Supplements during pregnancy: A handy checklist for expecting mothers

By Rohit Shelatkar 

Pregnancy is a special time for women, but it can also be an overwhelming experience. There are a plethora of changes that take place in every expectant mother's body, and these changes can lead to negative consequences, if not kept in check. The body needs a variety of nutrients for its good health, and it is crucial that the mother's take special care in providing for the same. The macronutrient intake-carbohydrates, proteins and fats and micronutrient intake-vitamins and minerals grows significantly during this time.

Some women are able to meet this rising demand with the help of a well-planned, nutrient-rich diet. But some women need to take supplements to fulfil these inadequacies. These include:

  • Women with nutrient deficiencies
  • Women with dietary restrictions
  • Women with multiple pregnancies
  • Women following a poor diet

Good nutrition in pregnancy is crucial for the healthy development and growth of the foetus. Some of the supplements that expecting mothers need to take are:

Folic Acid:

Folic belongs to the B family of vitamins. It plays a critical role in DNA synthesis, red blood cell production, foetal growth and development. All women who are of childbearing age require 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid every day, found in nuts, beans, citrus fruits, leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, and specific vitamin supplements. Besides helping reduce risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, Folic acid is also extremely necessary during the first 28 days after conception, when risks of neural tube defects such as spina bifida are the highest.

Omega 3:

During post-pregnancy, mothers must also consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as they are an excellent source of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), for the mother's milk. DHA is crucial for brain and nervous system development for the growing foetus. Fish are the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines, while for vegetarians and vegans, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybean oil also contain adequate amounts of omega-3.

Vitamin B 12:

Vitamin B12 is crucial for keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. It is also an important element in the creation of DNA, the genetic material in all cells. When combined with folic acid during pregnancy, B12 supplements can help to prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in the growing baby. A deficiency of this vitamin can result in severe issues that include neural tube defects, intrauterine growth retardation, preeclampsia and early miscarriage. Research shows that Vit B12 deficiency is an independent risk factor for neural tube defects in babies. Hence supplementation of Vit B12 along with Folic acid is essential.

Vitamin D3:

Vitamin D plays an important role in bone, and subsequent skeleton metabolism and development. This vitamin is produced by the body through exposure to sunlight and is also found in fish, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified foods.

Vitamin D also reduces risks of preterm birth and miscarriages.

Iron

During the period of pregnancy, the blood flow in the body increases by 50% to nurture the growing foetus. The presence of iron in the mother's body becomes extremely crucial at this time, as the body produces extra blood (haemoglobin) with the help of iron. This essential mineral also helps in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the baby's developing body. But care must be taken to ingest only the recommended amount of iron, as too much iron in the body can lead to thickening of the blood. This slows the flow of blood drastically, and the developing child suffers from lack of blood and oxygen. This can cause problems such as premature birth and low birth weight.

The columnist is VP at Vitabiotics Ltd, Fitness and Nutrition expert. Views expressed are the author's own.