Your Pregnancy MD
Pregnancy Week Six
Author James W. Brann, M.D.
Your Body at 6 Weeks of Pregnancy
By now you may have noticed some weight gain, you may have gained a pound or so. Most women will gain roughly 5 pounds during their first trimester of pregnancy, though some women will gain more and some women will gain less. Others gain no weight at all during their first trimester (largely due to terrible morning sickness) but make up for this much later in pregnancy. Don’t fret if you do lose some weight during the first trimester. Chances are you and your baby will be just fine.
You may feel some mild abdominal cramping around this time. Be sure you consult with your healthcare provider if you are feeling any worrisome symptoms. Most women experience some tingling and mild cramping in early pregnancy, however cramping could always be a sign something is going on that needs to be investigated. Your healthcare provider should be able to put your worries at ease and ensure the health and well-being of your baby.
You may notice by now your waist is growing a bit thicker. You may have difficulty snapping up your jeans, though you are still a long way from needing maternity clothes. Some women find that in the early weeks of pregnancy it helps to wear a pair of pants one or two sizes larger than normal. You probably won’t need to buy maternity clothes until you are well into your second trimester (unless you have already had a baby, in which case you might start wearing your maternity clothes a lot sooner).
As you continue your pregnancy your uterus continues to grow to accommodate your growing baby. By now your baby is roughly the size of a small plum. At this time you may start to notice the veins in your chest and legs are more vibrant. Many women notice their nipples and breasts are uncomfortably sore and you may start also noticing the areolas of your breast start to darken.
While others still can’t detect your pregnancy, by now you are definitely feeling pregnant. Be sure to get as much rest as possible in the upcoming weeks to help support your growing baby.
As you follow your pregnancy week by week, keep in mind that an average woman will gain between 25 to 35 pounds during her pregnancy, though some may gain more and some less. Try to stay in that range if you are of normal weight. If you are underweight, aim to gain between 28 to 40 pounds. Overweight pregnant moms should only gain between 11 and 20 pounds.
If you gain too much weight, you have an increased risk of C-sections and you may deliver a huge baby. Although fat babies are cute, your infant will be at risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes later in life. On the other end of the token, if you don’t gain enough weight, you face premature delivery and smaller size baby.
Are you experiencing early pregnancy symptoms yet? Some pregnant women notice that their breasts are more tender than normal, some experience tingling and mild cramping, while others feel the slight twinge of nausea. Don’t worry if you haven’t noticed any change yet. A lack of symptoms does not mean that anything is wrong.
Your Baby at 6 Weeks of Pregnancy
Six Week Old Embryo
At 6 weeks pregnant, you aren’t showing yet, but amazing changes are happening inside you – including your baby’s first fluttering heartbeats!
Your baby’s heart will be beating between 100 and roughly 140 beats every minute. While this is happening your baby’s blood is circulating throughout her body. You can see your baby’s heart beating now with a vaginal ultrasound.
Did you know as early as now your baby’s reflexes begin to develop and may even respond to touch? During this time the central nervous system in your baby is developing at a mind boggling pace, linking your baby’s nerves and muscles to various body parts. Babies happily start swimming about and moving in fact very early on in pregnancy, though most first time moms will not recognize their baby’s movements until roughly 17 to 20 weeks pregnant.
This week, your baby’s placenta continues to develop and the yolk sac continues to provide nourishment for your little one. At the beginning of your pregnancy, the yolk sac is this balloon-like structure that is as large as your fetus, but it slowly gets smaller in proportion to your baby as your pregnancy continues.
Your little baby’s face is developing. The eyes are taking shape. Small pits have developed on the side of your little one’s head, which will eventually form into his or her beautiful eyes. If you were to peek inside your belly, you would see tiny indentations at the sides of the head, where your baby’s ears will sprout.
Most babies look a bit uneven during the early stages of pregnancy. Don’t worry! Your baby will grow more symmetrical as he or she continues to develop in your womb.
Your future baby now measures about 0.15 inches from crown to rump. Isn’t it amazing that only a few short weeks ago, your baby was just a ball of cells?
Now, your baby has developed a curved tail. You may think your little one looks like a tadpole, but this “tail” is the beginnings of his or her spinal column. In a few short weeks, this tail will disappear as your baby’s spine straightens.
Your baby will develop more in the first trimester than at any other time during pregnancy. In the first 13 weeks, your baby develops his or her arms, legs, fingers, and vital organs. He or she may pack on the pounds and fat in the second and third trimester, but these next few weeks are a very critical time in fetal development.
Remember that it’s more important than ever to stay healthy and avoid any toxins (such as smoking, alcohol, and drug use) that can interfere with your baby’s early development.
Eight Foods You Should Eat
Congratulations, you just found out you are pregnant. Do you need to change your diet? Absolutely! Eating “power pregnancy foods” is essential for pregnant women, not just for the health of the baby, but for the mother to sustain the pregnancy to its fullest potential.
There are many reasons to ramp up your nutrition, aside from the obvious things such as your baby’s brain development, overall health, and to lessen the likeliness of complications in your pregnancy. Eating healthy also helps you to stay well and builds up your immune system. If you get sick while pregnant, this can also affect the fetus. Another reason is that being deficient in certain nutrients can actually cause health problems later on, such as when the child develops after infancy to childhood.
Before mentioning the foods you should eat, it may be worthwhile to mention foods you should avoid. Fast foods have very little to no nutritional value, and can actually affect your mood, contribute to excess weight gain, as well as harming your baby. This is not always the case, but if you are a dedicated mother on a mission, try to steer clear from the drive-thru.
Food to stay away from:
- Seafood high in mercury – such as swordfish, mackerel, shark, etc.
- Raw foods – such as sushi, raw oysters, or nova style seafoods
- Luncheon meats
- Unpasteurized foods – like blue or feta cheese, goat cheese, brie, etc.
- Alcoholic beverages
Now, here are some excellent sources of nutrition that you should adopt and make part of your healthy, new pregnancy diet:
- Beans, Seeds and Lentils: Pregnant women need at least 60 grams of protein per day, and beans, lentils and seeds (try pumpkin!) provide a sizable portion at approx. 15 grams p/cup. These also have a lot of fiber and folates. Spread them over brown rice and salads!
- Oatmeal; Forgo the donut, sugary cereal, or muffin and choose oatmeal, at least while pregnant. The complex carbs will satisfy your hunger longer and the bran will keep your cholesterol levels in check.
- Bananas: You may feel extra tired or lack of energy while pregnant, so the potassium in bananas offers a great way to fight fatigue, as well as being easier on your tummy if you are feeling nauseous.
- Egg Whites: If you are staying clear of meat while pregnant (which is wise), then you still need to get your protein intake through other methods. Egg yolks are high in fat, but if you take the yolks out and keep the whites, you will obtain the most nutritional part of the food. Tip: If the lack of “yellow” color makes it bland, flavor it with spices or leave one yolk and the rest whites per portion.
- Spinach: If you give up meat, which is wise, then you’ll need to find your extra iron source from something else. Spinach and similar, leafy green veggies are high in calcium and make a great foundation in a salad in lieu of lettuce.
- Whole Grain Bread: Did you know that whole grain bread is an excellent source of iron? Aside from having the recommended 30 grams of fiber you need daily, whole grain breads have zinc to keep your immune system healthy.
- Soy Foods & Dairy: Skip the hormones in milk and dairy and opt for soy milk instead. You can also try tofu, edamame, soy nuts, etc.
- Figs: These are loaded with fiber, calcium, potassium and magnesium and might work to satisfy your sweet tooth instead of fattening junk food. These also help your baby’s teeth develop under the gums and can decrease your chances of iron deficiency or anemia.
Balanced Meals for Healthy Weight Gain
During pregnancy, proper nutrition and a balanced diet is essential to the well-being of your baby and basic to your health. The added nutritional demands that pregnancy places on your body requires you to start, if not already, making good food choices like choosing the correct nutrients and healthy weight gain.
you already have good eating habits then eating a proper balanced diet will
take little effort, just add a few calories.
If you are just now starting to eat a well-balanced meal to help ensure proper health and growth of your baby, we can help by showing you correct food choices, which nutrients are essential and how much weight gain is necessary.
What is a healthy diet during pregnancy?
A healthy diet during pregnancy includes all of the essential nutrients that will help your growing baby. Let’s begin by looking at MyPlate Food Guide to ensure that you are eating a balanced diet. [REF] The food guide plate is a guide to help you choose the correct servings of the major food groups. Although it is not designed for pregnancy, it will give you an idea of the types and servings that are required from each group.
The Food Guide MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image—a place setting for a meal. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. The following five food groups included in the MyPlate are:
1. Grain Food Group
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word “enriched” is included in the grain name. Recommended daily amounts of grain should be 5 to 6 equivalents. Most Americans consume enough grains, but few are whole grains. At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains.
2. Vegetable Food Group
Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the MyPlate Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. Make half your food plate with fruits and vegetables.
3. Fruit Group
Fruits are rich in A and C vitamins and potassium, as well as high in fiber. Make sure you drink fruit juice and not fruit drinks that contain mostly sugar. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group. Make half your food plate with fruits and vegetables.
4. Dairy Food Group
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soy-milk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Recommended daily amounts of food from the Dairy Group you need to eat is 3 cups daily. In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy-milk (soy beverage), 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the Dairy Group.
5. Protein Food Group
Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. Recommended daily amounts are 5 to 5 1/2 ounces.
What are the Key Nutrients and their Recommended Daily Allowance during Pregnancy?
- Calcium is a key nutrient needed to form strong bones and teeth for your baby. If your daily amount of calcium is inadequate then the baby will remove the calcium from your bones. This can cause consequences to you and you may develop osteoporosis, a disorder causing weak and fragile bones, in the future. During pregnancy the recommended daily amount of calcium depends on your age. If you are less than 19 years old, you require 1300 mg of calcium and 1000 mg if older. The best additional sources for calcium are dairy products, such as milk and cheese. Three glasses of milk each day will satisfy this nutritional need.
- Iron is a key nutrient that is needed to develop a healthy baby. Iron is used to make the hemoglobin in your red blood cells that carries oxygen. When you become pregnant, you will need extra iron to keep up with the increased production of red blood cells seen in pregnancy. If you do not have adequate intake of iron, you will develop anemia and fatigue. You need 27mg of daily iron in your diet during pregnancy. Make sure you eat more foods that are rich in iron such as lean meat, beans, dark leafy greens and whole grains. If you think you need a supplemental iron pill speak with your physician. Iron can cause constipation and may require a stool softener to also be taken.
- Folic Acid is a very important nutrient needed before and during the first trimester of pregnancy. Not having enough folic acid can lead to birth defects (neural tube defects). Folic acid is of such importance before pregnancy that it is added to many foods to help prevent your risk of neural tube defects. Before pregnancy you should take 0.4 mg of folic acid each day. During pregnancy, it is recommended that you increase your folic acid to 0.6 mg each day. Higher doses of folic acid are recommended if you have had a prior child with a neural tube defect. You are recommended to take 10 times the normal dose or 4 mg each day for 30 days before conception and 3 months after.
- Vitamins are important to you and your baby’s development. Your normal prenatal vitamin has all the vitamin A, B and C that is required. No other supplemental vitamins are needed. Keep in mind that some vitamins such as vitamin A and D can be harmful in large concentrations. So don’t think that more is better.
How Many Extra Calories Should I Eat each Day during Pregnancy?
Most women, who are not pregnant, will eat about 1800 to 2200 calories every day. During pregnancy you will need to add about 300 additional calories to your daily intake. Three hundred calories can be added by eating an extra apple, a glass of skim milk, and cup of yogurt. Be careful when eating for two, it does not mean you can eat twice as much.
Proper nutrition, a balanced diet and avoiding food cravings are necessary in pregnancy. After your baby is born you will want to continue the good nutrition practices that you have developed. This will help you with nursing, recovery, and you will have more energy. Maintaining healthy habits will promote lifelong health for you and your baby.
Folic Acid (Folate) Dosage
Every woman planning to get pregnant should take 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid daily. Either in a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid or foods that have been enriched with folic acid.
Once you become pregnant the dosage should be increased to at least 600 mcg, however your doctor may recommend 1000 mcg, and most prenatal vitamins contain this amount.
I just want my baby to be healthy.” This is the usual response when one asks an expecting mother whether she wants a boy or a girl. Oftentimes, however, women put their babies in jeopardy within the first month of pregnancy without even realizing it.
Many women do not understand the importance of regular folic acid intake before and during pregnancy, and how without it they put their unborn child at risk before they have even conceived.
Of course every mother wants the best for their children, and with a little information, a little precaution and preparation there are certain conditions which can be effectively prevented, or at least experience reduced risk by as much as 70% by taking folic acid on a daily basis.
Folic acid is a form of the B vitamin that aids in the regular cellular development and regeneration, and is especially crucial within the first weeks of your unborn baby’s development. It helps to insure proper formation of the brain and spinal cord. Without folic acid there is a higher chance of miscarriage, and a 1 in 1000 chance that the child will end up with a Neural Tube Disorder (NTD).
Neural Tube Defects can manifest themselves as a number of different conditions upon birth, including spina bifida and anencephaly. The former, roughly meaning “open spine”, in its most severe cases can result in paralysis of the legs as well as bladder and bowel control problems. Anencephaly is a fatal condition caused by underdevelopment of the brain and skull. Primary risk indicators for NTDs include whether or not you have had a previous pregnancy which resulted in NTDs and/or whether or not anyone in your family has had a child with a NTDs.
For most women the recommended dosage for everyday health and pre-pregnancy preparation is 400 micrograms per day. Once you become pregnant the dosage should be increased to at least 600mcg, however your doctor may recommend 1000mcg, and most prenatal vitamins contain this amount.
It is important to know that folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, thus the body will naturally flush out excess quantities present in the system, making overdosing less of a consideration than with vitamin A, for example. One of the few known dangers of taking folic acid daily is the potential for hiding a vitamin B deficiency, often occurring in vegetarians, particularly if you do not eat or drink dairy products. If you think you might be at risk for a vitamin B deficiency, consult your doctor.
The particular form known as folic acid is man-made, and found primarily alone in folic acid pills, in conjunction with other daily essentials in multivitamins, and in fortified foods. The natural version which is contained in certain foods, folate, is not as readily or as effectively absorbed by your body. As such, it is highly recommended that you take the synthetic version on a daily basis.
The FDA mandates that all enriched grain products, such as cereals, breads, pasta, and rice, must have folic acid added. Some go as far as to add 100% of your recommended daily dosage, so read the nutritional information on your cereal as you shop.
Green foods generally tend to contain folate, the natural version of the vitamin. The North Carolina Folic Acid Awareness Campaign hosts a website “getfolic.com” that indicates which foods are “Excellent”, “Very Good”, or “Good” sources of folate.
- Excellent sources include the aforementioned fortified breakfast cereals, lentils, beans, chickpeas, chicken and beef liver.
- Very good sources include oatmeal, asparagus, spinach, romaine lettuce, and lima beans.
- Good sources include broccoli, canned corn, enriched pastas and breads, brussel sprouts, orange juice, and avocados.
However, a multivitamin still remains the #1 recommended means to get your folic acid because of all the other vitamins included. Remember that extra folic acid will be flushed out of your system, so do not hesitate to take a multivitamin simply because your breakfast cereal has 100% of your daily dosage already.
Keeping in mind that 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, and that it is not uncommon for a pregnancy to go unknown for a month or more, it is critically important for any woman of childbearing age to make sure she takes folic acid on a regular basis, and with few known negative side effects, proper folic acid consumption is an easy and safe way for you to reap a wide variety of health benefits with nearly no risk!
Summary and Recommendations for Folic Acid
• It is known that folic acid deficiency can cause a defect in your baby’s spine called neural tube defect. By taking folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy you can reduce your chances of having this problem by 70%.
• If you have had a previous child with a neural tube defect you should take 4 mg per day of folic acid starting one month prior to pregnancy and continue this dosage through the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
• If you have pre-gestational diabetes you should also take 4 mg of folic acid each day starting one month prior and through the first trimester of pregnancy.
• All other women without any risk factors should take a multivitamin that contains 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid each day prior to pregnancy and 1.0 mg during pregnancy.
Avoiding Anemia during Pregnancy
Although some women manage to eat a diet rich in iron without even trying, many tend to fall short in iron. Any lack of dietary iron can be exacerbated during pregnancy, especially if an expectant mother decides to take prenatal vitamins without iron—a common decision because of the nausea often caused by iron supplements.
Pregnancy is a time when women are particularly at risk for anemia, though. As blood volume increases and the mother becomes responsible for her own blood supply as well as that of the growing baby, it can be hard to maintain a diet high enough in iron to avoid a shortage. With a little extra care and some regular menu planning, pregnant women can be sure to get plenty of iron—even if they decide to nix the supplement.
Five Rules to Help You Get Enough Iron in Your Prenatal Diet
Having enough iron circulating in the bloodstream allows the body to use oxygen; women who don’t have enough iron in their blood may feel weak, tired, and even confused. By following a few simple rules, most women can get an adequate daily helping of iron that will provide for their own oxygen needs as well as the baby’s.
Rule #1: Get your animal protein. Red meat, pork, chicken, and shellfish can be great natural sources of iron. If you don’t like much in the way of meat or fish, opt for eggs. Animal proteins are the best sources of iron and are very easy for your body to use.
Rule #2: Eat enriched breakfast cereals and grains. Most breakfast cereals come loaded with vitamins and a hefty dose of iron. Pay attention to serving sizes and have some cereal for breakfast or a snack on a daily basis. In addition, many pastas, grains, and breads are also enriched with iron, so check the brands you buy and compare them to competitors to find the better source of iron.
Rule #3: Be big on beans, nut butters, and dried fruits. Beans, lentils, and nut butters (like peanut or almond butter) offer natural plant sources of iron. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, whole grains, beans, and nut butters should be staples in your diet to ensure that you get enough iron. In addition, try snacking on dried fruit–just watch how much you eat and buy varieties that are dried without added sugar.
Rule #4: Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body use the iron you eat. By having foods or drinks with vitamin C at the same time you have your iron-rich foods, you can increase your body’s absorption of the iron. For example, eat broccoli with your chicken or drink orange juice with your morning peanut butter and toast.
Rule #5: Avoid dairy products and caffeine when you have iron-rich foods. Just as vitamin C can help your body absorb iron, dairy and caffeine may block your body’s ability to use iron. This means it’s best to eat your cereal dry and to skip the cheese on your hamburger to get the most iron out of your foods. Eat your dairy and sip your caffeine for separate snacks or meals during the day.
If you’ve decided to forgo iron pills, make sure your obstetrician is aware. He or she can test you regularly for anemia and work with you to create a diet that will provide enough iron for both you and your growing baby. If you have previously had problems with anemia or if you have certain medical conditions, your healthcare provider may encourage you to take supplements in addition to a diet rich in iron to ensure that you do not become anemic during pregnancy. For most women, however, a well-managed diet can provide plenty of iron for baby and mommy!
Eating Wisely During Pregnancy
During pregnancy eating 300 extra calories isn’t very much. It is about the calories in half a bagel and cup of yogurt. The problem is most women feel incredibly hungry during pregnancy. It may actually seem like a chore not eating during pregnancy all that time (that is of course provided you have survived morning sickness, which often destroys even the heartiest of appetites).
So how do you eat enough during pregnancy, curb your appetite and not go overboard? The key is making healthy and nourishing selections. Most women find their appetites far more controlled when they eat several small meals per day instead of three large ones accompanied by snacks. By eating throughout the day you are providing your body and your baby with the constant energy they need to grow and thrive. You also get the added benefit of charging your metabolism and your energy reserves throughout the day.
The simplest way to do this is to break your three large meals down into six smaller ones. That way you’ll be eating during pregnancy roughly every 3 hours. This will help curb hunger pangs. What you don’t want to do is eat a full size meal six times every day, as you will be getting much more than the recommended 300 extra calories every day. Think about 1/2 the size of your ordinary meal. Most women will get roughly 400 calories at each sitting, though this will vary from woman to woman depending on your individual body composition, activity level and caloric needs.
Don’t Count Calories
Most women focus too much on calories when eating during pregnancy. Pregnancy is not the time to count calories or the time to lose weight. It is the time to eat as nutritiously as possible. This means selecting high fiber, nutrient dense foods that will fill you up and provide you and your baby the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need to thrive.
Lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains are excellent choices to start with when eating during pregnancy. Keep in mind the more fiber you consume (in the way of fruits and vegetables) the less constipation you will have to battle throughout your pregnancy. High fiber foods also fill you up and keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. If your diet doesn’t naturally incorporate a lot of high fiber foods, you should gradually ease into a high fiber diet. Too much fiber all at once can contribute to bloating and excess gas, a problem most women have during pregnancy without any assistance from their diet.
You should also be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout your pregnancy. Many times our bodies trick us into thinking we are hungry when we are actually thirsty. The mechanisms that trigger thirst are the same as those that trigger hunger. If this is the case you could eat when you are actually thirsty. One easy way to drink enough water is to keep a water bottle handy at all times. If you don’t like the taste of plain water try spicing it up a bit with some lemon or lime. Some women prefer sparkling water to plain water. Just be sure you select sparkling water that is sodium free.
Carbonated sodas can contribute to bloating, and many contain too much caffeine or sugar to be worth the while, so stick to other hydrating drinks if you can while pregnant. Yet another way to maintain a healthy diet when eating during pregnancy is simply stocking your refrigerator with healthy foods and snacks. If you have healthy snacks readily available, you are more likely to go for them than to go for the higher fat, sugary sweets that may be the alternative. Remember, you can stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy when you take some time out to eat right during pregnancy and nourish your body and your baby.
Are Vitamin D Supplements Necessary in Pregnancy?
Vitamin D supplementation is recommended in pregnancy. There are known pregnancy complications with low vitamin D levels, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature delivery and small babies.
Also, mothers who take supplemental vitamin D during pregnancy will have children with better bone mineral density as they grow.
Recommended daily dose for vitamin D is 600 IU, which can be found in most but not all prenatal vitamins. Treatment doses up to 1000 to 2000 units’ of vitamin D per day are safe.
Recent studies conducted in the U.K. suggest that mothers who take supplemental vitamin D while pregnant are more likely to have children with higher bone mineral content as they age. The study measured bone mineral density or BMD in 9-year old children whose mothers supplemented with vitamin D throughout their pregnancy.
More vitamin D equates to better bone strength and a reduced risk for bone fractures resulting from bone thinning or weakening diseases like osteoporosis. The study appearing in a recent issue of the Lancet suggests that it is vital that women receive enough vitamin D to ensure the health and well-being of their children’s bones later in life.
Most people assume that calcium is the most important vitamin or
nutrient for bone health. Realistically speaking however, vitamin D is just as
important. Found in common foods like egg yolks, certain fishes, liver and
fortified foods including milk, vitamin D works in combination with other
vitamins and minerals to ensure healthy bone growth. Vitamin D helps the body
absorb valuable nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.
Researchers discovered that many pregnant women have a vitamin D deficiency, as do the elderly. The study published in the Lancet suggests that early postnatal development and intrauterine development contribute to a person’s overall bone mineral accrual later in life. This in turn may influence their risk of osteoporosis.
How can I increase my vitamin D level?
People can get Vitamin D by exposure to direct sunlight. Typically most people will receive enough vitamin D simply through routine exposure, however recent skin cancer concerns are causing people to cover up (rightly so) under the sun. This can reduce the vitamin D the skin produces resulting from sun exposure.
Hence, those with light colored skin may be more at risk for deficiencies. They often apply sunscreen to protect from skin cancer. The sun ultimately provides one source of vitamin D however; hence this population may be more at risk for shortages. Others simply don’t eat enough of vitamin D rich or fortified foods. Studies also confirm that most people do not get enough vitamin D from their diet alone.
The study conducted of pregnant women included more than 150 women delivering babies in the early 90s. The researchers used blood tests to find out the levels of vitamin D in pregnant women. The study revealed that nearly 31% of women had a slight vitamin D deficiency while 18% had a significant vitamin D deficiency.
The researchers followed the infants into early childhood. By age nine the children received BMD scans, revealing that children whose mothers had vitamin D deficiencies during pregnancy had less BMD than those whose mothers had enough vitamin D circulating in their system while pregnant.
Are Vitamin D Supplements Necessary?
The researchers stressed how important satisfactory vitamin D intake is during pregnancy. The studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may result in stronger bones in children later in life.
The study suggests that more long-term studies are necessary to assess the role vitamin D plays in bone development and growth of children while in utero. Women who enjoy their last trimester during winter months may be more at risk for vitamin D deficiencies, in part due to less exposure to sunlight and lower than average levels of sunlight. These women may need vitamin D supplements to promote healthy bone development in their babies.
Vitamin D supplementation is not only good for babies, but also good for their mothers. Check with your doctor to ensure that you are receiving enough vitamin D supplementation during your pregnancy. Your health and that of your unborn baby may depend on it!
Vegan and Vegetarian Diet are Safe with Restrictions
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may be wondering whether or not it’s safe or healthy to continue your restricted diet during pregnancy. Eating a vegetarian diet can be safe if you plan your meals carefully to ensure that your baby is receiving all the nutrients he or she requires to grow strong.
diets, particularly vegan ones that exclude all animal products, may not
contain sufficient amounts of essential amino acids, iron, trace minerals,
vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, protein, iron, or complex lipids to maintain
a healthy pregnancy.
Also, because vegetarian diets require a high bulk of food, meeting the energy requirements that your body needs during pregnancy can be difficult.
You can resolve vitamin and nutritional deficiency with minor dietary changes, such as the following:
• You’ll want to supplement your diet with other non-meat and non-diary protein sources. You can find protein in peanut butter, nuts and nut products, legumes, tofu, and soy products. It’s very important that you get enough protein into your pregnancy diet.
• To get enough Vitamin D in your body, you can consume fortified milk, eggs, and fish. If you are a vegan, you can either take a supplement or spend 10 to 15 minutes in direct sunlight three times a week.
• Aim for at least four servings of calcium-rich foods each day to ensure you get 1200 milligrams of calcium daily. You can easily meet this calcium requirement by eating dairy products, fish and seafood, leaf green vegetables, tofu, beans, and peas.
• You need to get 27 milligrams of iron each day, so be sure to consume plenty of iron-rich foods. Iron can be found in prunes, raisins, dried beans, peas, peanuts and peanut butter, sweet potatoes, eggs, iron-fortified foods (like cereals), eggs, leafy green vegetables (like spinach and Romaine lettuce), broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
• Consume at least one source of vitamin C every day. You can find vitamin C in many fruits, such as oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, and honeydew. Vitamin C is also plentiful in vegetables like broccoli, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and mustard greens.
• Folic acid is incredibly important during pregnancy to protect against neural tube defects. Be sure to include this in your diet. Vegetarian sources of folic acid include chickpeas, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and dark green leafy vegetables.
• Don’t forget adding Vitamin A into your diet. Consume at least one source every two days (not every day). Too much vitamin A is not a good thing. These foods include carrots, squash, pumpkins, spinach, turnip greens, beat greens, apricots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.
• Eat one or more sources of Vitamin B12 every day. Vitamin B12 can be found in eggs, fish, shellfish and other seafood products, and diary products. Vegans may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
• Remember to take a prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement to make sure all your nutrients are met each day.
Causes of Food Cravings
Most women will experience food cravings at some point or another during pregnancy. In fact as many as half of all women will crave some type of cuisine or unusual food product during pregnancy. The most popular cravings include sweet and salty foods, while other women report craving spicy or fatty foods. Why all the cravings?
There are many reasons that women experience food cravings during pregnancy. Perhaps the simplest explanation is your body is working twenty four hours a day seven days a week to grow a healthy baby. Some cravings are simply the result of your body’s needs for additional calories during pregnancy.
Other cravings may signal nutritional deficiencies. Some women for example, even vegetarians, might experience unusual cravings for steak and red meat during pregnancy. This could simply be a sign that their bodies need more iron to help support their growing baby. Many women will crave food they will loath or wouldn’t dream of touching when not pregnant.
Many women describe their pregnancy cravings as overpowering. While scientists haven’t yet established why cravings are so strong among pregnant women, they certainly acknowledge that food cravings during pregnancy are the norm rather than the exception to the rule.
Dealing With Cravings During Pregnancy
Many women find it simpler to give in to their pregnancy related cravings. This doesn’t suggest you have to overindulge (say eat a whole chocolate cake). But, if you are carving sweet foods, why not indulge a little and enjoy a small treat? Typically this is the best way to deal with cravings. There is nothing wrong in most cases with indulging even bizarre cravings (pickles and ice cream for example). Hormones can do many interesting and wonderful things to the body, but also produce some rather bizarre food cravings. Just don’t expect your partner to jump on the bandwagon and join you when you start eating foods that are out of the ordinary.
Occasionally women experience weird cravings that signal they are deficient in certain nutrients. Vary rarely women have strange cravings for substances that are bad including dirt or other undesirable substances. This condition, often referred to in the medical community as “pica” usually signifies that someone is deficient in iron. Substantial cravings for ice may be a sign of an iron deficiency. Still other women may experience chocolate cravings which may be normal or a sign that women need more B vitamins. Still other patients desire large quantities of protein. Fortunately protein is very good for pregnant women and in most cases there is nothing wrong with indulging your cravings.
If however you find you are craving clay or dirt (pica) consult with your doctor. Other common strange cravings among women with this disorder include coffee grounds, plaster, toothpaste, paint chips or other unusual substances. Your doctor can test you for a condition called iron deficiency anemia, and may recommend additional supplementation to help relieve your cravings. Whatever you do don’t indulge in these weird cravings. Your body will not benefit by eating laundry starch or paint chips! Quite the opposite!
Remember, by and large most cravings are harmless and easily cured by a little attention to one’s diet and occasional indulgence. There is no reason to deprive yourself after all during pregnancy!