Part 3 // Nutrition During Pregnancy: Key Nutrients

Welcome back to part three of our nutrition series! Today we will be discussing why you need specific prenatal vitamins and nutrients and how to obtain them in your diet. Vitamins and nutrients play important roles in all of your body functions. The lucky 7 nutrients that deserve some attention are calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, DHA, folic acid, and protein.  

  1. Calcium

You may already know that calcium is important for building bones and teeth. This means that calcium is especially important for your baby’s bones, teeth, muscles, heart and nerve function. It can also reduce risk of pregnancy-related complications, like hypertension or preeclampsia.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 1,000 - 1,300 mg/day

Where can I find it?

  • Dairy: milk, eggs, yogurt

  • Dark leafy greens: broccoli, kale, spinach

2.  Iron

This is an important nutrient that works to maintain iron levels in the blood. Iron makes hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells- its main job is to bring oxygen to your tissues. It works with sodium, potassium, and water to increase blood flow. The amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy, so iron helps your body produce more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. Iron is also important in helping prevent anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells and hemoglobin, during pregnancy.

Iron is also super important during the postpartum period. A woman who is iron deficient during pregnancy can be at a higher risk for hemorrhage during birth. In addition, it also has a huge effect on PPD (postpartum depression). This is one of the reasons for encapsulating one’s placenta.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 27 mg/day

Where can I find it?

  • Lean meat

  • Beans/ nuts

  • Beaf

  • Cereal

  • Leafy greens

  • Eggs

  • Dried fruits

3.  Zinc

This nutrient is especially important for the immune system, healing, and DNA synthesis. Zinc also plays a role in the development of the placenta, which makes it an essential micronutrient in pregnancy. Zinc deficiency can impact fetal growth and placenta formation.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 11 - 13 mg/day

Where can I find it?

  • Red meats

  • Seeds (squash, pumpkin, sunflower)

  • Beans/ nuts

  • Cereals fortified with zinc

  • Whole grains

  • Eggs

4. Fiber

Fiber helps to fight pregnancy constipation and ease stomach cramping. Fiber-rich foods typically have the added bonus of being nutrient-dense, meaning they make you full without a ton of calories. It is important to also make sure that you drink plenty of water with your fiber intake to support a healthy digestive system.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 25 - 30 g/day

Where can I find it?

  • Beans

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Broccoli

  • Berries

  • Rice and quinoa

5.  DHA

This is an acronym for the nutrient docosahexaenoic acid, which is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is needed for your baby’s brain development and growth. Your baby’s brain and eyes utilize DHA during the second trimester and continuing until age two. That being said, this nutrient is needed during breastfeeding as well.  DHA intake during pregnancy has been found through scientific research to reduce the risk of preterm labor and birth.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 200 mg/day

Where can I find it?

  • Fatty fish (herring, salmon, trout)

  • DHA fortified orange juice

  • Milk

  • Eggs

  • Prenatal supplement with at least 200 mg of DHA

(Take during the second and third trimesters)

6.  Folic Acid

This nutrient plays a very important role in the development and growth of your baby’s brain and spine. It works to prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida (incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, or their coverings). Just like iron, folic acid helps make blood during pregnancy.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 60 mcg/day

(70% of all neural tube defects can be avoided with the recommended intake of folic acid)

Where can I find it?

  • Naturally in whole grain breads, dark leafy greens, avocados, citrus…..but this is one nutrient that can be better maintained by a supplement. Contact your doctor if you have questions about doses or need a recommendation for a folic acid vitamin.

    7.  Protein

Perhaps one of the most important essential nutrients during pregnancy is protein. Protein’s role in the body is to help grow, maintain, and repair cells, all which are important for your baby’s development. This is important to increasing a woman’s blood supply (which allows more blood to be sent to your baby!) and can even help to reduce the risk of pregnancy-related diseases like preeclampsia. Another benefit of protein for the mother is the role it plays in breast and uterine tissue growth during pregnancy.

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy = 75 - 100 g/day

Where can I find it?

  • Lean meat and fish

  • Eggs

  • Dairy products

  • legumes/ nuts/ seeds

How do I make sure I get all of these vitamins?

  • A prenatal vitamin supplement in conjunction with a well-rounded diet can provide all of the vitamins and nutrients you need during pregnancy. Some medical professionals even recommend women take prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding to make sure babies get the essential nutrients they need.

I hope you learned something new today and feel encouraged to make decisions that allow you to maintain a healthy and happy diet during pregnancy! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next week!