We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat.” What some might not realize is that during pregnancy, this old adage becomes “you and your baby are what you eat.”
Research in genetics has already established that children inherit some hereditary traits from their parents—including genetic mutations that increase risk factors for some health conditions.
However, recent studies also suggest that the mother’s diet and nutrition, from pre-pregnancy until the baby stops breastfeeding, can affect the child’s overall health.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a pregnant woman needs the following key nutrients:
1. Folic Acid
Also known as folate, folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. March of Dimes, an organization dedicated to preventing birth defects, recommends 400 micrograms (mcg) per day for at least one month before becoming pregnant and 600 mcg per day during pregnancy.
This mineral is used to build a baby’s bones and teeth. Low amounts of maternal calcium may
result in pregnancy and developmental complications in the fetus. Pregnant teens, ages 14 to 18, need 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily, while pregnant women over 19 years old need 1,000 mg per day.
Pregnant women need at least 27 mg of iron daily, which is double the amount needed by women who are not expecting. The additional amount is necessary to make more blood to supply the baby with oxygen. Getting too little iron during pregnancy may lead to anemia, resulting in fatigue and an increased risk of infections.
This macronutrient helps build important organs in the baby, such as the brain and heart. While more protein is needed during pregnancy, most women don’t have problems getting enough protein-rich foods in their diets.
When we showed this list to Dr. Daggy, our nutritional science advisor, he felt that the list of key nutrients from ACOG was too short. Here’s his take on this.
“Please be aware that there are many products on the U.S. market labeled as prenatal multivitamins (a term which generally—and should—include minerals as well) that fall short of what a prenatal should be. Unfortunately, this is not illegal.
It is particularly true for “prenatal gummies,” but prenatal vitamins in any format can be deficient.
Ideally, the use of a good prenatal (such as the Vita-Lea formula that contains iron) should start 2-3 months before pregnancy—studies have shown this can increase the chances of getting pregnant, as well as improving pregnancy outcomes—and continue through lactation.
And since it’s impossible for the consumer to know how much omega-3 or contaminants are present in a piece of fish, a quality fish oil supplement is also a good idea.
Finally, it’s important to work with your doctor to check nutrient status (e.g., iron, vitamin D, B12 if you are vegetarian) and to monitor for metabolic complications (e.g., gestational diabetes) to give both mom and baby the best health outcomes.”
List of foods pregnant women should eat and avoid.
– Lean protein
– Whole grains
– Dairy products
Avoid or Limit:
– Unpasteurized food
– Raw meat
– Fish, due to the potential presence of mercury and other contaminants
One thing to note is that when people say a pregnant woman is “eating for two,” it doesn’t mean she needs to consume twice as much food or double the calories.
In fact, one way to meet your body’s nutritional needs during pregnancy without necessarily increasing your calorie intake is by using supplements.
Shaklee’s Vita-Lea Women, for instance, contains 800 mcg of folic acid, 450 mg of calcium, and 18 mg of iron per serving (two tablets), along with numerous other vitamins and minerals that make it perfect as a pre- and post-natal supplement.
“I have used Shaklee vitamins for over 20 years. Great quality, and are very well absorbed by the body. Vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, so you must rely on the quality of the company. Shaklee has been in business for over 75 years. The quality of their products is excellent! I highly recommend!” – Mary Ann
“What can I say about Shaklee Vita-Lea vitamins other than that they are the best vitamins that I have ever taken. I have been taking Vita-Lea for over 20 years. They are exceptional!!” – Nettie
Here are some of the ways a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy can affect her baby’s health:
1. Programming of appetites
Recent studies strongly argue that what and how much you eat during pregnancy influences your child’s food preferences and eating habits.
Maternal under- or overnutrition predisposes the offspring to become hyperphagic (compulsive overeaters) and infants born to obese mothers who consume a high-fat diet are at a significantly increased risk of adult obesity.
2. Risk of allergies
Early life nutrition plays an important role in allergy prevention. Folate, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids boost immune function.
Poor maternal nutrition can contribute to an increase in allergies. The effects of good and poor nutrition during pregnancy can even influence subsequent generations. It’s not just a case of what our mothers ate but our grandmothers too.
3. Long-term health issues
According to research published in The Journal of Physiology, mothers who eat an unhealthy diet during pregnancy may be putting their children at risk of developing long-term, irreversible health issues, including obesity and raised levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes, respectively.
4. Mental health
New research from the University of Virginia Health System suggests that the mother’s microbiome, the collection of microscopic organisms that live inside us, during pregnancy is a key contributor to the risk of autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders in her offspring.
Find out which nutrients are recommended for a healthy pregnancy in this video