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Top Tips for Pregnancy Nutrition

Which vitamins and nutrients are key to your baby's health?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Good nutrition during pregnancy improves your chances of having a healthy baby. It may even reduce the risk of certain chronic conditions in your child, long after he has grown.

Eating for Two During Pregnancy

Whether you waited months for a positive pregnancy test or this pregnancy took you by surprise, you'll probably need to make over your eating habits. Many women begin pregnancy with shortfalls of nutrients central to a healthy pregnancy, including iron, calcium, and brain-building fats.

"Never in a woman's life is nutrition so important as when she's pregnant and nursing," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy.

Indeed. Research suggests that, along with other healthy habits during pregnancy, eating right influences a child's well-being at birth, and beyond.

"We've discovered that a child isn't only what she eats, but also what you ate during pregnancy, and possibly what your mother ate," says Randy Jirtle, PhD, a researcher in the field of epigenetics. Increasingly, research shows that mom's lifestyle affects her baby's chances for conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Focus on Folic Acid During Pregnancy

Getting adequate folic acid is one way of helping your child become the healthiest person possible. During the first month of pregnancy, folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

Be sure to take a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms folic acid until you replace it with a prescription prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement. Choose grains fortified with folic acid, including breakfast cereals, breads, rice, and pasta, every day too.

Multivitamins Have Multiple Effects During Pregnancy

Multivitamins do more than supply the necessary folic acid for growing babies, according to a population study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers there found that women in early pregnancy who took a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin regularly reduced their risk of preeclampsia by 45%. Preeclampsia, which causes elevated blood pressure and protein in the urine, is a leading cause of premature delivery and fetal death.

Despite the benefits, you may find swallowing pregnancy supplements difficult. The pills are often large, and they contain high doses of iron that can irritate your stomach and cause constipation.

"If you find yourself having trouble taking prenatal vitamins or you're having unwanted side effects, talk to your doctor about other, safe options," advises Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

And always tell your doctor or midwife about all the dietary supplements you take, including herbal remedies.

Make Calories Count During Pregnancy

During the first few months of pregnancy, you may not notice a big weight gain.

Some women may even lose weight during the first trimester of pregnancy because of queasiness that prevents them from eating and drinking normally. Tell your doctor if you experience persistent vomiting or nausea – you may become dehydrated. So-called morning sickness can last for the entire pregnancy, but it typically starts to dissipate after about 13 weeks.

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