Pregnancy is often described as a ‘window of opportunity’. As a mother, being in the best health before and during pregnancy is the best gift you can give your unborn child- the gift of a long happy and healthy life. Your nutritional uptake prior to and during pregnancy will not only make for an enjoyable pregnancy for you, but will help influence critical stages of your baby’s development and help create a happy and healthy child. In addition to a high-quality pregnancy multi vitamin being a must during this time, there are a few essential nutrients to add to ensure the building blocks critical for you and your baby.
During pregnancy you are at a greater risk of developing low iron levels as your blood volume increases by 30-45 percent due to the demand of your little one growing and their own nutritional demands. Iron is an essential mineral that is vital for many roles in the body including making healthy red blood cells to deliver oxygenated cells around the body to create energy. In pregnancy, adequate levels are important as it may protect you from post-partum haemorrhage. If you are not getting enough iron from your food sources and/or not absorbing it properly, an iron deficiency can occur leaving you feeling fatigued and exhausted.
Knowing your iron serum (blood) levels before self-prescribing iron supplementation is essential as too much iron can cause harm. This is why professional assessment is important. Your naturopath will consider the most appropriate iron testing for your situation and advise if you need to simply adjust your diet to obtain adequate iron status or temporarily prescribe an appropriate iron supplement to raise levels to achieve homeostasis again.
If you need to take iron, it is important to know that there are different ‘forms’ of iron available and that not all iron supplements are made equally. They differ in quality, dosage, absorption and formulation. One size doesn’t fit all. Constipation is a perfect example of a poor quality over the counter supplement causing side effects due to the wrong form of iron. It is common, but not normal. I would advise my pregnant clients to avoid Ferro-grad C and purchase an iron supplement recommended by a naturopath who has access to practitioner only products that have ‘iron amino acid chelate’ or ‘iron bis glycinate’ as these forms are highly absorbent and gentle on the gastrointestinal track (GIT) to avoid constipation- not ideal in pregnancy when GIT motility is already slowing down.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant or are pregnant, now is a great time to add in a Vitamin D supplement to your pre-conception and pregnancy care. The aim behind a naturopath recommending this fat-soluble vitamin at this particular time of your life is mainly prevention of childhood challenges. Research shows that low prenatal Vitamin D levels have been linked to many childhood encounters including asthma, allergies, autism and behavioural issues. However, adequate Vitamin D levels have been found to benefit your child’s health and ongoing development. Knowing your Vitamin D serum levels prior to conceiving will give you the best chance of getting those levels up to a therapeutic level to ensure optimal levels during pregnancy for yourself and your growing baby. Speak to your naturopath about testing, supplementation and absorption and aim for 6-7 minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon during warmer months and 7-40 minutes during winter.
Omega 3 rich fish oil is another essential nutrient beneficial for pregnancy and pre-conception. It is required for the healthy functioning of almost every cell in your body, and is especially important for your brain, heart and nervous system. During pregnancy, it may reduce the incidence of preterm birth and may be less chance of having a baby with a low birth weight. Additionally, it helps your baby’s brain develop and supports healthy brain and nervous system growth throughout childhood and especially in the first trimester when these vital organs are developing. Did you know baby brain is real? Research reveals that during pregnancy the grey matter in a woman’s brain is reduced brought on by a deficiency of essential fatty acids. Mapping of the maternal brain is an important key to understanding why so many new mothers experience post-natal anxiety and depression. Although accessible in many food sources, Omega 3 deficiency is still extremely common in Australia with 80% of adults not meeting the recommended daily intake (RDI) of this essential nutrient. You can be confident your naturopath will only recommend high quality fish oils made using processes that increase the purity of the oil and reduce heavy metal and pesticide levels, ensuring it remains fresh and not rancid.
Written by Ash Thomas Accredited Naturopath and Herbalist.