Getting the best nutrition for you and your baby is a top priority when you’re pregnant. But for many women, eating a healthy and varied diet isn’t an easy choice. If you suffer from ‘morning’ sickness, some days you might find you can’t eat anything, while on other days only a doughnut will do – and the thought of green leafy vegetables or a helping of quinoa can be nothing short of nauseating.
A solution to this temporary problem might be to support your diet with some high quality supplements. But with safety of paramount importance during pregnancy, which supplements should you take to ensure the best environment for your growing baby?
While your baby will benefit from a healthy supply of all vitamins, vitamin B9 – also known as folic acid or folate – is of particular importance. This essential vitamin plays a key role in the creation of new cells, tissue development and growth of the placenta. It is most important during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the brain and spinal cord are created, and NHS guidelines recommend a 400mcg daily supplement during this time.
Vitamin B9 can be taken as either folic acid or folate. While both have the same properties, folate provides B9 in its natural form (while folic acid is synthetic) and is therefore easier for the body to absorb. Studies suggest that up to 60% of the population may have a genetic variation that impairs their conversion of folic acid supplements. For these individuals, folate is a better choice.
The most absorbable form of folate is methylfolate, which is the type found in green leafy vegetables. Providing vitamin B9 in its most biologically active form, methylfolate ensures your body can absorb the nutrient at a much higher rate. So a methylfolate supplement is far superior to a basic folic acid tablet and makes a significant difference to your vitamin B9 absorption.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
The enormous value of EFAs for our health has become more evident over the last two decades – from protecting our skin, joints and heart to ensuring good cognitive function. So it’s not surprising that EFAs play a key role during pregnancy too.
The brain is predominantly made up of fat cells – and EFAs make up 20% of that. So as your baby’s brain develops in the womb, it’s important that your body has sufficient levels of EFAs to support this process.
Omega 3 and 6 are described as “essential” because they can’t be produced in the body (unlike omega 9) and need to be taken in through diet. The western diet tends to provide plenty of omega 6 (as its found in chicken, wheat and vegetable oil) but is less likely to provide sufficient omega 3.
There are two types of omega 3 fatty acids – plant-based ALA and DHA found in fish oils. Per serving of food, fish oil provides a higher dose of omega 3 and is therefore the more effective choice for non-vegetarians.
But with the rise in fish farming, eating oily fish often means trading the benefits of DHA against the negative effects of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants. For pregnant women this is particularly dangerous as mercury can affect the development of the baby’s nervous system.
So the best way to get a regular dose of omega 3 is to take a high quality fish oil supplement. Always check the ingredients carefully – choose fish oil derived from wild fish rather than farmed, and ideally from smaller fish such as anchovies or sardines, as fish lower down the food chain contain less contaminants. The purification process is important too – for example, supplements using the NEO-3 system are very high quality.
Another good supplement choice when you’re pregnant is a high quality live bacteria. When you’re choosing which live bacteria to take, look for LAB4B, which is a specialist live bacteria combination for women to use during pregnancy that has been widely tested.
Whether you’re actually sick or just feeling nauseous, supporting your gut health with some good bacteria can help aid your digestion – reducing heart burn and helping you avoid constipation. Taking a daily probiotic will also give your immune system some gentle, natural support. And it’s been shown to help the development of your baby’s immune system too.
Live bacteria also has a positive influence of blood sugar levels. This reduces your chance of developing gestational diabetes and the risk of pre-eclampsia. Live bacteria can also help reduce the prevalence of C-reactive proteins, which have been linked to low birth weight in newborns.
There are a number of other nutrients that are also important during pregnancy. Iodine is important for brain development and a recent study suggested that taking a supplement during pregnancy could increase your baby’s IQ. Pregnancy puts increased demand on your iron store, so this can get depleted without a supplement. Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone development while zinc is key for cell growth, vitamin C ensures collagen is formed properly and magnesium helps reduce your fatigue.
The simplest way to ensure you are getting a sufficient supply of all these nutrients is to take a high quality multivitamin designed specifically for pregnancy.
So to ensure you’re getting the optimum support from your supplement regime, simply add methylfolate, fish oils and LAB4B live bacteria to your pregnancy multivitamin – and don’t feel too guilty about the odd vegetable-free day.