Most of the time, we do our best to eat right and exercise regularly. But sometimes our busy schedules can cause our health goals and routines to slide by the wayside. Old habits creep back in and we may end up with nutrient deficiencies that impact our general wellbeing.
When it's just us, we have a tendency to push through and get on with our days until something drastic happens and we need to see a doctor. But when we're carrying, or about to carry a human being, it becomes a whole new world! Suddenly we want the absolute best for our baby, which means the absolute best for the mother pre-conception, during pregnancy and after the birth. We want to ensure that everything we do creates the best possible outcome for our growing baby and the proper nourishment for a healthy development.
To ensure your looking after your needs, and giving your growing baby the best start to life, I’ve put together a guide of the key supplements to take pre-conception and during pregnancy to make sure you’ve got your bases covered.
A wholesome healthy diet with plenty of variety is the foundation for good health whether you’re trying to fall pregnant or not, however, there are increased nutrient requirements during this precious time in a woman’s life, which for many, require a supplement to ensure they are consuming enough for their needs.
The below is not a definitive list, and just as no two women are the same, their needs differ as well. Please seek the advice of your own health professional before adding or changing any supplements to ensure they would be suitable for your unique set of circumstances.
Folic Acid/ Folate
Folate aids in the development of red blood cells, supports the nervous system function, and reduces homocysteine in the blood. Your folate needs increase substantially during pregnancy. It is essential during the development of a fetus to help to prevent neural tube defects which is why most health professionals monitor a woman’s levels pre-conception and during pregnancy.
Folate is a more generalized term that refers to B9 naturally occurring in food sources, whereas folic acid is a synthetic compound sourced from supplements and food fortification. Naturally occurring sources of folate include dark leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, spinach, as well as lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils and legumes, and animal liver.
If you’re unable to consume enough of the above food sources on a regular basis and your folate levels are low, a folate supplement can help top up your levels and help to reduce the risk of developmental issues in your newborn.
Aim to get 400-800 mcg of folate per day. Some recommend increasing this dosage for a few months before becoming pregnant (up to 5000 mcg).
In general, iron is responsible for making hemoglobin and carrying oxygen to the mother and baby during pregnancy. It also helps to maintain a healthy immune system. The heart may need to work harder during pregnancy, as there is more blood circulating, and may need extra iron to produce more hemoglobin, especially in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
An iron deficiency or anemia during pregnancy can be associated with infant mortality, premature births, and low birth weight, so it is important to supplement or ensure you get enough iron from your diet. Pregnant women are recommended to take 27 mg daily. Avoid taking iron and calcium together as they are not absorbed well together.
Most women are already deficient in this essential mineral, and during pregnancy, it is important for the formation of your baby’s bones, teeth, as well as heart, nerves, and muscles. Calcium is also important to reduce the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. If a woman does not have enough calcium to spare, the growing fetus will pull stores, from the woman’s own bones, leaving her at risk for osteoporosis and other calcium-related deficiencies.
To ensure adequate calcium intake, it is recommended to supplement with 1000 mg daily. Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium, so be sure to take together for greater absorption rates.
Vitamin D is essential during pregnancy to support the immune system, bone health, as well as healthy cell function and division. Low levels of vitamin D may be linked with gestational diabetes, certain cancers, autoimmune issues, and cardiovascular disease.
Calcium and phosphorus are necessary for the absorption of vitamin D, so it is recommended to supplement together and take 4,000-5,000 IU daily, especially if you are not getting regular bodily exposure to sunlight.
A deficiency I’m magnesium can be linked to poor fetal growth, preeclampsia, or fetal death, while healthy levels aid the baby in receiving proper nutrition and healthy bone and tissue development.
Magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin and may be supplemented by using a magnesium oil or trace mineral containing ionic supplement versus a dietary supplement.
You should aim for a daily intake of 400 mcg during pregnancy, and up to 360 mcg while breastfeeding.
Iodine is an essential trace mineral needed to synthesize thyroid hormones and efficient thyroid function. Low levels can lead to a host of issues from depression to weakened immune system, poor metabolism, and even autism. During pregnancy, iodine is an important factor in brain development, and may help to prevent mental disabilities or stunted growth. Deficiency may also be linked to miscarriages and stillbirths.
It’s a challenge to get enough iodine from your diet as the highest naturally occurring source of it comes from sea vegetables.
It is recommended to take between 220-250 mcg during pregnancy, and 270 mcg while breastfeeding.
We all know the importance probiotics play in developing a strong gut ecology and immune system. They are essential for our health and well-being, especially during pregnancy. Not only do they aid in immunity and digestion, but babies receive their beneficial gut bacteria when they pass through the birth canal and when nursing. So, if the mother is lacking these beneficial strains, the baby will as well, leaving them prone to infection and symptoms associated with weakened immunity.
It is recommended to take probiotics from natural dietary sources like kimchi and probiotic beverages and yogurts, as well as dietary supplements containing a variety of strains. Strains such as B. infantis and L. plantarum may even help to produce B vitamins, including folate.
Long gone are the days of no-fat and low-fat diets! Fat is essential for brain and eye development, developing cells, and are carriers for essential nutrition. A mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fats from the right sources are not only healthy, they are necessary for the development of a growing fetus.
Natural sources include high quality, raw and unprocessed oils and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, coconuts, and small quantities of fish.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the most important fats to supplement with during pregnancy. Some polyunsaturated fats, such as fish oils (the best type!), chia seeds and hemp, are great sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids, containing EPA and DHA needed for the development of a baby’s heart, brain, eyes, nervous system, a healthy immune system, and to regulate inflammatory response.
Cod Liver Oil is a popular choice for supplementation, supplying high levels of omega-3s along with fat soluble A and D vitamins.
If vegan or vegetarian, hemp, chia, and flax oils, or algae can be supplemented instead, however, your body does have a tough time converting them to the active EPA and DHA. In addition, fish oil, as well as algae-based DHA or EPA dietary supplements are available. It is recommended to consume 1000 mg of omega-3s a day providing around 300mg of DHA and 180 of EPA.