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8 Nutrients Most Essential for Fetal Development

by Staci Marks on June 14, 2012

Pregnant women can’t simply eat whatever they want, as a balanced diet is crucial for healthy fetal development. If you fail to get certain nutrients while your baby is forming, you risk subjecting the fetus to birth defects and learning disabilities. Likewise, the mother may experience more complications with her own body throughout the pregnancy if she eats an unhealthy diet, and could have problems with labor when it’s time for the baby to be born. To get the right nutrients, pregnant women should subscribe to a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Most of them are common sense, although the amounts you should get vary from nutrient to nutrient.

  1. Folic acid

    Folic acid is crucial because it prevents babies from being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. These serious birth defects can cause lifelong paralysis and the baby to be born with part of its brain missing. Folic acid helps with cell division and formation, and in pregnancy, helps the baby form the neural tube that will become the spinal cord and brain. If the fetus doesn’t get enough folic acid, the neural tube may not close properly, putting the baby at risk for defects. Yet, by adding folic acid to your diet, you can help prevent a string of problems from occurring, such as cleft lip and low birth weight. You can get your required intake of 600 mcgs of folic acid by munching on leafy, green vegetables, bananas, or nuts.

  2. Iron

    When you’re pregnant, getting enough iron in your diet is important because it plays an essential role in your baby’s brain development. Research conducted by University of Rochester Medical Center showed that anemia or iron deficiency in infants may slow the onset of auditory nervous system development, compromising the baby’s ability to comprehend sound. This could lead to language problems down the line. When a mother doesn’t get enough iron, her baby may also be born with a low birth weight, which can bring on some complications. However, a mother should not get too much iron, as excess amounts can be toxic. Getting iron from a healthy diet is likely better than resorting to iron pills during pregnancy, which can supply a mother with more iron than she requires.

  3. Zinc

    Zinc helps your unborn baby’s cells grow and replicate, and is a necessary nutrient throughout all stages of pregnancy. Without zinc, you put your baby at risk for miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. It can also cause toxemia. A pregnant woman should have somewhere between 12 and 15 milligrams of zinc in her diet during pregnancy. It’s uncommon for women in the United States to have a zinc deficiency, since it is already readily incorporated into our diets. Lamb, beef, and crab meat all contain zinc, and vegetarians may get zinc from fortified cereals, nuts, and beans. Your prenatal vitamin may also contain a supplement of zinc.

  4. Iodine

    The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism notes that not getting enough iodine during fetal development can lead to the infant contracting attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. Extreme iodine deficiency can even cause mental retardation. Pregnant women need more iodine than usual because maternal thyroid hormone production increases by about 50%, resulting in iodine loss. When they do not get enough, they may develop goiter or thyroid problems. Sprinkling iodized salt on food can help considerably in getting iodine in your diet.

  5. Docosahexaenoic acid

    Also known as DHA, docosahexaenoic acid is an Omega-3 fatty acid that helps in your baby’s brain development. Getting the right amount of DHA can increase your baby’s intelligence, providing them with better attention spans and capacity to learn. Getting DHA can be as simple as adding salmon or Omega-3 fortified eggs to your diet. According to the March of Dimes, pregnant women should get 200 milligrams of DHA daily to ensure optimal infant brain, eye, and nervous system development.

  6. Calcium

    Not only does calcium promote strong bones in adults, but it also helps in fetal development by administering bone growth. Calcium aids in blood clotting, the sending of nerve signals, muscle contractions, hormone release and heartbeat regulation. Pregnant mothers need to make sure that they are getting their usual calcium intake during pregnancy so that there is enough left over for the baby, although a supplement is usually not needed unless you are calcium deficient. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board suggests that everyone gets 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, including pregnant women. Likewise, a 2010 study published in The Journal of Nutrition indicated that a calcium-deficient mother could give birth to a child more prone to increased body fat percentage, elevated triglycerides and insulin resistance.

  7. Vitamins

    Moms need to eat essentially an alphabet of vitamins, including vitamin A, B-vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D. Vitamins play an important role in fetal development. Vitamin A and beta carotene help your baby grow bones and teeth, flawless baby skin, and help with eyesight development. While 770 mcg should be consumed daily, pregnant women must limit their intake of A vitamins derived from animals, which can adversely affect development. B-vitamins each have their benefits, from B-1, which regulates your nervous system and energy levels while pregnant to B-12, which aids in the formation of red blood cells. Vitamin C works to keep your body tissues undamaged, while vitamin D promotes strong bones. Vitamin E has multiple benefits, such as aiding in the absorption of vitamin K and muscle formation.

  8. Protein

    A developing fetus needs protein because it encourages cell growth, provides the amino acids that boost in bone and muscle development, and allows for healthy blood production. By contrast, a lack of protein can cause a myriad of issues, including poor muscle and joint development, poor bone development, muscle or bone deformities, miscarriage, brain damage and a high risk of birth defects. A pregnant mother lacking protein may feel weak and fatigued. To ensure her baby develops normally, a mother should consume 70 grams of protein daily, from sources like eggs, peanut butter, and meats. However, she should avoid eating soft or unpasteurized cheeses as a source of protein, as they contain bacteria that could cause food-borne illnesses.

Related posts:

  1. 7 Nutritional Guidelines for Vegetarians During Pregnancy
  2. 7 Medications You Shouldn’t Take While Pregnant
  3. Slim After Pregnancy: Celebrity Workouts and Weightloss
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