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Supplementation in Pregnancy to Improve Your Infant’s Health

By Olivia Paul, Naturopathic Doctor

Prenatal care is more than routine ultrasounds and medical monitoring. It encompasses all the factors that play a part in a healthy pregnancy such as a your nutritional, physical and mental health as well. And while conventional prenatal care focuses primarily on detecting and reducing complications such as birth defects, preterm delivery, infant and maternal mortality, it falls short of addressing key requirements for optimal health for you and your baby.

Maternal nutrition is an essential part of prenatal care to ensure babies are born healthy and at term. Feeding your child right, from the beginning, will improve their health for the rest of their lives. That old phrase “you are what you eat”, couldn’t be more true than when you are pregnant and studies have demonstrated that obesity, diabetes, cancer, allergies, asthma, ADD/ADHD and autism are all linked to maternal nutrition and exposures during pregnancy. Now of course you may be thinking, “Then tell me what to eat!” Or “ I’m already eating the organic rainbow, low-mercury fish and getting in my calcium!” but what the research is suggesting is that certain key nutrients (although available in food), should be obtained through supplementation to ensure optimal absorption as well as dosing. And thats what we’re going to talk about….

Fish Oil

Fish oils contain two essential fatty acids— EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). These are called essential because our bodies cannot make them, we must ingest them. During pregnancy, your placenta takes the DHA you ingest and delivers it to your growing baby. It becomes the building blocks of your baby’s brain. Numerous studies have demonstrated that maternal supplementation of fish oil increases your baby’s birth weight, cognitive functioning and reduces the prevalence of allergies and atopic skin conditions later in life. Your baby’s needs for DHA increase during the third trimester as the largest amount of brain development takes place here, so consider switching from a basic fish oil to a higher potency DHA supplement during this time. Look for a product that is third party tested to ensure you are getting a high quality fish oil that contains what it says on the label.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hormone our bodies produce through sunlight exposure and it is most known for it’s role in aiding calcium absorption. However, beyond your baby’s bone health, it is also linked to immune health. Studies have demonstrated that when used during pregnancy, vitamin D helps with immune system maturation which may reduce the risk of your baby developing asthma, allergies, and type 1 diabetes. And while you might think that taking a stroll outside in the sun is enough to get your daily dose, its not! Factors such as latitude, UVB levels, daylight-savings, and the sun’s height in the sky during winter, result in deficiencies in this essential nutrient in Canadians.

Probiotics

Billions of tiny bacteria live within us and provide us major benefit! These microorganisms are part of the normal terrain of our bodies and have been shown to influence our health in a multitude of ways. In foods, we usually find these in yogurts, kefir, and other fermented items and you absolutely should enjoy these during your pregnancy. However, in order to reap the benefits to your baby, a probiotic supplement is recommended. Studies have demonstrated that maternal probiotic supplementation prevents skin conditions such as eczema, as well as other inflammatory conditions. Look for a multi strain product, with Lactobacillus species in high doses.

Phosphatidylcholine

Another one for your baby’s brain! Choline is a nutrient that is required for memory, mood, muscle control and other brain and nervous system functions. We often focus on folate as being the crucial nutrient for neural tube development but choline is equally important as the two work in tandem influencing neural tube closure. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter made from choline that enhances cognitive functioning, so here we see again why adequacy in this nutrient is essential in pregnancy. Although choline can be derived from a diet rich in eggs, meat, poultry, fish and dairy, certain scenarios leave women vulnerable to deficiencies—namely food aversions and vegan or vegetarian diets. If you fall into one of these categories, supplementation is essential!

Prenatal Vitamin

Your prenatal vitamin is insurance for your pregnancy! With all the hormonal fluctuations that occur during your pregnancy, women often find they aren’t eating a very well balanced diet and with that comes risk for deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Choosing a prenatal vitamin that offers the more bioavailable forms of nutrients such as folate, iron and b12 is also very important. Ideally, you should be on a prenatal vitamin as soon as you conceive and in some other circumstances, 3 months before conception. This ensures that the environment in which your baby develops is a nutritional powerhouse!

Maternal nutrition is an area of evolving research and as more information is gathered, women are given the opportunity to have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. Take advantage and insist that your prenatal care covers all your bases so that your baby can have the best health, right from the start.

For specific doses and products, speak with a trusted healthcare provider.

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