Top 5 Nutrients to Consider During Pregnancy
Nina-Marie is the creator of Perinatal Nutrition Academy, an online self-paced course that teaches birthworkers the in’s and out’s of nutrition for fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum health, certifying them to become a Perinatal Nutrition Educator. Currently Perinatal Nutrition Academy is approved for CEs with CAPPA and the Nutritional Therapy Association.
While she is currently finishing up her studies as a Naturopathic Doctor, she has already completed certifications as a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, a lactation educator, and a labor and postpartum doula. With her extensive training, Nina-Marie will take you through preconception, pregnancy, and the postpartum seasons ensuring that your body is well-nourished for the task of motherhood.
One of the most frequently asked questions that I would get as a doula was related to food. My clients would feel left in the dark about what to eat, how much to eat, and what to not eat. While they had full confidence in their provider regarding birth, they often felt like the info given in their prenatal sessions left them wanting. As a doula, we aren’t trained to know those answers. So we often have to research and provide resources for our clients to be able to make informed decisions, rooted in current research and evidence–not in myths that don’t hold water anymore.
As a doula, we got into this work to be able to support our clients in the perinatal time. A major key to health in the perinatal time is the food one eats. There are many changes during pregnancy, and with those changes come nutrient needs for both the pregnant body and the baby. During pregnancy, the nutrient stores of the parent are depleted in order for the body of the baby to be formed. This is a depletion of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and more. All of those changes occur in various physiological systems. Here’s a brief summary on some of those changes:
- Cardiovascular System:
- Cardiac output increases 20% by 8 weeks gestation and maternal heart rate increases by 10–20 bpm
- Blood pressure decreases in the first and second trimesters, but increases during the third.
- Urinary System:
- Kidney, pelvis, and calyceal systems dilate due to mechanical compressive forces on the ureters
- Alterations in tubular handling of wastes and nutrients occur
- Less effective reabsorption of glucose and variability in glucose excretion
- Endocrine (Hormonal) System:
- Levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), estrogen, and progesterone peak during pregnancy and may cause increased nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal System:
- Gastrointestinal problems may also occur during pregnancy, including heartburn, constipation and incontinence
And this doesn’t include the changes to plasma volume, the demand for increased oxygen, increase in metabolic rate, maternal bone turnover, and more. And each of these changes require greater energy output and proper nutrient support.
So with those changes in mind, what are the top 5 nutrients that should be considered for a healthy pregnancy? Let’s keep in mind that this is the bare minimum and not an exhaustive list; there are many things that we can focus on in relation to perinatal nutrition.
Not matter what trimester your client is in, the following 5 nutrients would be a great place for them to start supporting their parenting journey.
Nutrient # 1: Protein
Were you thinking I would start with Vitamin D? Or some strange nutrient you likely haven’t heard of before, like CoQ10? No. The most important place to start is with protein. A pregnant body needs adequate amounts of protein. 100g a day minimum should be encouraged. Protein has many roles in the body. Protein is needed for:
- Building tissues in the body (this is for both the tissues built up in the pregnant body–like the placenta–but also the tissues of the baby’s body)
- Creating hormones (and these aren’t just sex hormones, but all hormones like insulin)
- creating hemoglobin (think blood volume increasing here)
- Antibody creation (this is important for both immune responses of parent and baby)
- Enzymes (for digestion, breathing, detoxification, metabolism, blood pressure, and more)
- And many more jobs that fill many textbooks!
Now this begs the question about protein types: animal versus plant protein. It is important to note that protein from animal sources have higher quantities of various nutrients than plant sources of protein, and protein from animal sources is typically easier to digest than plant protein. With that said, if a client is consuming a plant-based diet and wants to continue doing so during pregnancy, ensuring they are working with someone who can teach them about proper supplementation to meet nutrient needs would be important.
Nutrient #2: Fat
I know what you’re thinking: surely you aren’t going to just list the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbs? I’m not. I do, however, want to emphasize that the basics of nutrition are key in pregnancy and can provide many of the nutrients that a pregnant body needs for health.
So why did I pick fat as an important nutrient? First, because the type of fat that one consumes is very important in relation to health. I’m not going to get into the saturated fat debate, but it is important to know that pregnancy can both suppress some parts of the immune system and heighten other parts. How does this connect to fat? Fat is broken down into fatty acids in the body, and it is the various types of fatty acids that support the body in the proper inflammatory or anti-inflammatory responses. So balancing fatty acids is important in pregnancy in order for the body to be able to protect itself. So consuming enough omega-3’s in balance with omega-6’s will be supportive of the need for immune support in pregnancy.
Furthermore, adequate fat consumption is important for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Many people are concerned over Vitamin D status both in pregnancy and in life. However, consuming Vitamin D supplements or vitamin D-rich foods would not be enough for ensuring adequate Vitamin D status. We need to make sure that Vitamin D (and all other fat-soluble vitamins) is absorbed, and that can only happen when the body is fed adequate amounts of fat. The best way to do this, instead of paying attention to a particular number of grams per day, is to make sure that all salads are accompanied with some sort of fat. That could be avocado, nuts, cheese, fatty cuts of meat, or a salad dressing made with healthy fats like organic olive oil, organic avocado oil, organic sesame seed oil, etc.
Nutrient #3: Iron
Iron is crucial to the function of over 100 proteins/enzymes in the body, helps with energy production, protects against oxidation (which leads to inflammation and cancer), assists the liver in breaking down toxins, and is at the center of carrying oxygen within blood cells throughout the body. Postpartum anemia is on the rise (this is a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells), and red blood cells carry oxygen to cells and carry carbon dioxide out of cells to lungs for elimination. Iron plays a role in this function. Some risk factors of postpartum anemia include morbidity, depression, fatigue, impaired cognition, impacted maternal-child bonding, inability to provide care to newborn, palpitations, dizziness, reduced immune function. Humans have an absorption issue when it comes to iron: only 18% of animal-based iron, and about 10% of plant-based iron. Low stomach acid and inadequate chewing makes absorption harder.
I personally do not recommend supplementing with iron, as anemia can be an iron and copper issue, or it can be an issue with various B vitamins (there are different types of anemia). It is best to focus on iron-rich foods. Some food sources of iron include:
- 3oz of ribeye steak (6.5mg)
- 1 cup of raw spinach (0.9mg)
- 3oz of oysters (5.9mg)
- 1 cup of chickpeas (12.5mg)
- 3oz of liver (15.2mg)
- 1 cup of baked beans (5mg)
Nutrient #4: Vitamin B12
This is the most famous nutrient in relation to pregnancy. Everyone knows we should make sure that adequate amounts of B12 are needed. Vitamin B12 is important for
- Building, repairing, detoxifying
- Healthy immune function
- Protecting against DNA damage
- Protecting against neural tube defects in baby
Vitamin B12 can come both from food sources and is a byproduct of healthy gut bacteria activity. Low stomach acid will impact its absorption, and low levels of B12 can lead to short-term memory issues or the brain fog that many pregnant and postpartum people experience.
The best sources of Vitamin B12 include beef liver, clams, salmon, sardines, eggs, lentils, asparagus, dark leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, nuts/seeds.
Nutrient #5: Magnesium
Magnesium is sometimes called mom-nesium because it is one of the nutrients that when replenished can completely change how a mother feels in pregnancy and postpartum. It is also one of those nutrients that are needed to make sure that everything in the body is in working order–just like mom. Magnesium
- Supports energy cycles
- Helps muscles move/relax and nerves function
- Enhances sleep by increasing melatonin production
- Improves the brain’s release of chemicals
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Supports bone health
- Supports DHEA production (which helps with energy production and is the precursor of all other hormones)
- And so much more!
Magnesium is one of the first minerals to be lost at high rates when a person is under stress, and pregnancy is a big stressor for the body. For nine months. By paying attention to magnesium intake, the pregnant body can have the adequate energy needed for the job of sustaining two lives. Some food sources of magnesium include beef liver, bone broth, epsom salt (for foot soaks), dairy, cacao, and cooked leafy greens.
And that’s a wrap! Those are the top five nutrients to pay attention to in pregnancy. Would you add to this list? What would you add? Comment below or feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com with any questions!