The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Fish for good fat
Fish contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a polyunsaturated fat that promotes brain growth and strengthens vision in your baby. “Brain and retina cells contain more DHA than nearly any other type of cell,” says William Connor, M.D., professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
Fattier fish like salmon, trout and bluefish are richest in DHA, but any seafood provides it. In the absence of a recommended dietary allowance for DHA, Connor suggests that pregnant women eat at least one fish meal a week.
B’s for brain power
Folate: 600 micrograms
Chances are, you have all the grains you need right on your kitchen shelves. Rice, grits, pasta, cereal, grain products and bread made with enriched flour are fortified with folic acid, which is also found in supplements. (Folic acid is the man-made form of the B vitamin folate.) Folic acid and folate, the umbrella term used to describe both types, can help head off neural-tube defects (NTDs) in babies — incomplete closure of the spinal column or the absence of part of the brain — which can occur within four weeks of conception. Folate also fosters cell production, wards off anemia and helps prevent premature delivery.
While pregnant, you need 600 micrograms of folic acid in your daily diet. Folic acid is the form of choice, because it’s absorbed at nearly twice the rate of folate. Nevertheless, folate counts, so it pays to include foods such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils and peanuts), green leafy vegetables and orange juice in your diet.
Vitamin B6: 1.9 milligrams; vitamin B12: 2.6 micrograms
Vitamin B6 is instrumental in the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that relay messages between neurons), proteins for new cells and antibodies that bolster baby’s immune system. According to Picciano, research links low vitamin B6 intake in pregnancy to low scores on the Apgar test, which hospitals use to determine responsiveness of newborns at one and five minutes after birth. Bananas, chicken, pork, tuna fish, whole-wheat bread and nuts supply vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 — in addition to folate — helps the body produce red blood cells and also converts food calories into energy to help fuel your baby’s rapid growth. Naturally occurring vitamin B12 is unique to animal foods. Some of the richest sources include clams, salmon, tuna, yogurt and milk.
Choline: 450 milligrams