“Low protein intake during pregnancy can put the baby at risk for high blood pressure as an adult, lack of vitamin B6 and iron can affect cognition, and poor general nutrition in pregnancy may predispose a person to diabetes or heart disease.”
While an expectant mom should eat wisely to harvest plenty of the 13 vitamins and 20 minerals essential to the health of herself and her baby, she should pay particular attention to the following key nutrients:
Iron Forming a baby is an incredibly demanding construction project, as it causes blood volume to increase 50 percent during pregnancy. In addition to preventing anemia, iron helps baby gain sufficient weight and prevents premature delivery. Requirement: 30 milligrams. Best ways to get it: lean red meat, fish, dried beans and peas, whole-grains and green leafy vegetables. Other blood-building nutrients include vitamin C (70 milligrams) from citrus fruits, broccoli and peppers; vitamin B12 (2.2 milligrams) from meat, dairy foods and eggs; riboflavin (1.6 milligrams); and copper (1.5–2 milligrams) from dried beans and peas, whole- grains, seafood, nuts and seeds.
Calcium Critically important throughout a woman’s life, calcium is even more important during pregnancy, since it helps determine the strength of mom’s and baby’s bones. Requirement: 1,000 milligrams. (See sidebar below for new requirements of other bone-building nutrients.) Best ways to get it: milk, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, and canned fish with bones.
Zinc This mineral plays a key role throughout pregnancy and especially in the very earliest days of pregnancy, when cells divide rapidly to form the tiny but recognizable shape of a baby. Zinc also helps guard against premature delivery. Requirement: 15 milligrams. Best ways to get it: meat, seafood, whole grains, dried beans and peas.
Vitamin B6 A key nutrient in providing the vital blueprint for cell division, B6 also helps in the process of breaking down and using the extra protein needed during pregnancy. Requirement: 2.2 milligrams. Best ways to get it: meat, eggs, whole-grains, nuts, bananas and avocados.
Folic Acid Like zinc and vitamin B6, folic acid is especially critical as cells are dividing rapidly — as they do in the earliest days of pregnancy. It carries protein fragments to areas under construction, including the spinal column and hard palate. “Because the needs are so critical during the first days of pregnancy, when many women don’t know they are pregnant, the U.S. government advises all women of childbearing age to get at least 400 micrograms of folate daily,” says Ward. The demand for folic acid remains high right through the last days of pregnancy, when it helps prevent premature birth. In one study, conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Camden, N.J., women who got less than 240 micrograms of folic acid during pregnancy doubled their risk of premature delivery. Requirement: 400 micrograms. Best ways to get it: dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, dried beans and peas.