 'Anaemia in Pregnancy' Best Practise Research in Clinical Obstetric Gynaecology Dec 2nd (Epub ahead of print) @ www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22138002
Noakes, P et al (2012) 'Increased intake of oily fish in pregnancy: effects on neonatal immune responses and on clinical outcomes in infants at 6 mo. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Jan 4th (Epub ahead of print) @ www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22218160

 

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