Originally folic acid was promoted as the key essential vitamin to take when planning for pregnancy. More recently, media attention has focused on vitamin B3’s importance. The truth is, all B vitamins play a role in supporting a healthy pregnancy and developing foetus. The B vitamins largely work together as a team in the body, and therefore simply supplementing with only one is not going to promote overall health. For example, vitamins B2 and B6 play a role in helping to activate folate so that it can do its job, while vitamin B12 is essential for one of the key the reactions in the body that takes place utilising folate. Vitamins B3 and B2 also play a key role in supporting energy production that is required to power a huge number of reactions that keep the body functioning. Therefore - it is best to go for foods rich in a variety of B vitamins, and consider a multi B rather than simply taking a single nutrient (unless of course you have been prescribed a product by your healthcare practitioner to target a specific dysfunction/imbalance in your system). Foods rich in B vitamins include green leafy vegetables (and other vegetables such as sweet potato), avocado, certain nuts and seeds, wheat germ, legumes (e.g. lentils), poultry, fish and eggs.
Iodine plays an essential role in thyroid functioning (it is a key building block for the production of thyroid hormone), and thyroid function is required to support healthy nervous system and brain development in the foetus. It is therefore important to be consume sufficient iodine through the diet, or use a supplement if you’re struggling to achieve this. Sources of iodine include seaweed (e.g. sushi), oysters, cranberries, salmon, eggs, also other seafood, and iodised salt.
Vitamin D supports mum and bub health. Vitamin D deficient mums are at a greater risk of giving birth to D deficient babies. Why is this a problem? Vitamin D plays a role in the functioning of the brain, the immune system, the bones and muscles just to name a few areas. Mum’s are more at risk of infection if vitamin D deficiency is present, as is her new born child. Bone and muscle development will be compromised in a D deficient child, and due to the role of vitamin D in also modulating immune function, there may also be a heightened risk of allergic conditions. Because unprotected sun exposure that is required for vitamin D synthesis in the body is not recommended due to associated risks - a supplement can be necessary. Women at particular risk of deficiencies are those that are obese, and also those that are not regularly outside (eg. working long hours in winter months) or those that cover their skin for religious reasons.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids, such as those found in oily fish, virgin olive oil, certain raw nuts and avocado, are important for health. The long chain omega-3 fats found in fish have specifically been shown to support the brain and nervous system development of the growing foetus and new born (emphasising fish oil’s benefit during breastfeeding). These oils are also anti-inflammatory and support many aspects of health, including that of the heart and skin.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
The friendly bacteria that live within our bodies have proven time and again to play important roles in health, relating to immune functioning, digestive function, a healthy mood, and even healthy fertility. In addition, imbalances in bacteria in the body during pregnancy and breastfeeding have been associated with an increased risk of allergies and asthma in babies, plus a greater risk of urogenital infections (e.g. cystitis, thrush, vaginosis) and mastitis in mum. For this reason, foods rich in fibre that feed the bacteria in our gut are essential, and using a good probiotic (speak to your healthcare practitioner for advice) following antibiotic use or long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill is recommended.
Belinda Reynolds is a dietitian, nutritionist and Education Manager at BioCeuticals. Belinda Reynolds graduated with a Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2003. She has been involved in the complementary medicine industry for nearly 15 years. Outside of this Belinda has spent time working in hospitals and lectured at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Belinda’s greatest passion is assisting practitioners in developing their knowledge by presenting new research in the area of integrative medicine. Now a mother of two, pre- and postnatal, infant and child health have evolved as subjects particularly close to her heart.