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Condition - Specific pregnancy nutrients the essentials.

By Kelly Rose DipION FdSc VN

Pregnancy is a time filled with excitement, planning and often nervousness. All mums to be want to do the best for their baby and one of the first things to consider is nutrition. During pregnancy nutritional requirements can change dramatically – after all you are growing a little person! 

Making sure you have the correct nutrients at the right stages is important, not just for the health of the baby but also for yourself. Here is a closer a look at the essential pregnancy nutrients:



Joints, muscles, bones, skin and hair are all made of protein and an adequate intake is essential. Protein is vital for the growth of the baby and the requirements of the mum to be. A small daily increase is needed in the first trimester but once you move into the second and third trimesters there is much more of a demand. Simply continuing your normal protein intake and having an additional 100g of cottage cheese or 1-2 eggs in the second trimester and an additional salmon fillet or 100g of tuna in the third trimester can meet these demands. Extra protein can be found in hemp protein powders, which is versatile and can be added to smoothies and taken between meals. One serving of hemp protein can provide 15 grams of protein.


During pregnancy there should be an increase in water intake due to higher blood volume, amniotic fluid and the water content of the baby. It is thought that six to nine litres of water is carried in pregnancy. Maintaining good fluid intake throughout pregnancy is very important and it is wise to avoid teas, coffees and fizzy drinks in favour of plain water. An additional 300ml a day is suggested. 


During pregnancy it is the essential fats that are important. DHA is a type of omega 3 fatty acid that is found in fish oil. During pregnancy DHA accumulates in the brain and retina of the developing baby, so a good supply from the mother is crucial. Babies born early, before adequate DHA is accumulated, may have a higher risk of poor visual and brain development.  A good supply of maternal DHA in pregnancy also seems to reduce the chance of premature delivery. It has also been shown that mothers-to-be that supplemented with fish oil have children with better problem solving skills and hand to eye co-ordination compared to those who’s mothers did not supplement. It is wise to start fish oil supplements at the very onset of pregnancy and continue throughout to ensure both mother and baby’s needs are met. 



Vitamin D

Amongst the many functions of “The Sunshine Vitamin” is the influence on absorption of calcium. Skin exposure to sunshine cannot be relied upon in our climate and many of us may actually have a poor vitamin D status. The Department of Health recommends pregnant women have 10 micrograms, or 400ius, of vitamin D daily throughout pregnancy. Insufficient maternal vitamin D has been shown to influence foetal bone development, as early as 19 weeks gestation. 

Vitamin A

This is a controversial nutrient in pregnancy and some have recommended avoiding vitamin A completely. Both vitamin A excess and deficiency is known to cause birth defects. Vitamin A is essential for the development of the baby’s heart, eyes, ears and limbs. Low maternal vitamin A status has been shown to affect immunity leading to an increased susceptibility to infection.

No increase in the risk of vitamin A -associated birth defects has been observed at doses of pre-formed vitamin A from supplements below 3,000mcg/day (10,000iu). As foods contain some vitamin A and an intake is inevitable, it is recommended that pregnant women do not take supplements that contain more than 1,500mcg/day (5,000iu) of vitamin A. Vitamin A from beta-carotene is not known to increase the risk of birth defects.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is well known to offer immune and antioxidant support. It has been shown that supplementing vitamin C at a dose of 1000mg a day alongside vitamin E lowered the risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, a serious condition associated with high blood pressure and fluid retention.

Folic acid

Folic acid is involved in many functions within the body and is known to help prevent abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord – such as spina bifida. It is recommended to take at least 400mcgs prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It seems that even after 12 weeks gestation, folic acid is important. Low levels during pregnancy are associated with increased risks of premature delivery, low birth weight, and reduced growth. Low folic acid can also increase an amino acid called homocysteine. High homocysteine has been associated with miscarriage and pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption and pre-eclampsia. Folic acid may also prevent against congenital heart problems and one interesting study showed that maternal supplementation alongside iron lowered the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in their children.


Adequate B12 in pregnancy is vital; it is involved in the formation of organs and also has a role to play with lowering homocysteine levels. As B12 is only found in animal foods, vegetarians and vegans may have low levels. Supplementing folic acid may also mask B12 deficiency and so it may be wise to supplement additional B12.



This essential mineral is needed for thyroid hormone production. Low iodine levels in pregnancy have been shown to give rise to congenital hypothyroidism. This is a condition that can cause irreversible mental abnormalities in the baby. Iodine requirements during pregnancy are increased by 45%.


Iron status is tested regularly throughout pregnancy and quite rightly so. Extra iron is needed to support the increased blood volume and also to meet the needs of the baby. If maternal stores become low then this may lead to depleted oxygen levels being carried to the baby. A good iron intake throughout pregnancy can ensure stores are kept at optimal levels.


The major role for calcium in the body is for bone development and health. It seems there is a physiological adaptation by the pregnant mother and calcium absorption in the intestine is doubled during pregnancy in order to meet the baby’s needs. In addition to this, calcium may be mobilised from the maternal skeleton but this is not a long-term change and is restored. Despite the physiological changes alluding to no extra need for calcium during pregnancy, there is evidence to show that calcium may play a role in the reduction of Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), this includes gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, all of which carry risks. Calcium supplementation with 1000mg or more a day during pregnancy has been associated with significantly lower risks for high blood pressure and premature birth.


Over 60% of magnesium in the body is in the skeleton. Low magnesium levels in pregnancy have been shown to be associated with premature birth and have also been implicated in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 


This mineral is involed in hundreds of enzyme reactions within the body and plays a large role in growth and development. Low zinc status during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, premature delivery, complications during labour and congenital abnormalities.

A healthy diet, regular gentle exercise and good quality supplemental support will ensure you and baby are off to a good start. 

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