Pregnant women often feel an enormous sense of responsibility. When we find out we are pregnant, the questions start to spiral: Am I eating the right foods? Getting enough nutrients? Exposing myself to anything that could harm my developing baby?
When I was pregnant, I remember thinking to myself, “if every single being on this planet was once born, then why does this all feel so confusing?!”
Eventually I realized that there is no magic secret to a healthy pregnancy. Like most things, it’s about taking a supportive and balanced approach.
There are several simple steps you can take to maximize your baby’s health before birth—and your own, in the process!
Prenatal Diet & Lifestyle
- Eat a varied whole foods diet. Focus on eating an abundance of seasonal vegetables, lean animal and vegetable proteins, complex carbohydrates, and seasonal fruits. Minimize refined sugar and caffeine. Avoid alcohol.
- Choose organic whenever possible. By eating organic foods, you can significantly decrease your chemical exposure. Visit the Environmental Working Group and familiarize yourself with the “dirty dozen” and the “clean 15” foods.
- Avoid high mercury fish. Mercury can cause neurologic problems in the developing fetus. During pregnancy, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends avoiding: bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, shark and tilefish.
- Adequately hydrate. Water is essential to keep our body functioning optimally. We get rid of most of our toxins through our urine, bowel movements, breathing and sweat. Aim to drink a minimum of half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day.
- Minimize your exposure to endocrine disruptors & environmental toxins. Over 60,000 chemicals have been introduced into our air, water, cosmetics, household products, and food in the last century alone. We have addressed this in detail in other blog posts. Read our articles to help you choose natural home products, natural cosmetic products, non-toxic cleaning products, and learn how to create a non-toxic home.
- Exercise gently & consistently. For most pregnant women, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended daily. Walking, hiking, swimming and yoga can be great choices.
- Prioritize sleep and rest. Physical discomfort, fluctuating hormones, and the excitement and anxiety about your upcoming arrival can make sleep challenging in pregnancy. Support healthy sleep patterns by waking and going to bed at the same time each day. Turn off electronic devices after sundown, as blue light interferes with melatonin production. Encourage relaxation by taking an Epsom salt bath, diffusing lavender oil, drinking a cup of tea, or by doing a meditation or breathing exercise to help calm the mind for sleep.
While I strongly believe that a varied and healthful diet should always be our foundation, in our modern world, diet alone may not sufficiently supply everything you need during pregnancy.
The following supplements help to support your nutritional needs before, during and after pregnancy.
Taking a prenatal vitamin prior to conception and throughout pregnancy provides a variety of nutrients that are hard to get through diet alone. I recommend always taking a prenatal vitamin with food. If you struggle with morning sickness, it may work best to take it at lunchtime. Or you can divide the dose between breakfast and lunch (1 cap at breakfast, 2 caps at lunch).
In general, with multivitamins you get what you pay for. Cheaper ones contain cheaper forms of vitamins and minerals, which are less absorbable. A good prenatal multi will have the folate, Vitamin D, iron and some of the other minerals that pregnant women need in an easily absorbable form.
Prenatal vitamins should be continued for at least three months after the baby is born, or until the baby is weaned if you are breastfeeding.
Folate is critical for the health of pregnant women and for baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects (NTD) in babies when taken from the month prior to conception through the first couple of months of pregnancy. When taken throughout pregnancy, folate can help prevent both miscarriage and preeclampsia. Recent research also suggests a strong correlation between low maternal folate and an increased risk of autism.
Before and during pregnancy, a total of 800 mcg of folate is generally recommended. Much of this will be contained in a good prenatal vitamin.
Please note that I am recommending folate and not synthetic folic acid. Many women lack an enzyme that allows them to metabolize folic acid (if they have the MTHFR gene mutation) and therefore need to take an activated form (methylated folate). By supplementing with folate, we are covering our bases for women who may have the MTHFR mutation and are unaware.
Countless studies have demonstrated the benefit of Vitamin D for pregnancy. Vitamin D3 supports healthy bones, immunity, mood, and blood sugar regulation, helping to prevent gestational diabetes and much more.
The current RDA for vitamin D is 400 iu, which most agree is too low. I generally recommend 2000 iu per day of Vitamin D3 (which is the dose in the prenatal vitamin we recommend), however some women need more. It’s best to get tested before supplementing so that you can determine your how much D3 you need to stay within an optimal range.
Fish oil contains a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. There are two main constituents you want—EPA and DHA. In adults and kids, we typically look for a balanced EPA to DHA ratio. For pregnant women and infants, you may choose a slightly higher amount of DHA since it is very important for fetal brain development. Essential fatty acids also support the skin, mood, immune system, cardiovascular system and many other systems of the body.
During pregnancy, 300 mg of DHA is the minimal I would recommend. Always take fish oil with food and store it in the fridge or freezer to decrease “fish burps”.
Probiotics can support optimal health by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, improving digestion, boosting immune function and increasing our resistance to infection. Taking a probiotic during pregnancy may help prevent preterm labor, and taking one during the third trimester can help protect your baby against allergies and eczema.
The probiotic we recommend throughout pregnancy contains specific strains of bacteria, which are not often included in standard probiotic formulations, that are delivered to the vaginal and urinary tissues where a pregnant woman needs them most.
For women who plan to nurse, studies have shown that Lactobacillus Fermentum, from lactic acid bacteria isolated from human milk, may prevent and resolve lactation-associated mammary dysbiosis (mastitis). You can supplement with this specific probiotic strain when you begin the third trimester of pregnancy and continue throughout nursing.
Please see our post Probiotics for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding for more information.
During pregnancy, we want to build the blood. Typically, women need 25-50 mg per day of iron during pregnancy. Some of this is contained in a prenatal vitamin, including the one we recommend. It is best to test your iron stores (ferritin) in each trimester of pregnancy and after delivery to determine if you need additional iron.
Even the best prenatal may not contain adequate levels of certain minerals and additional supplementation may be necessary.
Besides building teeth and bones, calcium also keeps your blood and muscles moving and helps your nerves send messages from your brain to the rest of your body. It is generally recommended that pregnant women get 1000 mg of supplemental calcium, or 1500 mg of calcium between food and supplementation.
Because bowels can get sluggish with pregnancy, between 350-500 mg of magnesium can be taken daily. Magnesium also has a calming effect on the nerves and muscles and promote more restful sleep. In fact, IV magnesium is a medical treatment used to slow pre-term labor.
Zinc (25 mg) is essential for a healthy immune system and is recommended for the mother as well as the growing fetus. Zinc helps your baby’s brain develop and helps you repair cells and make energy.
We know how confusing this can all be and that’s why we put together our Prenatal Supplement Kit. This kit contains four items: our favorite multivitamin for pregnancy & nursing, a women’s probiotic, a high DHA fish oil, and the additional mineral support needed throughout pregnancy.
If you’d like to purchase a Prenatal Supplement Kit, please click on the link below and it will direct you to our online store.
Each woman is different and these are general guidelines that support a well-balanced pregnancy. If you have any questions or specific health concerns, please be sure to talk with one of our providers or consult with your OB or Midwife about what he or she believes is best for you.