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"Optimizing Nutrition for Every Stage: Prenatal to Postpartum" Part 1



When you begin trying to start a family it is important to get nutritionally prepared.

A woman's body goes through many physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy and having the right nutrients to support the body, egg quality and fetal growth is vital. I wrote this blog post with full attention to put it into one post; however this blog was full of information I split it in one Part one will discuss the importance of prenatal supplements and the nutrients that support a health pregnancy. Part two will discuss energy requirements and breastfeeding.


 

Why prenatal supplements are essential for a healthy pregnancy.


During pregnancy, there are significant changes that require an increase in nutrients. As plasma volume increases, nutrient blood levels drop, if there aren't enough nutrient stores such as B12, folate, Iron and protein which are required to make blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to where it is needed there can be complications in a successful and healthy pregnancy.


As a student practitioner, I advise my clients that a prenatal supplement is something to consider as soon as they begin trying to conceive as it helps boost the nutrient stores they need to support a healthy pregnancy. Nutrient requirements increase during pregnancy and a prenatal supplement helps fill in the gaps for when they fall pregnant. Essentially it is a prenatal is a multivitamin that have the right key nutrients that help you prepare for conception such as B vitamins (B12, folate), calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin D, choline, selenium and zinc. Prenatal supplements have other essential nutrients that will support foetal growth.

Not all prenatal's are created equal and many over the counter supplements may have low amounts of nutricutcals and some are not as bioavailable and easily absorbed in the body . Speaking with a clinical nutritionist or your general practitioner on the best prenatal for you. Stay tuned for a blog post on selecting a quality prenatal supplement.


When taking a prenatal be mindful of medications or other supplements that you are taking as many medications and supplements can interfere with absorbtion of nutrients. Speak to your health provider on the interactions of your medications. If you are a coffee lover like I am taking your prenatal at least an hour before or after drinking coffee as the tannins in coffee or tea can interfere with the absorbtion of many nutrients.


I believe that food should always be the first approach for increasing nutrients, as supplements should never be a substitute for nutrient-dense diet. Below is a rundown of the important nutrients to be aware of and foods you can add to your next shopping list.


Iron

Women are more likely to be deficient in iron and require more than men, which is particularly important during pregnancy as the daily requirement is increased as blood volume increases by 45%. Iron is essential to make hemoglobin to carry and release oxygen to ensure energy and nutrient transportation to the tissues. Iron is also needed for foetal growth and development to support cognitive function and the immune system. Iron can also help reduce fatigue and increase energy levels for the healthy mumma-to-be.


There are two types of iron haem-iron derived from animals and non-haem iron derived from plants. Animal products are richer sources of iron, especially organ meats. Plant foods that are rich in non-haem iron are found to have lower quantities of iron and less bioavailable than haem iron.

For vegetarians or vegans eating Vitamin C-rich foods alongside non-haem iron-rich foods can also increase the absorption.

Avoid caffeinated teas/coffee beverages or food like chocolate for 90 minutes before/after eating iron foods as the caffeine/tannins in these foods interfere with iron absorption.


Iron-rich foods include- Animal (Beef, Lamp, Salmon, Anchovies, Kangaroo and eggs) Plant (soybeans, tempeh, tofu, almonds, bok choy/cabbage, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, dried apricots, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds & sunflower seeds


Folate

Folate or B9, is essential for fertility, egg quality, foetal development, DNA synthesis as well as repairing DNA and brain health.

Folate also lowers the risk of neural tube defects which are defects in the brain, spine and spinal cord. Neural tube defects usually happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy and some instances before pregnancy has been confirmed. It is essential to meet your recommended daily intake months before becoming pregnant.

Dietary folate includes dark leafy greens (broccoli, Chinese cabbage, spinach), Avocados, nori seaweed, hardboiled eggs, chicken liver, kidney beans asparagus, parsley and fortified bread.

When looking for a prenatal find a quality folate in its natural form either in methylfolate or 5-MTHF rather than the synthetic form folic acid.


B12 Cobalamin

B12 plays an important role in keeping our blood and nerve cells healthy, new tissue formation and DNA synthesis. In a normal pregnancy B12 levels drop by 30% in the third trimester.

Women who are vegetarian or vegan and are not on a supplement form are at greater risk of deficiency that may cause infertility, miscarriage or neurological damage to the infant through pregnancy or lactation. When looking for a quality form of B12 look for hydroxocobalamin or methylcobalamin which are more of an active form.


Vitamin D

Many Australians are low in vitamin D which is primarily sourced from direct sunlight, It can be found in small amounts in our diet through eating egg yokes, oily fish (mackerel, sardines, herring) liver and fortified foods. Optimal levels of vitamin D can have been shown to have positive effects on follicular fluid which is the fluid around the ovaries and eggs and provides nutrients to the premature eggs. Vitamin D is essential for playing a role in bone metabolism and during pregnancy has been found to prevent pre-eclampsia, low birth weights and preterm births. It is important to think about vitamin D when breastfeeding as vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium needed for babies' bones to develop as they grow.


Calcium

We all know that calcium is what keeps our bones strong, and our bones are where our body stores calcium. When we do not meet our adequate daily intake our body starts taking the calcium from our bones to where it is needed in the body. It is vital during pregnancy to have adequate calcium intake for foetal bone health. Dairy is the highest form of calcium but there are great plant-based sources- Tofu, Spinach, Kale, Broccoli, Lentils and Legumes, dried fruit (apricots and figs) and almonds.


Iodine

Iodine is needed for the baby’s growth, brain development, and bones and nervous system. It is also essential for thyroid health. All women considering pregnancy, pregnancy or breastfeeding should meet their recommended daily intake. This can be through freshly cooked seafood, fortified breads, eggs and dairy. Supplementation is recommended when planning for pregnancy; discuss with your practitioner the best supplementation for you.


Omega 3

Omega 3's (DHA/EPA) are important for foetal retina (eyes) and brain development. Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 and is low in saturated fat. Be careful about the fish you choose, as some fish are high in mercury.

DHA supports the brain, eyes, and central nervous system, and EPA supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response. EPA and DHA naturally work together in the body.

Fish with low mercury are mackerel, sardines, Atlantic salmon or herring.

If you are taking a omega 3 supplement it is advised to stop taking it at 36 weeks as it can prolong a normal pregnancy

In some cases omega 3 supplements are used as a preterm prevention for women who are at higher risk of preterm births. Speak to your health professional if omega 3 supplementation is needed for you.


If you found this blog post insightful let me know in the comments. Stay tuned for Part 2 Energy Requirements and Breastfeeding. Also you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter to keep up to date with recipes and nutritional information.

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