By Sarah Harris, FGHG Paediatric Naturopath
Pregnancy is often described as a ‘window of opportunity’. As a mother, being in the best of health before and during pregnancy can help influence critical stages of your baby’s development and help create a happy and healthy child. Taking good care of yourself during pregnancy and breastfeeding as your nutritional demands increase, in turn promotes the health of your growing baby. In addition to a high quality pregnancy multi vitamin being a must during this time, here are a few of the essential nutrients, that are best prescribed by your Naturopath, creating the building blocks critical for the health of you and your baby.
D is for Vitamin D – for Baby’s Development
Low prenatal Vitamin D levels have been linked to many childhood challenges such as asthma, allergies, autism and behavioural issues. On the bright side, adequate vitamin D levels have been found to benefit your child’s health and development. Monitor your vitamin D via blood tests during pregnancy to help ensure optimal levels and give your levels a boost via sun exposure or supplementation (speak to your naturopath about the latter). Aim for 6-7 minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon during warmer months and 7-40 mins during winter. Ideally your arms, shoulders and legs should be visible and free of sunscreen.
F is for Fish Oil – For You and Baby
Omega-3 rich fish oil can benefit you in pregnancy, it is required for the healthy functioning of almost every cell in your body, and is especially important for your brain, heart, and nervous system. During pregnancy, it may reduce the incidence of preterm birth and there may be less chance of having a baby with a low birthweight. Furthermore, it helps your baby’s brain develop and also supports healthy brain and nervous system growth throughout childhood.
While many try to consume omega-3 foods such as oily fish (e.g. salmon) and nuts and seeds, deficiency is still extremely common in Australia with 80% of adults not meeting the recommended daily intake (RDI) of this essential nutrient.
You can be confident your Naturopath will only recommend high quality fish oils made using processes that increase the purity of the oil and reduce heavy metal and pesticide levels, ensuring it remains fresh and not rancid.
I is also for Iron: to improve iron status during and after pregnancy
During pregnancy, you are at greater risk of developing low iron levels as your blood volume increases by 45%. So, feeling exhausted and rundown? You may not be getting enough iron for your changing needs. Iron is an essential mineral that has a number of jobs in the body; for making healthy red blood cells to deliver oxygen to create energy – so it’s not surprising that you can feel extremely fatigued if you are not getting enough iron, or not absorbing it properly.
Knowing your iron levels before simply taking an iron tablet is essential, because too much iron can be harmful. Also, some symptoms of low iron may be due to other causes, so professional assessment is important. Your naturopath can consider the most appropriate iron tests for your situation and advise if you need to adjust your diet or temporarily supplement to raise your iron levels to normal again.
Your diet should always be the first place you obtain iron. Animal sources of iron (also known as haem iron) include beef, chicken, fish, kangaroo, lamb, sardines, and turkey. Nevertheless, ensure you also incorporate plenty of vegetarian iron-rich (non-haem iron) foods, such as dark leafy greens (spinach, kale), chia seeds, eggs, lentils, and molasses.
If you do need to take iron, it’s important to know there are different ‘forms’ available, some of which cannot be absorbed very well, leading to undesirable symptoms of nausea and constipation.
Z is for ZINC
You may currently take zinc when you have a cold or flu. However, did you know that your cells and your growing baby need zinc on a daily basis? Zinc aids growth and development, and is an important nutrient during pregnancy for both mother and baby. Zinc has far reaching actions which affect the health of your whole body.
Many people are deficient in zinc and deficiency signs are common. Inadequate dietary intake, increased physiological needs – such as during pregnancy, or a diet high in sugar and profuse sweating are common causes of zinc deficiency. Your naturopath can do a simple taste test to determine if you have a zinc deficiency.
You can top up your zinc levels by increasing the intake of zinc rich foods:
Beef, pork, chicken and lamb all contain zinc. Non-animal sources include nuts, whole grains, legumes, yeast, pumpkin seeds and ginger.
If you need more zinc, talk to your naturopath about taking a highly absorbable form to increase the availability of zinc to your body, which is better for overall health.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Healthier Mums and Babies.
Implement these dietary and lifestyle tips for optimal health:
- Include plenty of fibre rich fruits, vegetables, pulses and whole grains in your diet. Fibre helps to prevent constipation throughout pregnancy and provides a fuel source for beneficial microbes in the gut.
- Minimise sugar intake to maintain healthy glucose levels and reduce your risk of gestational diabetes.
- Drink 3 to 4 L of water daily during pregnancy and 3.5 L daily during breastfeeding to keep you and your baby well hydrated.
- Stay active by participating in yoga, tai chi, swimming, or walking 3 to 4 days a week.
- Relax! If you feel stressed, chances are your baby does too. Practice meditation and mindfulness techniques regularly to help you feel calmer and more in control.
However, even if your diet contains many of these foods, if you experience any digestive discomfort, such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, then gut function may be affecting your ability to absorb all of your nutrients, including iron. If this is you, it’s time to heal your digestive system to optimise your health and energy. A happy tummy means a happy you!
If you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do and know during pregnancy, talk to your naturopath for peace of mind about how to assess your vitamin status and whether you require additional supplementation to support you and your baby’s health outcomes.
Sarah Harris, FGHG Paediatric Naturopath is passionate about the health of children and educating women about the best nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding to influence the future health of their children. “My inspiration and satisfaction in naturopathic practice comes from supporting a family’s potential to thrive. It’s the little wins that form the basis of lifetime choices!”