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Pregnancy Supplements and Healthy Eating

Updated on October 8, 2012

Healthy Eating

Do you need to take pregnancy supplements?

Healthy eating is vital during pregnancy both for your health and the health of your baby. While you certainly don't need to eat for two, you need to realise that your baby will take what it needs from your body, and if you don't eat enough of the right types of vitamins/minerals, your baby will still take what it needs from your body, regardless, and this is where you may benefit from taking pregnancy supplements.

For example, if it needs calcium and you haven't taken enough in your diet, it will take it from your bones and teeth.

If you are a trained dietician, there is every possibility you will know exactly what type of foods you need to increase and what to avoid, and without that training doctors quite often prescribe the most important types of vitamins that are available in tablet or liquid form, to ensure the best possible outcome foryour pregnancy, healthy diet or not.

These pregnancy supplements are iron, vitamin B9(folic acid) and vitamin B12. Each plays an important role in pregnancy and are vital for you and your baby's well-being. If your diet does not contain enough of these pregnancy supplements, you can rest assured all should be well so long as you remember to take them.

Folic Acid

Folic acid (vitamin B9) is important in the prevention of fetal neural tube disease which includes spina bifida and anencephaly among others.

These conditions happen around the 3rd or 4th week of pregnancy, when the woman may not even be aware she is pregnant, as so it is good practice to take folic acid when you are trying for a baby, and not wait until you have your pregnancy confirmed.

However, a regular intake of folic acid throughout pregnancy can help prevent pre-term delivery of your baby, and there is evidence to suggest that folic acid can protect your baby from any illness or disease you may have, and also protect it from your smoking.

It is always better to stop smoking during pregnancy. Studies have shown that woman who smoke during pregnancy have babies that are lighter at birth.

Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes – beans, peas and lentils, liver, bakers yeast, fortified cereals and bread and dark beers like Guiness.

It is important here to note that alcohol is not advised during pregnancy except in very small amounts.

The trouble with alcohol is that many babies have been born with what they call fetal alcohol syndrome, where the babies are mentally subnormal and have pixie like features and prominent ears.

While these babies have been born to alcoholic mothers who consumed a huge amount of alcohol during their pregnancies, nobody really knows the safe limit.

While you may well be fine to have a couple of drinks every night, do you really want to risk your baby being born handicapped?

You may feel the risk is just too high, although there is some evidence to suggest that having a Guinness or a stout occasionally throughout pregnancy can actually help rather than harm your baby.

Listen to the advice from your doctor or midwife on this issue.

Iron and Vitamin C - Pregnancy Supplements

Iron is important in the making of red blood cells of which you will need more of during pregnancy. In fact, your circulating blood supply will increase by a third during pregnancy. Iron can be found in the following foods : eggs, red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, liver. You may find that many breakfast cereals and sliced breads have been fortified with extra iron and folic acid which is helpful to the pregnant woman.

Your doctor will keep an eye on your iron levels throughout pregnancy and will offer your iron tablets if your haemoglobin levels fall.

Iron tablets turn your stools a darker color, and can make you constipated.

It is much better to be careful with your diet so that you will not need to take iron pills. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron, and so you should increase your intake of vitamin C, which is found in oranges and fresh fruit juices.

B Vitamins

Vitamin B12 is important because it part of the package of vitamins/minerals required to make red blood cells and helps the body make use of folic acid. It is involved in cell repair and replacement and there is some evidence it reduces the harmful effects of smoking. It is also heavily involved in the general health of the central nervous system and the brain.

Vitamin B12 can be found in fish, meat, poultry, milk and milk products.

Vitamin B6 is incredibly important as it is involved with the release of serotonin, and so can help the mother avoid postnatal depression. Bananas and avocados are especially good sources of vitamin B6, as well as many grains and pulses, beef, chicken and green vegetables.

If you feel you might be short of them, you doctor can prescribe them as pregnancy supplements because they are extremely important for you and your baby's welfare during pregnancy.

Calcium and Zinc

  • Calcium, as I have already said is for the building of healthy bones and teeth among other things, and if your diet is deficient, BABY WILL TAKE IT FROM YOUR BONES AND TEETH. You can avoid this simply by increasing your intake of calcium which is found in leafy green vegetables, dairy products and salmon, sardines and fruits.
  • Zinc is found in beef and chicken, mushrooms,sesame/pumpkin seed and beans. Zinc is used in the immune system and just one baked potato or one banana a day can fulfil your zinc requirements.

Avoid Vitamin A

Vitamin A has been found to be harmful to the unborn baby when taken in excess, so try and limit your vitamin A intake.

Unfortunately one of our richest sources of iron is liver, which also contains a high level of Vitamin A, and so is best avoided while pregnant, although the occasional meal of liver will not do any harm.

Weight Gain in Pregnancy

Ideally you should gain 22 - 28lbs over and above your normal weight during pregnancy. A lot of this will be

  • the weight of the baby,
  • the placenta,
  • the extra fluid circulating throughout your body,
  • your breasts increasing in size and
  • extra blood supplies your body needs to feed the baby.

If you put on more than this, you will find it harder to lose the extra weight after your baby is born.

Equally when you are pregnant is not a good time to go on a diet, because right now your body needs all the vitamins and minerals it can get.

Your body does not need sugar; this is a good time to change your diet to incorporate healthy freshly cooked foods and leave the snacks and fast foods behind.

While the occasional sweet pudding or cake is allowed, please try not avoid them as far as possible.

There is absolutely no nutritional benefits in the sugar foods for you or your baby.

Try to eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day.

Not only will this decrease your likelihood of constipation, many vitamins and minerals are derived from this food group.

Healthy Eating While Pregnant

For healthy eating while pregnant, try and incorporate some form of red meat into your daily diet. Red meats are an excellent source of protein as well as iron and folic acid. If you are planning on breastfeeding, try to follow a the same healthy eating diet plan.

  • Limit fish to twice weekly. While fish are great nutritionally, many fish caught from the sea now contains high levels of mercury which could harm your unborn baby. Fish to avoid specifically are shark, swordfish and marlin. Other fish contain higher levels of vitamin A and are best avoided.
  • Make sure all poultry, in fact all meats are well-cooked. Do not risk salmonella or listeria by eating undercooked meats.
  • The same goes for raw eggs and home-made mayonnaise (shop-bought mayonnaise has been pasteurised and so is safe).
  • Avoid all soft and blue-veined cheese for the same reason.
  • Do not attempt to eat any take-away meal that contains undercooked foods.
  • If any of the meat is pink it is undercooked and you do not want to risk suffering from listeria while pregnant.
  • If you take it home and heat it until it is really hot in the microwave, it should be all right. High heats kill bacteria in foods.
  • Avoid pâtés, as they can cause listeria.
  • Eat as little liver as possible as they contain high levels of vitamin A.
  • Avoid raw fish and shellfish, although cooked shellfish like prawns are fine.

Don't Diet During Pregnancy

Tea, coffee and alcohol

Tea and coffee, along with many carbonated drinks like Coca-Cola and chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contain caffeine which studies have shown can cause low birth weight in babies, which can cause them problems in later life, and so it is best to limit your intake of caffeine.

The recommended daily dose of caffeine while pregnant is 200mg.

  • Mug of instant coffee 50mg
  • Mug of tea 75mgs
  • Mug of filter coffee 140mgs
  • Can of cola 40mgs
  • Bar of plain chocolate 50g
  • Bar of milk chocolate 25mgs

Caffeine is also found in some cold and flu remedies.

Alcohol is best avoided because doctors do not know the safe limit to prevent your baby developing fetal alcohol syndrome (which involves babies being born to alcoholic mothers with very distinctive pixie-like features) although at a push they may suggest 1 or 2 units a week to be an acceptable limit.

2 units is equal to one glass of wine.It is up to you what you drink and I would suggest there are plenty babies conceived when there was a lot of alcohol in the their mother's system, and those mothers likely continued to drink before they knew they were pregnant, at a time when all the vital foundations were being paid down in the baby.

Just be very careful about it and never get drunk as in those cases the alcohol almost certainly will cross the placental barrier and your baby will get drunk too.

You wouldn't give alcohol to a child so why give it to your unborn baby.

Fluid Intake - Water

Finally,don't forget to take extra water each and every day. Pregnant women need to increase their water intake to about 3 litres of water a day. Make drinking water part of your healthy eating plan.

This is because water

  • helps flush out the system, reducing the chances of urinary tract infections.
  • Water can reduce constipation and help prevent haemorrhoids and dehydration.
  • Dehydration can cause contractions in the third trimester which could herald pre-term labor, so drink all your water for a happy, healthy pregnancy.


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