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Nutrition and Pregnancy

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Your nutritional choices before, during, and after pregnancy have a major impact on the long-term health of both you and your baby. Prepare for a healthy pregnancy by eating a balanced diet, taking a high-quality prenatal supplement, and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle including regular physical activity.

It’s never too soon to begin preparing for your baby. As soon as you are actively trying to get pregnant, start taking a prenatal supplement that provides a complete range of nutrients including extra folic acid, choline, and vitamin D. Folic acid and choline are important for the early development of a baby’s nervous system, which occurs in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows that she is pregnant. Maintenance of a normal vitamin D level is also important for a healthy pregnancy.

For women over 35, taking a supplement containing coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may be beneficial for healthy ovarian function. Research indicates that CoQ10 may support mitochondrial energy production in the ovary for improved egg quality in women age 35 and older.

In addition to taking a high-quality prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement, mothers-to-be need to east a variety of healthful foods every day.

A balanced diet to support your healthy pregnancy consists of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains (whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, couscous), lean protein (milk beans, tofu, and lean meats and poultry), and healthful fats (olive oil, walnuts, almonds, avocados).

A lifestyle that includes healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and refraining from smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and substance abuse will support the lifelong health of your entire family. Remember, when a child reaches adulthood, they tend to eat what their parents at, and follow the lifestyle patters they learned early in life. So making good choices now can influence your child to lead a health lifestyle into adulthood.

Most women can be moderately physically active throughout their pregnancy. In fact, a fit woman may experience an easier labor and faster recovery due to her strength and endurance. Talk to your doctor to see if you need to make any modifications to your exercise program.

There are many different prenatal supplements on the market. It is important to find one that is easy for you to swallow, and that you tolerate well. A high-quality prenatal should generally contain the following nutrients.

Vitamin D
Optimal vitamin D levels are important for a healthy pregnancy

Low vitamin D blood levels are common among pregnant women and have been associated with numerous complications of pregnancy. Low intake of vitamin D during pregnancy has also been associated with low infant birth weights and increased risk of childhood asthma. Typical prenatals provide 400 IUI of vitamin D, which recent research suggests is inadequate. For example, one study showed that even with 800 IUI of vitamin D per day, most pregnant women and their infants did not achieve a normal vitamin D level.

Recent studies tested 2000 and 4000 IUI of vitamin D per day in pregnant women. The researchers found these doses were safe and effective in achieving normal vitamin D levels. Pregnancy complications such as preterm labor and infection were lower in women with higher vitamin D levels at delivery. Look for a prenatal with 2000 to 4000 IUI vitamin D3, the preferred from of vitamin D, per daily dose.

Folic Acid
Folic acid is critical during the first trimester to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects.

Choline is important to promote your baby’s brain development.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may help reduce nausea during pregnancy.

Iodine promotes normal thyroid function and nerve and brain development.

Increased iron is recommended to meet your increased needs during pregnancy.

Biotin is broken down more rapidly during pregnancy.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is beneficial for your baby’s brain and visual development)

Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do to support your baby’s health, and good nutrition plays a key role in your baby’s growth and development. Moms who breastfeed have unique nutrient needs — different from during pregnancy or any other time in a woman’s life. Taking a nutritional supplement specifically formulated for breastfeeding moms, along with a balanced diet, will provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed during this time.

Vitamins A and C
While you are breastfeeding, you need slightly more vitamins A and C than most prenatal supplements provide. Higher amounts of these vitamins are needed for yor breast milk to meet your baby’s nutritional requirements. Look for a lactations supplement that contains the Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin A (4000 IUI) and vitamin C (120 mg)

Your requirement for choline, a nutrient that supports your baby’s growth and brain development, is higher during lactation than at any other time during your life. This nutrient is often left out of prenatal supplements because it is bulky; however, it is estimated that only 10% of American meet their daily choline needs. Foods rich in choline include egg yolks, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, milk and some meats. Look for a lactation supplement with 200 -300 mg of choline to help meet the recommended amount for breastfeeding mothers (550 mcg)

DHA is beneficial for your baby’s brain and visual development. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is important during pregnancy and lactation because of its role in infant brain and eye development. The amount of DHA in your breast milk is directly related to the amount of DHA in your diet (from fatty fish such as wild caught salmon) and your supplements, so it is important to get enough while you are breastfeeding. Look for a lactation supplement with 300 mg DHA.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for your baby’s overall growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants receive 400 IU vitamin D drops each day to prevent vitamin D deficiency and rickets. This is because most women don’t have enough Vitamin D in their breast milk. It is important that babies get enough, but not too much, of this important nutrient. Early research suggests that if mothers take very high doses of vitamin D, there may be enough in breast milk. However, it is not yet clear exactly how much vitamin D is needed. Until the exact amount is known, a lactations supplement should contain about 1000 IUI of vitamin D3 to support your nutrient needs without providing too much to your baby. Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about vitamin D for you and your baby.

Folic Acid
Although you needed more folic acid in early pregnancy to support your baby’s growth and neural tube development, your folic acid needs are lower during lactation. There is some controversy about supplementing with high doses of folic acid for long periods of time, so it makes sense to take higher doses only before and ruing pregnancy, when it is really needed. Look for a lactation supplement with 400-600 mcg of folic acid.

Your iron needs are much lower while breastfeeding than during pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding exclusively, you likely will not have your period for 4 to 6 months after giving birth. Without menstrual blood loss each month, your iron needs decrease. If you are anemic after giving birth, however, you may need additional iron supplementation. Look for a lactation supplement with 9 mg of iron, the Recommended Daily Allowance during breastfeeding.

Recent studies indicate that low vitamin D levels are common among pregnant women in the US and in the UK, even among those taking a standard prenatal multivitamin, which usually contains 400 IUI. Low vitamin D levels during pregnancy can affect the well-being of the mother as well as the newborn. Adequate vitamin D during pregnancy is important for skeletal development, as well as general growth and development of the fetus. Because a newborn’s vitamin D level depends on the mother’s vitamin D status, deficiency during pregnancy can lead to rickets (bone softening and weakening) in the child. A recent study confirmed that a mother-to-be’s vitamin D level was related to her child’s bone health. Children whose mothers had insufficient vitamin D levels during pregnancy were more likely to have reduced bone mass at age nine. Low vitamin D levels during pregnancy have been associated with an increased risk of numerous complications, including gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy), preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure) and bacterial vaginosis (an infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina ). One study found that mothers-to-be with vitamin D deficiency were almost four times more likely to require a Cesarean section.

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