There is no more compelling bond than that of a pregnant mother and the unborn baby she’s nurturing. As expectant mothers, most of us do our absolute best to consider every bite we put into our mouths and the implications to the baby we are carrying. We research, we shop organic, we read labels, we give up our wine and drastically limit caffeine just when we need it the most. We also faithfully take the best prenatal vitamins and assume that all is well. But does taking a good prenatal vitamin guarantee that we are getting all of the nutrients we need during this critical time?
According to research, the answer seems to be—not always.
Which Nutrients Are Many Pregnant Women Lacking?
Research results from a study at Purdue University has found that significant numbers of pregnant women are deficient in vitamins D, C, A, K, B6, and E. On top of vitamin deficiencies, women are testing lower than they should minerals and nutrients such as calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, potassium, and choline. This study included over 1,000 pregnant women between age 20 and 40, and considered both food and vitamin supplements ingested in two 24 hour periods.
While those taking good prenatal vitamin supplements were less at risk, nutritional deficits were still found. Changing appetites, food aversions, and morning sickness, may be partly to blame, or it’s possible that some women feel that their prenatal vitamin is supplying such high levels of vitamins and nutrients, that they have a dietary cushion, and don’t need to worry as much about keeping up a healthy intake and variety of nutritious foods.
Why are These Vitamins Important During Pregnancy, and How do We get More into Our Diets?
Vitamin D is essential for the proper development of a baby’s bones and teeth. A lack of vitamin D during fetal development can lead to a lack of bone mass later in a child’s life. The lack of this vitamin can also have a negative effect on the mother, as her body will be leached of critical vitamin D in the body’s natural attempt to channel the vitamin into the growing baby.
Because our bodies produce vitamin D from sunshine, low vitamin D levels are more common in pregnant women in colder climates.
Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish, fortified milk and cereal, egg yolks, and beef liver.
Vitamin C is essential to promoting placental function. If the placenta isn’t functioning at optimal levels, the baby may not be receiving the ideal amounts of oxygen and nutrients. Vitamin C boosts the immune system, helping expectant moms to stay well during their pregnancy. Vitamin C promotes collagen production, which is important for the development of cartilage, tendons, skin, and bones.
Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, and rosehips—look for rosehip tea for a nutritious and soothing beverage during pregnancy!
Vitamin A supports the development of an unborn baby’s eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and central nervous system. It is also critical in tissue repair, meaning it is necessary for healing in women after giving birth. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash, kale, collards, turnip greens, red peppers, spinach, and romaine lettuce.
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting. A lack of vitamin K can cause newborn bleeding. It also works with vitamin D to ensure healthy bone development. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard, turnip greens, Mustard greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, liver, chicken, peas, avocados, cheese, and prunes.
Vitamin B6 is critical for a baby’s brain and nervous system development. It also is essential in the body’s ability to metabolize protein and carbohydrates, and to promote the growth of new red blood cells, antibodies and neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is found in milk, ricotta cheese, salmon, tuna, eggs, chicken liver, beef, carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, and bananas.
Important Minerals and Nutrients Commonly Lacking During Pregnancy
Calcium is essential for healthy bone development and growth. It’s also required for the healthy development of the heart, muscles, nerves, and blood clotting. Calcium can lower a pregnant woman’s risk of preeclampsia and hypertension. A lack of sufficient calcium in a pregnant woman’s diet means calcium may be taken from her bones in order to support the growing fetus, meaning she may suffer from bone loss later in life.
Foods rich in calcium are milk, cheese, yogurt, greens, sardines, canned salmon, beans, lentils, almonds, whey protein, broccoli, soybeans, figs, and fortified juice.
Iron is one of the most commonly found deficiencies during pregnancy because a woman’s body requires about twice the normal amount during these critical months. Your body needs iron to produce extra blood for your baby. Lacking iron can result in a lower than a normal number of red blood cells and cause iron-deficiency anemia with weakness, tiredness, dizziness and more. During pregnancy, this can result in premature birth or low birth weight.
Iron is found in most meat and seafood and is especially rich in the liver. Iron is also found in spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, string beans, kale, and greens.
Folate is needed during pregnancy for critical nervous system development and for preventing neural tube defects. It promotes healthy tissue growth and cardiovascular health. It is more easily absorbed than the synthetic version—folic acid—which is sometimes added to vitamin supplements. Folic acid can build up in the body and can have a negative impact on immune cell function. Look for prenatal vitamins that offer folate, and not synthetic folic acid.
Folate is found naturally in foods such as leafy green vegetables, including spinach, kale, and greens. It is also found in almonds, beans, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, avocados, liver, and bananas.
Magnesium regulates body temperature, bone formation, energy metabolization, cell division in the fetus, and enzyme activation. Being deficient in magnesium during pregnancy can cause muscle cramps, palpitations, exhaustion, and may lead to preeclampsia.
Foods rich in magnesium include cashews, soybeans, dark chocolate, avocados, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and some fatty fish.
Potassium is important in regulating the balance of electrolytes in the body. With the dramatic increase in blood volume during pregnancy, potassium is more important than ever. Potassium is found in baked potatoes, prune juice, dried plums, raisins, lima beans, bananas, acorn squash, orange juice, tomato juice, artichokes, spinach, and almonds.
Choline is considered a brain-boosting nutrient that can increase cognition in developing brains. Eggs, liver, dairy foods, meat, poultry, fish, spinach, beets, and peanuts are all rich in choline.
According to OBGYNs, a pregnant woman is the sole means of nutrition for her unborn baby. Deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals can have an adverse effect on the developing baby in various ways and should be addressed.