Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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Most important, the hazards were noted within the first seven weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. This study is an exception to the rule that one study should not a conclusion make. The March of Dimes now recommends that pregnant women (and those in their childbearing years) limit their total vitamin A intake to 5,000 IU daily. A good way to get this is through beta carotene–rich vegetables, since this vitamin A precursor is relatively nontoxic at any dose.
Studies continue to show that women who eat well and supplement sensibly have the best chance of maintaining optimal nutritional status and giving birth to healthy, full-term babies. For healthy women, a prenatal vitamin and mineral that supplies 100 to 200 percent of the recommended dietary allowances for all nutrients is best. However, as mentioned above, iron and folic acid may be recommended in greater amounts.
Taking supplements, though, won’t cover all your nutritional bases. Janet King, Ph.D., R.D., director of the Western Human Nutrition Research Center, San Francisco, and professor of nutritional sciences at University of California, Berkeley, supports the use of supplements during pregnancy but cautions: “Women who assume that supplements will meet all their needs and forget to pay attention to their diets could be doing themselves more harm than good. Recent research has shown that it is especially important for pregnant women to consume five servings of fruit and vegetables daily to assure a good intake of folic acid and other vitamins. Also, there are critical elements in food, such as fiber, other nutrients and sufficient calories, which supplements can’t provide.”
Drink your (low-fat) milk Milk contains cal-cium, a mineral critical to bone formation and muscle and nerve function. While many people try to cut down on high-fat dairy products in the name of health, you’d be hard-pressed to meet your maternal calcium needs without milk products. For example, you must consume two cups of cooked broccoli, chard or kale to get the same amount of calcium as one cup of low-fat milk. You need between six and eight cups of these vegetables to meet your daily calcium needs. “Milk products also supply other essential nutrients,” says King, “such as vitamin D and vitamin B2 [essential for normal bone, muscle and nerve development], which are difficult to get anywhere else.” Consequently, nothing matches the benefits of including two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods in your diet each day.
If you need supplementation or choose to get calcium from supplements instead of food, make sure that the source is calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. “Natural” calcium sources, such as oyster shell calcium and bone meal, may contain lead and other metals potentially harmful to your baby.
New research shows that taking calcium supplements during pregnancy also decreases your chances of developing high blood pressure. In 14 clinical trials tallied by researchers at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, supplementation—with 1,500 to 2,000 milligrams daily—cut the risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension by 62 percent.
No matter how much help you do or don’t get from your doctor, gearing up for pregnancy means doing your own nutritional homework. One place to start is by keeping a daily checklist. It’s a quick and easy way to stay on top of the daily nutritional needs for both you and your baby.