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Pregnancy Diet: Importance of Vitamins and Supplements for a Healthy Baby

Pregnancy is a time that draws a lot of attention to food. Even the best efforts to include all food groups in their right amounts may create nutritional gaps in a pregnancy diet, either through cooking method or insufficient amounts of a nutrient in a food item. Further, some supplements are crucial for a healthy pregnancy and it is best to take them in addition to a good diet. This is where prenatal vitamins and supplements come to the rescue.

Let’s take a look at prenatal vitamins and minerals required:

Folic Acid

Folic acid is recommended to women planning a baby, i.e. even before they conceive. Folic acid tablets must be started (or continued) till 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is an important supplement crucial in preventing neural tube defects like spinal bi-fida in the baby. It promotes development of nervous system in the initial weeks of pregnancy.

The dosage of folic acid is sometimes increased to up to 5 milligrams in women with an increased risk of having a baby with neural tube defect. This risk can be known if:

  • The woman or her partner has a neural tube defect
  • An earlier pregnancy resulted in neural tube defect
  • There is a history of neural tube defects in the family
  • The woman has diabetes
  • The woman is on anti-epileptic medication

In addition to supplements, pregnant women can boost their folic acid supply by eating foods rich in folate, such as breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables, brown rice, etc.

Vitamin D

Pregnancy diet should include vitamin D, which is an important supplement that regulates the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body. It also keeps teeth and bones of the pregnant woman healthy. Pregnancy is a time to ensure the woman and her baby receive about 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Babies that do not receive sufficient vitamin D may have soft bones and have a tendency to develop rickets.

Vitamin D can also be obtained naturally through sunlight and foods like oily fish, eggs and meat.

Calcium

Baby’s bones and teeth require calcium, and hence calcium is an important part of pregnancy diet. A pregnant mother can provide calcium by consuming dairy foods, fish, breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables like broccoli and dried fruits like apricots and figs.

Iron

Anemia results from shortage of iron in the body and can be known if a woman gets tired very easily. Iron is an important mineral that is present in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen to each cell in the body, and the baby. Iron-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, meats, and nuts can provide the required amounts of iron through diet. However, anemic women may be recommended iron supplements.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts the immune system and enables the cells of the body to stay healthy. The daily requirement of vitamin C can be easily met if a woman eats a balanced diet that includes portions of vegetables (broccoli, bell peppers) and fruits (especially citrus fruits, tomatoes). A doctor may also prescribe vitamin C supplements to ensure a healthy and illness-free pregnancy.

For how long should Pregnancy Diet include Vitamins & Supplements?

The doctor may recommend a pregnant woman to continue taking vitamin and mineral supplements throughout the pregnancy and beyond, during the breastfeeding stage.

Some women experience nausea after taking supplements. It is best to take these pregnancy vitamins at night (just before bedtime) or with a snack, in that case. Also, iron supplements can lead to constipation, which can be dealt with by drinking plenty of fluids and increasing fiber content in the diet.

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