5 Essential Nutrients You Need Before, During, and After Pregnancy
Eating well is one of the easiest ways you can nourish yourself and your growing baby.
If you’re planning on starting a family, getting the necessary vitamins and minerals prior to and during your pregnancy is critical in supporting the growth and development of your baby. While most healthcare providers will recommend a daily prenatal supplement, maintaining a healthy, balanced eating plan is one of the best ways you can nourish yourself and your baby. Although all nutrients are important during pregnancy, below are 5 that play a particularly key role in your baby’s development.
Note: Season Health does not provide medical advice through the blog. Always speak to your healthcare provider before making any changes related to your health, such as starting a supplement.
Folate / Folic Acid
Folic acid, a vitamin needed to help your baby grow, is particularly important before and throughout your pregnancy. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and other birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
“Folate” and “folic acid” are often used interchangeably. Folate is the naturally occurring form of the nutrient found in whole foods, including leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, citrus fruits, and beans, peas, and lentils. Folic acid is the form of the nutrient found in supplements and enriched grain products, including enriched bread, flour, pasta, rice, and cereals. There are many ways to meet your folic acid/folate needs if you’re planning to become pregnant, including an eating plan that is rich in high folate foods, as well as a prenatal supplement recommended by your healthcare provider.
To see if your grain products contain folic acid, check the food label to see if “folic acid” or “folate” are listed in the nutrition facts.
Iron is a key nutrient needed for the production of red blood cells and to support fetal development. Compared to pre-pregnancy, iron requirements increase significantly during pregnancy as a result of the increased amount of blood in your body - particularly during the second half of pregnancy when your body makes more red blood cells to supply oxygen to your baby.
Ensuring you get enough iron is important for preventing iron deficiency, or anemia, during pregnancy. When it comes to iron-rich foods, heme iron, which is found in animal sources (think: meat, fish, poultry, eggs) is better absorbed by your body than non-heme iron, which is found in plant sources (green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, lentils). Iron is also found in enriched or fortified foods, such as breads, cereals, and pasta.
In addition to iron-rich foods, your healthcare provider may recommend an iron supplement to ensure you’re meeting your increased requirements if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, you need more iodine than usual. Your body uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones for both you and your baby, which are critical for your baby’s developing brain, skeleton, and nervous system. Natural food sources of iodine include dairy products, eggs, and seafood. In general, women of reproductive age typically get enough iodine through food; however, those who don’t regularly eat iodine-rich foods may not be meeting their increased needs during pregnancy.
In addition to getting iodine through natural food sources, your prenatal vitamin may contain iodine. If you are worried you may not be getting enough iodine, speak with your healthcare provider about taking an additional supplement.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids/DHA
Fat is key for the overall health of you and your baby. DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid, is a type of fat that can’t be made by your body, meaning you must get it through food or supplements. DHA is critical for supporting the development of your baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. You can find DHA naturally in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout. Certain foods, such as milk and eggs, may also be fortified with DHA.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend a dietary supplement or prenatal vitamin that contains DHA. If you are vegan or vegetarian, it is important to discuss DHA supplementation with your healthcare provider.
Choline is a nutrient you may not think about often. However, your need for it increases during pregnancy as your baby draws on your supply. Similar to folic acid, choline helps support the growth and development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord, which may prevent neural tube defects.
Choline is found in foods such as eggs, meat, fish, beans, peas, and lentils. Although it’s preferred to meet your choline needs through a balanced eating plan, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about supplementation if you’re concerned about meeting recommendations.