Friday, 20 November 2009

Key nutrients during pregnancy

Folic acid

Folic acid helps reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida. The most important time to take it is from a few months before you conceive until the end of your first trimester (12 weeks). During this period, it’s important that you are eating a healthy balanced diet as well as taking a folic acid supplement. You can also include folate-rich foods in your diet such as green vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, beans, and peas; and fruits such as oranges.

Iron and Vitamin C

Iron is one of the key nutrients you need throughout pregnancy – it’s important for carrying extra oxygen around in your red blood cells and your baby needs it for their developing brain.

If you don’t have enough iron, you’ll run the risk of becoming anaemic, which will leave you feeling tired, washed-out and generally unwell. So make sure you have plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet such as red meat, fish, eggs, dried fruit, wholegrain breakfast cereals and breads, and green leafy vegetables. Your midwife may also recommend an iron supplement.

Iron is best absorbed by your body if you also eat some fruit or vegetables rich in Vitamin C at the same time, so have a glass of fruit juice with your cereal or have some fresh fruit as a starter to your main course.

Omega fats

Getting enough omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy is important, as they will help your baby’s nervous system to develop healthily, as well as help prevent you from getting heart disease. Some omega fats are important for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system.

Oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are all rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids but you shouldn’t have more than two portions a week, as the fish can also contain mercury, high levels of which can be harmful for your baby. Alternative sources of omega 3 are seeds such as pumpkin and flax – you’ll need about two tablespoons a day – or you can always have a pregnancy-friendly supplement instead.

Prenatal vitamin supplement

You could opt for just one multivitamin supplement specially made for women trying to conceive or who are pregnant. It’ll help you get the right balance of nutrients recommended for a healthy pregnancy, including folic acid and iron.

But make sure you choose a supplement made for use during conception and pregnancy and not a regular multivitamin, as these can contain potentially high levels of the vitamins you should be avoiding.

Vitamin A

Foods such as pâté and liver sausage, are good sources of iron but they can also contain very high concentrations of Vitamin A which can harm your baby if consumed in high amounts.

The Department of Health recommends that pregnant women should avoid liver and liver products.You should also be aware that some vitamin supplements are high in this vitamin, so always choose a safe pregnancy supplement. Your midwife will be able to help you with this.

However, there is a form of Vitamin A, known as beta-carotene, which is fine for pregnant women to have. Beta-carotene can be found in red, yellow and orange peppers, mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, tomatoes and watercress.

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