What nutrients are vital to your unborn baby’s health and development, and what foods are they found in?
When you’re pregnant, folic acid, B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, antioxidants (that’s vitamins A, C and E), and essential fatty acids (that’s omega-3 and omega-6) are important for foetal development.
Folic acid is important in preventing spina bifida and other neural tube defects in your baby. Folic acid and B vitamins – especially B12 – are needed to produce genetic materials like DNA, essential for foetal development.
Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 also control homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that has been linked to miscarriage.
Current advice is to take a folic acid supplement three to four months prior to conception, and through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Iron is essential to make red blood cells and to transport oxygen around your body. You need more than usual during pregnancy.
Iron is more easily absorbed if taken with vitamin C – orange juice is ideal. However, it is difficult to absorb your recommended daily allowance from food alone, especially in pregnancy.
Maggie Evans, midwife and lecturer
Not enough iron, and you can feel tired and be more susceptible to infections. There’s also a greater risk of premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight. Too much iron can result in low zinc levels, which can lead to pregnancy complications. There’s also a risk of developing hemochromatosis (an overload of iron).
Iron supplements can cause constipation, so finding the balance is important.
Vitamin C helps iron absorption, whereas wine, tea and coffee all contain tannins that block iron absorption.
Only take an iron supplement if your doctor advises you to.
Low zinc levels have been linked to low birth weight, spina bifida and other abnormalities.
Zinc is vital for fertility. If you’re trying to conceive, make sure you and your partner are both getting sufficient amounts of zinc. Deficiency can cause chromosome changes, leading to reduced fertility and increased risk of miscarriage.
"I have never been iron deficient, but I am vegetarian and I found that I felt really wobbly in pregnancy if I hadn’t eaten enough food. Once I started taking a supplement with iron in I felt so much better. I had made sure my diet was iron rich but I think in pregnancy it just wasn’t enough."
Andrea, 35, mum to Katie, 2
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