The essential supplements for mothers-to-be
Pregnant and not sure if your diet is meeting all of your nutritional requirements? Donna Ahern looks at the prenatal supplementation to consider for wellbeing
We all know about the importance of getting enough nourishment for your developing baby when pregnant. And, in an ideal world, our diets should provide us with the necessary nutritional requirements. But they often don't and this is where supplementation comes in.
According to the clinical practice guidelines on nutrition for pregnancy published by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and the HSE, pregnant women and women planning pregnancy should be encouraged to eat a healthy, balanced diet incorporating foods based on the food pyramid. Despite this, the report, which was revised last year, shows that less than 50pc of pregnant women meet the recommendations for each individual group on the pyramid. This means that they maybe susceptible to deficiency, so supplementation may be required. It also states that iron, calcium, vitamin D and long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are particularly important nutrients throughout pregnancy - and it is on these that pregnant women need to focus.
Many women are low in iron, even before becoming pregnant. As an expectant mum, you will need extra iron to make new blood cells for your developing baby and most women are advised by their doctor to take iron supplements during pregnancy, especially if they have a history of heavy periods or have been anaemic in the past.
Also, although a vegan or vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrition that you need, this type of diet needs careful consideration when you are expecting, to ensure you are taking in enough iron.
According to Aveen Bannon, consultant dietitian, at Dublin Nutrition Centre: "During pregnancy a woman requires 15mg of iron daily, which she should ideally get through diet. Iron-rich foods include red meat, dark green vegetables, eggs and fortified cereals. Your doctor will check your bloods at the beginning of pregnancy and will let you know if you require iron supplementation."
If you are a vegetarian, Bannon says it is a good idea to check your iron levels during pregnancy in case you need to supplement your intake.
Calcium is also important to your baby's bone development and it is advisable to increase your intake during your pregnancy. During this time, it is recommended that women consume three portions of dairy or calcium-fortified alternatives daily.
If you are concerned that your diet is lacking in dairy produce, you should to look to other options to compensate for any calcium shortfall.
Bannon explains: "Calcium is really important in pregnancy as it not only is necessary for the skeleton of the growing baby but also to keep mums bones healthy too. Including dairy or non dairy milks fortified with calcium is important. However, if you are concerned that you are not getting enough calcium in your diet you should discuss the potential need for supplementation with your doctor."
Get your daily VITamin D
In order to get the maximum benefit from the calcium you are consuming, careful consideration of your vitamin D intake is advised. The vitamin helps the body to absorb calcium and is commonly known as the 'sunshine vitamin' because our bodies can produce it when our bare skin is exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, due to our mixed and temperate climate, we can't rely on Irish weather to guarantee sufficient sunlight and so it's recommended that we supplement our vitamin D intake.
"Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium," explains Bannon. "As the main source of vitamin D is sun - and as Ireland does not get sufficient sunlight for a significant amount of the year - we are reliant on our dietary sources of vitamin D to meet our requirements."
These sources include eggs, fortified milks, fortified cereals and oily fish but, Bannon says, it can be difficult to meet requirements through diet alone. "It is recommended that you take five micrograms of vitamin D daily while including vitamin D rich foods in the diet," she suggests.
Something to note is that if you are already taking a pregnancy multivitamin, these usually contain 10 micrograms of vitamin D so you won't need any extra vitamin D supplement if this is the case.
Don't forget the folic acid
An increase of folic acid, which is part of the B complex of vitamins, is imperative during pregnancy. It's significant to the production of red blood cells and the development of a baby's neural tube into the spinal cord and brain. If you have enough folic acid around the time you conceive your baby, then there's less risk of your baby being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you've just discovered that you are pregnant and had not been taking folic acid supplements, you should start them right away.
A daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended for all women for four weeks prior to conception, and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A higher dose, available via prescription, should be given to anyone with pre-existing diabetes, obesity or where there is a family history of neural tube defects.
Bannon explains: "Folic acid is really important for all women before and during the early stages of pregnancy.
"Although we prefer for people to get all their nutrients from food, folic acid is the exception to the rule. Folic acid is needed for the baby to develop a healthy spine and brain. Dietary sources include green vegetables but for a healthy pregnancy, a folic acid supplement is recommended."
Up the omegas
Bord Bia's 'Healthy eating for pregnant mums guide' highlights the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are necessary for the development of your baby's brain and eyes. If your diet doesn't include oily fish such as mackerel or sardines, you should consider supplementation from some vegetable oils, including rapeseed, canola, flaxseed, linseed and walnut. And of course, every woman is different, so it is always recommended that you talk to your consultant, about pregnancy supplements which are specific to your needs.