Healthy Eating during Pregnancy

Iron carries oxygen through the blood and
delivers it throughout the body. It also aids
in immunity, brain development, body tem-
perature regulation, metabolism, and physi-
cal performance. About 90 percent of the
iron in the human body is conserved and
reused every day. The developing baby also
stores enough iron to last through the first
few months of life.
Because pregnant women have an in-
creased amount of blood in their bodies,
they need more iron than non-pregnant
women. Therefore, pregnant women should
consume 27 mg of iron per day. Most prena-
tal vitamins supply this amount.
A healthful eating plan provides women
with up to 12 to 14 mg of iron per day. Red
meat is rich in iron. Fish and poultry are also
good sources. Other options include en-
riched and whole grain breads and cereals,
green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts, eggs,
and dried fruits.
The body does not absorb the iron in eggs
and plant sources as well as the iron in meat,
fish, and poultry. However, iron absorption
from eggs and plant foods can be increased
when eaten with foods high in vitamin C,
such as orange juice or red bell peppers.
Iron stores are often used up by the
woman’s body. Since many women enter
pregnancy with low iron reserves to begin
with, they risk developing anemia, a red
blood cell deficiency that can make a
woman feel tired and result in many other
health problems. Routine supplements of
low-dose iron starting at the first prenatal
visit are recommended. Some women may
also need to be screened on an ongoing
basis. A registered dietitian can recommend
iron-rich foods and foods that can help with
iron absorption.
Iron supplements are absorbed best when
taken between meals, with water or juice,
and not with other supplements. Substances
in coffee, tea, and milk can inhibit iron ab-
sorption. Taking iron supplements at bed-
time may help reduce upset stomach
and/or heartburn.
Folic acid, a B vitamin, should be taken be-
fore and during early pregnancy to reduce
the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube
defects (NTDs), or birth defects of the brain
and spinal cord in infants.
All women of childbearing age need an
adequate intake of folate or folic acid
because it plays an important role in the
baby’s development. “Folate” is the term
for the different forms of the nutrient
found naturally in foods; “folic acid” is the
synthetic form used in supplements and in
fortified grain products.
The U.S. Public Health Service and the
March of Dimes recommend that any woman
of childbearing age planning or capable of
becoming pregnant should consume 400
mcg of folic acid daily to help prevent birth
defects. Most women of childbearing age do
not consume enough folate, which unfortu-
nately is the time when folate intake is the
most critical. To make up for this, all women
who can become pregnant should consume
a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic
acid daily, in addition to eating foods that
contain folate such as grain products that
have been fortified with folic acid, leafy
dark-green vegetables, legumes (such as
peanuts), citrus fruits and juices. Women
who have had a baby with NTD in the past
are advised to take a higher dose of folic
acid — 4 mg per day before getting
pregnant again.
All women of childbearing
age need an adequate intake
of folate or folic acid because
it plays an important role in
the baby’s development.
All pregnant women should consider
taking prenatal vitamins, regardless of
how healthfully they think they eat.
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