It is important to follow a balanced diet with an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. During this period, our nutrition can increase the chances of providing a healthy environment for the baby.
The importance of nutrition during pregnancy
Pregnancy and lactation are two periods in the life of a woman in which her nutritional needs increase, especially during the second. The health of the mother and her offspring, both in the womb and as a baby, will highly depend on these needs.
Many scientific studies have proven that there is a strong connection between a deficiency of certain nutrients and the weight of the mother; the onset of malformations and fetal anomalies; or premature birth. In many cases, this can result in very small babies with serious difficulties to develop correctly and autonomously.
We must also mention those women who belong to certain risk groups. Above all, this is due to specific circumstances that they have to take into account in order to plan their nutrition after becoming pregnant.
Some of these circumstances could be a history of malnutrition (including anorexia, bulimia and other disorders); food intolerances; diseases such as arteriosclerotic heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, colon cancer or osteoporosis; or multiple pregnancies.
The nutritional status of a woman at the beginning of pregnancy and throughout the nine months tends to be a determining factor. In fact, when a woman suffers some moderate or severe nutritional deficiencies before or during pregnancy, the chances of infertility increase significantly. After the pregnancy, it can result in abortion, premature birth, anomalies in the fetus, birth weight below the limit and an increased risk of neonatal mortality.
Fortunately, today’s society has reached a very high level of education regarding the problems of pregnancy and lactation associated with nutrition.
But this should not be an excuse for specialists to stop giving medical advice and performing controls that adjust to the physique and health of each future mother.
The Importance of Nutrition during Pregnancy
The education and advice on nutrition during pregnancy and lactation are meant to ensure the best diet. Evidently, this involves choosing the right foods in order to follow a balanced and proper diet.
It is quite frequent to address the issue of food supplements (specially micronutrients, that is vitamins and minerals). Sometimes, it will be necessary to use them in specific diets depending on the profile of the pregnant woman. Although we can use some of them in general, such as iron and folic acid.
We should not fall into the trap of thinking that a pregnant woman has to “eat double”.
On average, a non-pregnant woman needs around 2.200 kcal a day, depending on her weight, age and activity. Well, pregnancy involves increasing the calorie intake in 500 kcal. Therefore, there is no need to worry about eating calories in order to feed the baby.
Nevertheless, we have to pay special attention to those nutrients that can affect the fetus. For example, proteins, fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.
Most women will be able to meet the nutrient requirements just with the food they eat.
However, there are many specialists who believe that even those who follow a rigorous diet will need some support. At the same time, they also remind us that supplements are not an alternative to the essential ingredients from the diet.
On the other hand, we need to be careful with some supplements which are not subject to medical prescription. This means that they may contain excessive amounts of vitamins or minerals. In fact, a prolonged consumption could have just the opposite effect.
A woman will be ready if she takes the necessary nutrients from a healthy diet and supplementation
What should a Pregnant Woman Eat?
The diet of a pregnant woman should not be different to the one that she already follows.
Therefore, we recommend quality food, real food with plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit. The diet should provide enough protein from different sources, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products…
Women must follow healthy eating habits and some extra calories for the baby during pregnancy (300kcals on average)
What should a Pregnant Woman Not Eat?
Processed products, foods rich in sugar, harmful substances like alcohol, uncooked foods… Moreover, they should avoid raw food since it increases the risk of toxoplasmosis (canned meats, raw milk…).
Reducing the intake of stimulants like coffee as much as possible…
“Eating double” does not apply to the entire pregnancy. In fact, it starts to be more relevant from the second trimester onward…
What nutrients are crucial during pregnancy?
Generally speaking, pregnancy is a period when the nutrient requirements increase from a 5 to 400%. But we want to highlight some of the most important ones for the growth of the fetus:
Both pregnant and lactating women have to take a daily supply of 1200 mg. The dose becomes 1300mg for adolescents mothers because their osteo-skeletal system is not fully developed. Otherwise, the body will resort to the bone reserves if it needs this mineral.
This supply equals four servings of dairy products in any of their formats. Moreover, you can also eat whole cereals, legumes and green vegetables. In addition, we will have to completely restrict those substances that hinder the calcium metabolism. For instance, some of the most common ones are coffee, carbonated drinks, tobacco and alcohol.
During the first trimester of the pregnancy, the requirements drop when compared to those prior to the conception. This is due to the fact that pregnant women do not menstruate. But after the sixteenth week of gestation, there is a proliferation of red blood cells due to an increase in blood volume. In most cases, this calls for an extra iron supplementation.
If we talk about numbers, a pregnant woman needs four times more iron than when she is not pregnant. Consequently, this equals five and a half milligrams daily during the last two thirds of the pregnancy.
Undoubtedly, one of the metabolic threats during this period is an iron deficiency anemia. This issue should be avoided at all costs because, statistically: it increases the maternal mortality rates and the percentage of births with a low weight.
It is advisable to follow some habits in order to keep the organic iron deposits high:
- A sustained iron supply, not only from natural sources of this mineral (red meats, legumes, spinach…). But also from high doses of vitamins C and A, which are indispensable for the absorption and utilization of iron. That is why it is important to increase the consumption of fruit, raw vegetables, dairy products and fish. Let’s not forget about enriched foods such as precooked corn flour.
- Supplementation: in general, the recommended dose is 60 milligrams of iron sulfate daily. If we suffer anemia, we will have to take the same amount but until six months after giving birth.
This substance from the B group vitamins (B9) becomes relevant four months before even becoming pregnant
In fact, its intake for two or three months before the conception until the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of congenital malformations in more than a 70%. Particularly, it prevents a defect in the formation of the neural tube (the future spinal cord) and the cleft palate (called cleft lip). Moreover, it also avoids malformations of the genitourinary tract and the heart.
The first malformation caused by a folic acid deficiency is the first cause of mortality by a congenital defect. It happens very early, because the neural tube is completed before the first month of pregnancy. Sometimes, the mother does not even know she is pregnant. This can be easily avoided by taking preventive measures several weeks before becoming pregnant.
Its main food sources are liver, kidney, lamb and beef, eggs, green leaf vegetables (broccoli, spinach, chard…), legumes (especially beans), whole grains and walnuts. But the organism only absorbs half of the amount that is consumed, which makes it almost impossible to meet its requirements only through food.
That is why women take 5 milligrams of folic acid supplements a day 3 months before becoming pregnant.
Essential Fatty Acids
During pregnancy, it is essential to ensure a proper intake of essential fatty acids such as linoleic, linolenic and docosahexaenoic acid, due to their relevance in the formation of cell membranes and in the regulation of the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system.
This is the reason why the FAO and WHO reiterate the need to enrich the diet of pregnant women with soybean oil, blue fish and foods rich in these fatty acids.
We will add more information about the importance of fatty acids during pregnancy throughout this article.
Nutrition and supplements before pregnancy
It seems obvious, but it is essential for a woman to start from a good state of nutrition and health before becoming pregnant. And this statement can be justified with a single fact: the state of the mother before pregnancy has a stronger effect on the weight of the baby at birth than the increase in weight during pregnancy.
Following a healthy and balanced diet before trying to become pregnant is essential. This is due to a strictly evolutionary and conservative purpose of the human species, eating better already involves being more likely to become pregnant, because “the body is wise” and hinders a reproductive function that is not essential to survive, reserving nutrients to preserve metabolic processes.
Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that the ovulation cycles can suffer alterations that pose a serious obstacle to become pregnant for those women who eat poorly in terms of quantity or quality as well as those who are overweight or obese.
On the other hand, finding a balance between the different hormones that are directly or indirectly involved in the reproductive process stimulates the follicular growth in the ovaries and encourages the development of the uterine tissue so that the fertilized egg stick to it firmly.
Dos and don’ts
It is contraindicated to consume foods or drinks that contain caffeine, although some experts do not believe that this should be a strict measure, and they advise reducing its use and following a moderate consumption, which can be interpreted as two cups of coffee daily. The implication of this substance in fertility stems from the fact that it reduces the lumen of the blood vessels, which results in a lower blood flow to those regions which need more blood, such as the walls of the matrix . In this way, the experts claim that it impairs the implantation of the ovule in them.
A component of the diet that must be taken into account is oily fish, it stands out as the best supplier of omega-3 fatty acids, which has characteristics that favor the mechanisms that ensure the fertility.
But when it comes to choosing fish species, it is worth considering a factor that can be a negative cons, which is the concentration of mercury, a mineral which is capable of interfering in the formation of the embryo once the pregnancy has started. Mercury also is cumulative, so women who intend to become pregnant should abstain from eating fish species rich in mercury, like shark varieties, swordfish, canned white tuna or King mackerel.
In contrast, those with low levels of mercury in their meats are: salmon, hake or bluefin tuna. In terms of quantities, It is advisable to consume two servings of one hundred grams each week, which ensures the intake of omega 3; As for vegetarian or vegan women, an excellent substitute could be flaxseed, taken in salads, juices, etc.
As for meat, it is crucial to build up iron reserves, since it is easy to have low levels without actually being aware. That is why it is not a bad idea to undergo a blood test to know your level of hemoglobin, hematocrit and red blood cells in advance.
Regarding the quality of meats, unprocessed meats will always have preference over those that have been subjected to greater processes of transformation while discarding anything that is smoked or raw.
Veggies and fruit
We must complete this section about iron remembering that we can also use legumes, vegetables and cereals as complementary sources of the star mineral for pregnant women. The problem is that the iron from these sources has a worse absorption, a problem that can be solved by consuming those plant foods together with some others that are rich in vitamin C (natural orange juice or a kiwi), since they contribute towards a better absorption of iron.
It is essential to enrich the diet with a good selection of fruit and vegetables, especially those with the most intense colors like spinach, chard, broccoli, red cabbage, tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, cherries… since they also have antioxidants that attack the free radicals from the cell membranes, which are responsible for cell aging and, therefore, hinder the fertility.
This is why it is convenient to eat several pieces of fruit daily and at least three portions of vegetables per week.
It is advisable to reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice and pasta) as much as possible and replace them with foods made with whole flours (for example, whole bread). In any case, generally speaking, the intake of carbohydrates should not exceed 200g daily to avoid gaining a lot of weight and altering the blood glucose levels, which can also affect the fertility.
Supplements than can be useful to become pregnant
Nowadays, nutritional supplements have become very important within the therapeutic approaches against infertility.
Nutritionally, there are some basic factors when planning a pregnancy:
- Iron, a daily demand of 30-60 mg
- Folic acid, 0.4 mg
- Vitamin B complex, vitamin E and C highly beneficial to promote fertility.
There are many nutritionists who defend the thesis that even women who follow a correct diet may need some additional supplementation.
According to them, most women should consume a milligram of folic acid daily at least 2 months before a pregnancy. However, this vitamin is present in vegetable foods (we will not reiterate in something already discussed above), but since it is a water-soluble substance, it is better to consume it in raw or steamed products rather than boiled in water.
Meanwhile, omega 3 fatty acids provide important benefits for the growth of the baby, improving its neurological function and helping with the development of sight. We must also mention that a study from a Danish university revealed that if these substances are consumed prior to the beginning of pregnancy, they prevent respiratory infections and asthma, with an effect that extends to two or three years of life. Because these fatty acids are only obtained by eating oily fish, it will be necessary to take a supplement to increase the chances of becoming pregnant if we do not eat this type of fish regularly.
We cannot ignore the role of Vitamin D in the pre-gestational stage, which can be supplied through milk, eggs and oily fish to meet its requirements. But in the case of vegan women or those who do not want to eat these foods for other reasons, it is advisable to consult a specialist so that they can assess the possibility of using supplementation.
According to a professor of gynecology at Stanford University, there is a group of nutrients that could help women become pregnant, including those who suffer reproductive disorders such as irregular cycles or polycystic ovary. It is a mixture of monks pepper (an extract that alters the concentrations of reproductive hormones in the blood), L-arginine, antioxidants such as green tea and vitamin E, selenium (which has an excellent synergy with the previous one) and several vitamins from the B complex.
This researcher states that this composition is aimed at improving the functioning of the corpus luteum, which should result in a normalized ovulation. The corpus luteum is a part of the ovary which is in charge of secreting progesterone, a hormone that thickens the inner lining of the uterus (called the endometrium), favoring the nidation of the fertilized egg.
We will finish the review of the vitamin chapter pointing out that both Vitamin C and B6 help to improve the fertility, in the case of the first one even in women who suffer ovulation disorders. This is why using supplements that contain them can be beneficial.
- Andean Maca is a vegetable of the cruciferous family (to which the cabbages and turnips belong), and it has been used as a natural enhancer of fertility since ancient times. The secret seems to lie in its richness in the amino acid L-arginine, which acts favors the vasodilation in the pelvic area.
- Evening primrose oil, which is extracted from the seeds of the plant with the same name. Apparently, it is a good regulator of hormonal functions, which results in an increase in fertility.
- Regarding herbs, we can mention chasteberry, which stimulates the epiphysis (the gland that produces melatonin) and balances the sex hormones. Also, the “dong quai” or Chinese herb of fertility, stabilizes the estrogen levels.
The importance of nutrition and supplements during pregnancy
It is widely known that an adequate nutrition shortens the recovery of the mother after giving birth. In fact, it has confirmed that eating a poor diet lacking essential nutrients is a predisposing factor for some disorders, like toxemia of pregnancy, premature birth and anemia.
There are a series of metabolic changes that are perfectly described in the manuals of physiology of pregnancy and that include the hormonal cycles with special emphasis. All of these changes result in the transfer of more nutrients to the placenta in order to ensure their supply to the fetus and its annexes.
In particular, there is an increase in the secretion of insulin by the pancreas, which is in charge of increasing the glycogen and fat deposits of the mother, which act as energy reserves.
On the other hand, there is an increase in the blood volume, which leads to distortions in the composition of the blood, in which the hemoglobin and serum proteins are diluted, as well as the water-soluble vitamins, while the triglycerides and the coagulation factors are concentrated. An immediate consequence of this is physiological anemia, with the level of hemoglobin remaining below the threshold of 11g/dl during the first or third trimester or 10.5 g/dl if it is the second.
The concentration of ferritin deserves a special mention, it is a protein responsible for storing iron and releasing it in a controlled manner, and if it falls below 12 μg/l it should be interpreted as a signal of depletion of the reserves of this mineral.
If we deepen into the issue of anemia, we must not overlook vitamin B12, which is essential for the formation of red blood cells. This component is generally found in products of animal origin, mainly chicken and red meat, and completely absent in vegetables, so vegetarians and vegans need to take a daily supplement to ensure their intake.
If we break down the pregnancy in stages, we could say that the first trimester is characterized by an accelerated fetal growth, which means that a deficit of any of the critical nutrients can cause irreversible damage. And although the energy needs of the mother are scarcely altered, we have to eat foods containing a high percentage of these nutrients.
In the second trimester, this growth continues and the fat deposits in the mother are consolidated, which are intended to ensure the future breastfeeding. This means that the energy requirements undergo a clear upturn and they must be met to avoid possible risks. There is an increase in caloric demand and nutrients in general in the third trimester as well, but this time as a result of the physical growth of the fetus.
During pregnancy, women must be specially careful in terms of the food they eat and how much they really needed, avoiding compulsive eating. We must forget all the false myths about special or restrictive diets, except for medical prescriptions that obey specific clinical situations.
What is clear is that those women whose eating habits are affected by recurring habits should be concerned about meeting the requirements, since some of them will not consume dairy products, vegetables or fruits, for example. In this way, the change in diet should always strive to improve the quality of life.
The energy needed during pregnancy is obtained mainly from carbohydrates and fats, while proteins are destined to form tissues, and vitamins and minerals to make metabolic reactions possible.
Carbohydrates should make up more or less half of the energy, always keeping the blood glucose balanced. In this context, it is important to emphasize the need to keep a balance between energy and proteins that has been set by nutritionists, of which the most relevant information is that when the proteins ingested are below a 25% of the amount of kilocalories, the expected effect is that the weight of the baby will be higher and also, as well as a lower risk of neonatal death.
It is also very interesting to read the conclusions reached by some recent studies that are focused on discovering the influence of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the essential amino acids in the diet of the pregnant mother. Apparently, the maximum potential for neurological development of the fetus is achieved by optimizing the supply of these nutrients in the diet. These studies were focused more specifically on the DHA, from which they concluded that it plays an essential role in the synthesis of the phospholipids of the nervous tissue and the ocular retina.
As a result, the experts have reached the conclusion that the recommended intake of DHA should be near 200 mg/day, which can be easily done by consuming oily fish twice a week.
On the other hand, vitamin D is not only an essential nutrient to grow strong teeth, tissues and bones, but it is also used to prevent diabetes. Skimmed milk and eggs are sources of this vitamin, very reliable and available throughout the whole year.
We are going to dedicate the last part of this chapter to talk about Iodine. A proper development of the brain of the fetus is a task, among other factors, of the good health of the maternal thyroid gland, whose main hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, are synthesized by a metabolic process in which iodine is a limiting factor. This explains the importance of this micronutrient in the diet of pregnant women.
If the diet does not provide a sufficient supply of this mineral, the risk of a baby with hypothyroidism or with irreversible brain injuries is quite high. The threshold that must be reached is 200 micrograms of iodine a day so that this does not happen.
Eating guidelines for pregnancy
- Eating a varied and balanced diet provides the energy and nutrients that safeguard maternal health and fetal development.
- Drink about two litres of water every day.
- Divide the food intake in the three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), you can add an afternoon snack consisting of whole or liquefied fruits and milk or dairy products.
- Avoid consuming raw animal foods. In particular, raw or lightly cooked eggs may be contaminated by Salmonella, and poorly cooked meats by Toxoplasma. Avoid, homemade mayonnaise, cheesecakes and mousse as much as possible.
- Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and blue cheeses, as well as patés, are foods with a certain probability of containing Listeria bacteria, one of the causes of abortion and meningitis in the baby.
- Needless to say, alcohol, tobacco and drugs must be discarded. With the consumption of all these, growth can be delayed and cause ocular and osteo-articular anomalies, as well as mental deficiencies or malformations.
- As for coffee, it seems to be widely proven that caffeine is able to cross the placenta by altering key functions of the baby’s organism, so that it should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
- Wash the fruits and vegetables that are going to be eaten raw and/or with skin thoroughly.
- Moderate the consumption of salt, which tends to be present in excessive quantities in all kinds of processed foods such as preserves, sausages, sauces …
- Enrich the diet with fibrous foods, since its positive effects on the controlling excess weight, hypertension, gestational diabetes, constipation, etc. have been demonstrated. The latter is very common in pregnancies, so the intake of fiber should be increased to at least 35 grams a day.
Nutritional supplements during pregnancy
Although no one doubts that the needs of vitamins increase during this period, we must not become obsessed with this and embrace a compulsive consumption of them, because abusing certain vitamins can be counterproductive, specially Vitamin A, since it can cause serious disorders if it is consumed in excess (in fact, there is a nutritional disease called hypervitaminosis A).
In any case, we have to bear in mind two important factors:
- Supplements that have been specifically designed with a pregnant woman in mind, provide more food safety, since they have a better balance of nutrients.
- Multivitamins should never replace a healthy diet. We should think that our diet can be made solely by products that come from nature, which should be more than enough to provide the nutrients that we need, like fruits or vegetables. In any case, the best decision would be consulting your doctor first.
Other interesting supplements:
- Brewer's yeast is very rich in B complex vitamins, such as Thiamine, Niacin and Riboflavin, as well as Selenium which is why it is especially indicated for pregnant women.
- Chromium may be useful since it plays a role in helping to stabilize the glucose levels, which as we know is a critical factor for the threat of gestational diabetes. As a reference, pregnant women need approximately 30 micrograms of chromium per day.
- Fresh ginger provides Iron, vitamin C that helps with the formation of the immune system of the fetus and folic acid. An additional feature that makes it important is that he seems to have the ability to mitigate morning dizziness. It should be taken in reasonable amounts, such as a serving of ginger tea.
- Nigari or magnesium chloride can be useful one month after birth, being consumed at a rate of 400 milligrams per day in two doses, since, among other positive effects, it prevents contractions before week 35, speeds up intestinal motility and prevents eclampsia caused by hypertension during pregnancy.
Nutritional supplements during Pregnancy
A doctor will be able to suggest the best supplement for pregnant women according to their needs and/or circumstances. We have to keep in mind that we can compromise the health of the baby by taking inadequate amounts of synthetic medicines.
The following advice must be previously supervised by a professional that is also monitoring the pregnancy
Supplements for Pregnancy
Taking these supplements before becoming pregnant involves being responsible for the health of the baby in order to avoid future problems in its growth.
You can follow the following advice about supplements during pregnancy, but if you suffer certain problems or pathologies you should be supervised by your doctor
The Best Supplements for Pregnancy
Folic acid is probably one of the most important vitamins before and during pregnancy. It is not only necessary for the synthesis of DNA and cell replication, but it also significantly reduces the risk of having a baby with serious neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or anencephaly.
It is a highly beneficial fatty acid for the organism of human beings but its qualities are even more relevant during pregnancy. Within the Omega-3 fatty acids complex, there is one that is particularly important: DHA or docosahexaenoic acid. The difference between this one and other acids that belong to this group, is that DHA can be found in fish oils like the ones from tuna or mackerel. The body cannot synthesize it on its own, it must be consumed through food or dietary supplements.
Consuming a supplement that contains Omega-3 before and during pregnancy significantly reduces the possibility of suffering a premature labor. Moreover, it has been proven that those children who are born from mother who have met their requirements of this fatty acids have a better development of the cognition, sight and nervous system in general. It is also beneficial to avoid hypertension in pregnant women, since marine oils contribute to narrowing the blood vessels.
Iron is necessary to build the hemoglobin. The hemoglobin is necessary to help with the transport of oxygen in the blood both for the mother and the baby. Having enough iron is especially important during the last trimester when the fetus uses the reserves of iron from the mother. Therefore, the mother needs to have enough iron for her and for the baby.
Everyone knows that calcium is necessary (find out more here) for cardiovascular health, a proper development of the tissues of the fetus and a proper capacity to coagulate the blood. The baby will need a considerable amount of calcium to grow. If the pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium to meet the needs of her baby, the body will take the calcium from her own bones, which will reduces the bone mass and trigger osteoporosis
The body needs vitamin D to keep proper levels of calcium and phosphorus which help to strengthen the bones and teeth of the baby. A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can delay the growth and cause skeletal deformities.
It can also impact the weight of the baby. Even if we provide a proper dose of vitamin D, the baby can be born with a deficiency of this vitamin. The baby can suffer rickets (which can lead to deformities and fractures), the abnormal growth of the bones and a delayed physical growth, and the results can be in the long term.The researchers believe that a vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect the bone development and the immune function from birth to adulthood. A vitamin D deficiency has also been related with a higher risk of complications during pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia and higher chances of need a cesarean delivery
It is necessary for the production, repair and functioning of the DNA, which is the genetic map of the body and a basic component of the cells. That is why obtaining enough zinc is particularly important for the fast cell growth that happens during the pregnancy. This essential mineral helps to keep the immune system healthy, preserve the sense of taste and smell, and heal wounds.Zinc deficiencies are quite uncommon, but the research links a zinc deficiency to toxemia involuntary abortions, low weight after being born and other problems during the pregnancy, labor and lactation
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, helps the body to metabolize the proteins, fats and carbs. It also helps to form new red blood cells, anti-bodies and neurotransmitters and it is crucial for the development of the brain and nervous system of the baby.The research shows that additional vitamin B6 can relieve the nausea or vomits in some women during pregnancy, even though nobody knows exactly how it works.
Also known as ascorbic acid, it is essential to repair tissues, heal wounds, bone growth and a healthy skin. Vitamin C also has an antioxidant effect that protects the cells against the damage of the free radicals.
Both the mother and the baby need this vitamin on a daily basis, it is necessary to produce collagen, which is a structural protein that makes up cartilages, tendons, bones and the skin.Some researchers believe that a lack of vitamin C in newborns can damage their mental development, based on studies with animals. Vitamin C can also help the body to absorb iron
Benefits of Prenatal Multivitamins
- Reducing the risk of having a child with serious neural tube defects
- Preventing the loss of bone density
- Helping to transport the oxygen in the blood for the mother and child
- Contributing with nutrients that the mothers cannot obtain through a normal diet
- Helping with the formation of DNA in the growth of the fetus
Nutrition and supplements during the lactation
After childbirth, a very special period opens up in the life of a woman: breastfeeding. If the woman voluntarily choses to feed the baby and the organism does not poses any obstacle for this to happen, it is necessary to reorganize the diet that will be followed during this stage.
First of all, the most influential factors when estimating the nutritional needs of a lactating woman are the composition and quantity of the milk that her mammary gland is able to produce and its nutritional status once the gestation is over. Without any doubt, breastfeeding is the most critical period in terms of nutritional requirements, since it can condition both the amount of milk that is produced and its richness in essential nutrients.
From the child’s point of view, it is the first part of his life, in which it depends strictly on the mother’s milk to receive the nutrients that will ensure a normal development. Meanwhile, the mother begins a progressive loss of the weight that she gained during the pregnancy but, in turn, she must rigorously meet her requirements to achieve a good lactation.
The nutritional status of the baby fed exclusively with breast milk is determined, among others, by two factors: the accumulation of nutrients during its intrauterine stage and the quantity and bioavailability of the nutrients provided by the milk.
Properties of breast milk
Each 100 ml of milk produced (and it tends to be 600-700ml daily) uses about 85 kilocalories that, for the most part, must be obtained from the energy supplied through the diet, logically completed with the cumulative remainder especially during the second quarter of the pregnancy.
The daily protein needs are increased in 25g, of which at least 50% must be of high biological value, which means that they are rich in essential amino acids, those that the body is unable to synthesize on its own.
Calcium is a nutrient that is also especially demanded during breastfeeding. Do not forget that about 280mg of this macromineral is lost per litre of milk, which means that the Calcium provided by the diet should be increased by 700mg.
Ensuring correct levels of calcium means reducing the risk of bone demineralization and a good recovery of these at the end of this stage.
What to eat at this stage
It is advisable to include spinach, chard, cheese, yogurt and almonds, among other foods, on our daily menu.
Similar to those described regarding pregnancy, iodine is an essential element to maintain the thyroid hormones of the newborn at optimal levels and for a correct neurological development. This is achieved through a consumption of at least 200 micrograms daily.
As for vitamins, Vitamin A becomes specially important because it plays a fundamental role in the immune system of the baby. In this sense, the mother has to increase the dose of this vitamin by 500 micrograms daily, an amount that can meet the 300-450 micrograms of the daily milk secretion. In general, it can be said that all water-soluble vitamins require an increase between 30 and 50% compared to a non-lactating woman.
Likewise, to recover from an iron loss during and after childbirth, the lactating mother demands significant quantities of those foods that are considered a source of iron, such as legumes, red meats, molluscs…
Cereals, especially oats, are foods of great interest in breastfeeding, either in flakes or salads, as well as brown rice, as garnish in meals.
A good sleep
It is advisable to have indirect sources of serotonin such as dark chocolate (the one that contains a minimum of 70% cocoa). Drops of the blood levels of this neurotransmitter are frequent, in many occasions they give those signals known as “sweet hunger”. Chocolate is rich in Tryptophan, an amino acid from which Serotonin is synthesized.
It is advisable to include natural anti-inflammatory substances in the diet as a tool to combat the dreaded post-partum depression and to mitigate the pain due to the tissue readjustment. For example, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that can be found in fatty or semi-fat fish products such as anchovies, mackerel, tuna or salmon.
This compilation on nutrition during lactation would not be complete without mentioning the role of DHA fatty acid in the neurological development of the baby fed with breast milk. At present, reliable evidence shows that children who follow this feeding system have significant differences with the rest regarding neurological evaluation tests, which is directly related to mothers whose milk contains high concentrations of this substance. The scientific community has established, as a pattern to achieve an increase in the concentration of DHA in breast milk, a consumption higher than 200 mg/day.
And above all, do not forget to drink a lot of liquid, mostly water, although it is not a bad idea, to pleasure the sense of taste with natural juices, infusions, etc., while avoiding stimulant beverages rich in caffeine or theine.
If the mother follows a balanced diet there is no reason to expect any deficiency in the child or to use any supplementation, perhaps except in the case of iodine for reasons already adduced (it is recommended that nursing mothers take a daily supplement of 200 micrograms of iodine). However, the Breastfeeding Committee points out some specific situations in which some micronutrients may be compromised and, consequently, the quality of the milk:
- Malnutrition: This is the most extreme case in which it is totally necessary to consume iron, zinc and vitamin C supplements.
- Anemia: demands a supplementation of iron and vitamin C.
- Vegetarian mothers: their main risk entails creating a deficit of B vitamins in the baby (with special relevance for B12) and calcium, which is why they are recommended for supplementation.
- Adolescent mothers: due to their organic immaturity, it is indispensable to enrich the diet with Calcium and supplements of vitamin D3 and iron.
- Those women who have undergone gastric bypass surgery should take vitamin B12 supplements.
Benefits of Omega-3 for the fetus
- The research considers that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the neurological development of the ocular system in the early stages of the embryo.
- A deficient supply in the diet of the mother will deplete her omega-3 levels, since said nutrients are being used for the development of the nervous system of the baby. This supply is still high even when the mother is producing breast milk.
- Therefore, adding EPA and DHA to the diet of a pregnant woman will improve the development of the sight and cognition of this new being, moreover it is going to enhance and strengthen the immune system against possible allergies.
- We will be able to avoid circumstances like premature labor and a lower risk of pre-eclampsia with a proper balance of essential fatty acids.
Omega 3 advice During Pregnancy
Source of Fatty Acids
It is very important to check the source of the fatty acids during pregnancy. In this case, the fish itself can be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, which are accumulated in the animal throughout its life. This happens with oily fish such as tuna or salmon. An alternative would be taking fatty acids in softgels that contain the fish oil in the exact dose to be taken without that risk.
Without Toxic Substances
During the elaboration of fish oil, the toxic substances are going to be eliminated through refining processes. In such case, it is advisable to choose the brand of the product that specifically states the treatment it has undergone in the label, producing a purified product and stating that it does not contain such harmful substances.
Features of the Softgels
The product tends to smell like fish. If we want to test this, we just need to take one capsule or softgel and cut it and then see if it really smells like the sea, otherwise it would mean that we have purchased a product that should not be consumed. This can also apply to the flavor, which is why it will be normal to taste fish in our moth after the digestion.
The ISSFAL (International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids) advises that pregnant and lactating women should provide at least 300-500mg of DHA daily.