The human body has many amazing ways of protecting your growing baby, including having open access to you and your bodies stores of nutrients it needs. This sounds somewhat comforting, but if anything it highlights the risk you are placed at if you don’t get the right nutrition to support you and your baby’s needs. Let’s take a look at the key nutrients you need to keep an eye on throughout your pregnancy.
Folate is part of the B vitamin family. Folate plays a very important role in neural tube development of the foetus. Considering neural tube development happens in the first month of pregnancy, it is recommended that women planning a pregnancy take special note of this vitamin also. Folate is one nutrient in particular that is often recommended as a supplement to support the diet.
Dietary Sources: Leafy green vegetables (eg. spinach, broccoli), fruits (eg. oranges, bananas, strawberries), as well as dried beans, lentils, and even Vegemite (a great food option when nausea hits!).
Iron is an essential nutrient for brain development, an important immuno-nutrient (meaning it plays a role in supporting our immune system), and is also important for its oxygen carrying duties (critical later in your pregnancy when you start to find yourself being breathless more and more as your baby grows and invades the precious space left in your tummy).
RDI: 27mg/day (a massive increase from 18mg/d not-pregnant)
Dietary Sources: Meat, fish and poultry. Vegetarian sources (eg. spinach, some grains) are less bioavailable. Vitamin C can help your body absorb iron.
Iodine is an essential nutrient for normal growth and metabolism, and notably plays an important role in brain development.
Dietary Sources: The main source in our diet is iodised salt. Given other health consequences of salt intake, obviously striking a balance between too much and too little iodised salt is the key. Over-the-counter supplements can also help top-up the supply of this very important nutrient.
Zinc is involved in so many vital functions within the body, including development and maintenance of our immune system, brain, skin, hair, nails, bones and more. So it’s easy to see why requirements are increased during pregnancy.
Dietary Sources: Meat, fish and poultry are the main sources in Australian diets but cereals and dairy foods can also contribute.
Fibre & Probiotics
The reason I’ve put these two nutrients together is because both can play an important role in bowel health. When you’re pregnant, you may find that your bowel motions become less frequent, and sometimes even more difficult to pass. This can be a combination of having less waste (you and your baby will take as much of what you eat as it can, leaving less waste), and less room (your intestines will become quite squashed as less room is available). Fibre helps to increase the bulk of your stool, while probiotics (friendly bacteria) helps keep your digestive system healthy and functioning well by fighting off ‘bad’ bacteria and facilitating fluid balance.
AI Adequate intake (AI) of Fibre: 28g/day
Dietary Sources: Fibre – fresh fruit and vegetables, and grains Probiotics – Some yoghurts and milk drinks. Or supplements containing Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacteria.
Long Chain Omega 3 Fatty Acids (including DHA)
Omega 3 fats play an important role in brain and visual development, particularly DHA. What the baby needs will be met from your dietary intake, or stores.
RDI: Minimum 200mg DHA/day
Dietary Sources: Oily fish. Sources that have safe levels of mercury for pregnant women include mackerel, herrings, sardines, salmon and tuna. Pregnant women can safely consume 2-3 fish meals/wk.
Calcium and Vitamin D
This mineral and vitamin combination work very closely with one another to develop and maintain our bone health. And while the recommended intake for these nutrients don’t increase during pregnancy, I’ve included them because if the dietary supply of calcium isn’t enough to meet the body’s needs, calcium will be pulled from the mums own skeleton! Sounds scary, but it is a harsh reality. So it’s really important to ensure you’re meeting your calcium needs for both you and your growing baby.
RDI Calcium: 1000mg/day An adequate intake of Vitamin D is 5μg/day
Dietary Sources: Calcium rich foods are predominantly dairy foods, opt for low fat. Vitamin D can come from our diet however most of our vitamin D is made by the body when our skin is exposed to the sun – and like iodised salt, striking a balance between too much and too little is the key.
Amazingly our body is predominantly made up of water, and it is involved in practically all functions of the human body. So it’s no surprise why I’ve decided to include it as an important ‘nutrient’. The extra fluid you need is to help support expanding extracellular fluid space and amniotic fluid.
RDI: More than 2L/day
Dietary Sources: Some fluid will come from food you eat, however most of your needs are met by drinking water. Tap water is fine, no need to break the bank here with expensive bottled water.
Although technically not a ‘nutrient’, your daily energy intake will gradually increase throughout your pregnancy as your baby grows, but not straight away. You will never technically eat for two, or double your intake. What is important to note here is that all women are different, and extra energy needs will depend on pre-pregnancy fat stores. If you are overweight, you really should consult your doctor or dietitian to get a more tailored energy recommendation for you.
RDI First trimester: No extra kJ/d
Second trimester: Approximately 1400 extra kJ/day
Third trimester: Approximately 1900kJ extra kJ/day
Growing another little human inside you is truly a remarkable life experience, but one that comes with a lot of responsibility. It’s really important to know that while we have access to these general dietary recommendations for ‘pregnancy’, there can be large variations between women and between pregnancies so it’s really important to seek more specialised advice from a health professional with expertise in this area if you feel you have more specialised needs. For more detail on the ins and outs of pregnancy nutrition,
It really goes without saying that good nutrition throughout life is important, but if there is ever going to be a time when it’s more important, it’s during pregnancy. When you consider as the mum you are entirely responsible for your unborn child’s nutrients, it’s pretty clear to see why!
Many of your Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDIs) will exceed those of the rest of the population. In Australia, we have access to a fantastic safe and healthy food supply so you will be able to meet a lot of your additional needs through the diet. There are also numerous over-the-counter vitamin supplements that contain nutrients specific to the needs of pregnant women to help achieve daily needs. However if you have special dietary considerations (eg. vegetarian) you may need to consult the expertise of a dietitian to help tailor your diet to your specific needs.