A healthy diet is a woman's best friend. It helps boosts energy levels, supports mental health, helps you maintain a healthy weight and look your best no matter what stage of life you're in. But, a woman's reproductive years are especially demanding when it comes to good nutrition. In fact, pregnancy and breastfeeding are two of the most nutritionally demanding times in a woman's life because it's the time when the body needs enough nutrients to support the growth and development of a baby, while maintaining the health of the mother's body.
Recent research also reveals the importance of mom's nutritional status on the future health of her child.
Pregnancy Planning Starts with Good Nutrition
While many women may wait for a positive pregnancy test as the green light for improving their diet such as stopping alcoholic beverage consumption, and generally adopting healthy lifestyle habits, research suggests that a mom's habits before conception also influence her baby's well being at birth and for his or her entire lifetime. Because many pregnancies are not planned and the developing foetus is highly susceptible to birth defects and other problems during the first few weeks of pregnancy (when many women may not even realise that they are pregnant), achieving healthy weight and getting the recommended amounts of essential nutrients like calcium, folic acid, essential fatty acids and choline before pregnancy, is particularly important. Striving to eat a healthy diet rich in a variety of foods is key to getting proper nutrition to ensure optimal maternal health. Most nutrition experts agree that preconception planning for all women should include advice to start taking a prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplement.
Calcium to Help Build Strong Bones
It has been frequently reported that women of childbearing age do not consume the dietary reference intake for calcium. Women who chronically consume suboptimal amounts of calcium (<500mg/day) may therefore be at risk for increased bone loss during pregnancy. The recommended dietary intake for calcium for pregnant women is 1000mg a day and some of the best food sources include milk, yoghurt, cheese and some dark leafy green vegetables. Taking supplement calcium may also be helpful to ensure needs are met, especially for women following a vegan diet.
Vitamin D is Important for both Mom and Baby
Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency is common during pregnancy especially among vegetarians, women with limited sun exposure, and certain ethnic groups with darker skin. In newborns, maternal vitamin D deficiencies have been associated as rickets and bone fractures. Recent studies suggest that insufficient maternal vitamins D levels may also increase risk of mothers developing gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Vision and Brain Development
The amount of essential fatty acids (omega 6 and omega 3) available to the foetus depends upon how much of each of these the mother eats. Studies suggest if that mother-to-be consumes a typical Western diet the foetus will have access to a much higher concentration of omega 6s than omega 3s. The imbalance may be even more pronounced in pregnant women because many choose to avoid eating fish (one of the richest dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids) because of fears of mercury and other toxins present in the fish supply. However ensuring adequate intakes of omega 3s is particularly important before, during and after pregnancy. DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid that plays an important role in early brain and visual development and as such should be available to the growing foetus during gestation via the mother's diet and continued during lactation and throughout the first several years of a child's life. To ensure women of reproductive age are consuming enough DHA, use of a pure fish oil supplement starting at the time of conception and throughout pregnancy and lactation should be considered.
Prenatal DHA Intake also Associated with Infant Immune Support
According to a recent study, DHA intake during pregnancy may also help reduce the incidents of colds and duration of cold symptoms in infants.
Folic Acid and Choline for Prevention of Birth defects
It is recommended that women of reproductive age should be advised to consume 400ug of folic acid daily obtained from fortified foods or supplements, or both. This B vitamin is especially important during phases of rapid cell growth and because of its involvement in the synthesis of DNA and other critical cell components.
Many women in their childbearing years also fall short on choline, another nutrient that appears to play a role in brain development and in preventing neural tube defects. Women require 425mgs of choline daily and more when pregnant and lactating.
Iodine Deficiency in Pregnancy Tied to Kids' Poor Test Scores
Iodine is a trace mineral and essential component of the thyroid hormones trlodothyronine and thyroxine, and is therefore required for normal thyroid function. These hormones also help regulate metabolism and are important for proper bone and brain development in infants, especially during pregnancy.
According to a new study conducted in Australia, mothers who are mildly iodine deficient are more likely to have children who perform poorly in spelling, grammar and literacy.
Many Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby
Studies have shown when compared with health outcomes among formula-fed children, the health benefits associated with breastfeeding include a lower risk of ear infections, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, severe lower respiratory infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity as well as other childhood diseases and health conditions.
For moms, exclusive breastfeeding has been associated with a more rapid return to pre pregnancy weight and additional studies suggest an inverse association between lifetime duration of lactation and the development of rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and blood lipids, heart disease, diabetes and premenopausal breast and ovarian cancer.
Fitness during Pregnancy
It is vital to maintain an active lifestyle during pregnancy to stay fit and prepare for the arrival of your new baby. Gentle exercise is good for both the mom and the baby. Staying active can also help with common complaints such as back pain or even sleep troubles. Swimming is one of the best exercises, gentle on your joints and it also eases some of the weight of your baby bulge. Yoga can help relax you as well as help build core strength. Avoid the 'hot' Yoga. Walking and light strength training can help tone muscles and elevate your mood as well.
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