The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Choline is not well-known, but this B-like vitamin is beginning to gain ground with nutritionists. As a component of cell membranes and a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for enhanced mental processes, choline may actually make babies smarter.
“Giving pregnant rats supplemental choline produced offspring that learned better and had better memories for their entire lifetimes,” says Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of nutrition at the School of Public Health and Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “While the exact effects of choline on humans can’t be tested, there’s no reason to believe these animal findings can’t be translated to humans.”
Choline is concentrated in higher-fat foods such as meat, peanuts and eggs (two eggs provide all the choline you need for the day), and you’ll probably get enough by eating a wide variety of foods.
Zinc: 15 milligrams
Zinc is essential for cell growth and division, energy production and proper formation of your child’s nervous system. Animal foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, yogurt and milk, provide zinc. Oysters are by far the best source, but beans, almonds and wheat germ are also good.
Iron for energy: 30 milligrams
As part of the hemoglobin attached to red blood cells, iron ferries oxygen to a growing baby. Without iron, baby’s development falters, while risk of prematurity and low birth weight increases.
Pregnancy doubles a woman’s iron needs to 30 milligrams a day. Meat, poultry and seafood are richest in iron. While there’s little chance of meeting pregnancy iron needs without a supplement, don’t dismiss iron-rich foods.
Calcium counts: 1,000 milligrams
Soon after conception, your body’s calcium absorption steps up, which is why you don’t need extra calcium during pregnancy. You need 1,000 milligrams a day to protect your bones, since your growing baby takes the calcium she needs to construct her skeleton from your stockpiled stores.
Each serving of milk, yogurt and cheese contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. Strive for at least three servings a day. Examples include 8 ounces of milk or yogurt, 11/2 ounces of hard cheese and 2 cups of cottage cheese.
Look to fortified foods for calcium, too. Calcium-added orange juice supplies as much calcium as milk, and tofu processed with calcium sulfate contains 260 milligrams per 1/2 cup.