Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to ‘eat for two’ when pregnant, even if you’re expecting twins or triplets!1 While a small amount of extra kilojoules is recommended, it’s more important to eat a wide variety of healthy foods to ensure your nutritional needs are met as well as those of the precious life growing inside of you. Listed below are some of the especially important vitamins and minerals needed during this exciting time and how to ensure you’re getting enough.
- Folate – Folate, known as folic acid in supplements, is a B‐group vitamin that plays an important role in healthy foetal development. Requirements for folate increase in pregnancy, so it’s important to include plenty of folate‐rich foods like asparagus, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, spinach and whole grain bread.2 It’s also recommended to take a folic acid supplement, or pregnancy multivitamin with at least 400mcg of folic acid, one month before conception and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a child with spina bifida.
- Iron – You’ll need about 9mg of extra iron daily when pregnant for a couple of reasons. Your blood volume actually increases in pregnancy, so you need more iron to make more haemoglobin (the molecule that carries oxygen through your blood to your cells). Plus, your rapidly growing baby draws iron from its mother to last it through the first five or six months after birth.2 It’s useful to include iron‐rich foods every day like red meat, poultry, fish, lentils, prunes and kidney beans,3 as well as vitamin C rich foods (like oranges) because these enhance the absorption of iron.2 If your iron stores are low you may need to get more from and iron supplement or specialised pregnancy multivitamin.
- Calcium – Getting enough calcium is important when pregnant to help your baby develop strong, healthy bones. If you don’t consume enough calcium to sustain your baby’s needs, your body will take calcium from your bones to give to your baby, putting you at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. To ensure you get enough calcium every day, eat plenty of dairy foods including milk, yoghurt and hard cheese as well as green leafy vegies (spinach, kale, broccoli and bok choy), roasted almonds and canned salmon with soft bones.4 You could also top up your calcium levels with a pregnancy supplement.
- Vitamin D – The need for vitamin D increases during pregnancy to assist the availability and absorption of the extra calcium and to support bone growth and development. While adequate vitamin D is relatively easy to obtain from regular exposure to sunlight, mothers with naturally darker skin tones, those who avoid sunlight, or who wear concealing clothing for cultural or religious reasons, may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. For these women, a vitamin D supplement may be recommended.
- Iodine – Adequate iodine in pregnancy and lactation is important to support the normal health and mental development of the baby. Foods that are good sources of iodine include seaweed, eggs, meat and dairy products.2 A good pregnancy multivitamin will also contain this important mineral.
- Omega 3 – Omega 3 fatty acids are needed during pregnancy to build healthy brain tissue and support the baby’s brain and visual function. To make sure you get enough, eat oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel or herring two to three times a week,5 and/or top up your intake with a pregnancy supplement.