What you eat influences your unborn baby's development
You know that what you eat influences the development of your unborn baby, but you may have not known what impact these nutrients have.
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There is growing scientific evidence that specific micronutrients are required during different periods of pregnancy for optimal growth and development of baby.

So often we hear that vitamins are important and there is a general assumption that since they are natural, they are all safe. This blanket safety assumption is dangerous and especially so during pregnancy. What of the lesser known micronutrients in pregnancy? What is important to know about these vitamins?

Vitamin A

This fat soluble vitamin is stored in the liver and is important for the development of the heart, lungs, eyes, kidneys, bones, circulatory, respiratory and central nervous systems in the developing foetus. It is also important for fat metabolism in the foetus and in fighting off infections.

Vitamin A is naturally found in two forms: preformed vitamin A (retinol) and betacarotene, which is a specific carotenoid. Preformed vitamin A is used directly by the body and is found mostly in animal products.

Read: Vitamins for a healthy pregnancy

The carotenoids, however, are found in fruits and vegetables (typically those that are orange) and the body converts this ingredient into vitamin A.

The average western diet provides plenty of vitamin A in the retinol form since it is available in meat, dairy, fish, eggs and fortified cereals. In addition, the fruits and vegetables we eat have carotenoids in them, which means that the body can manufacture vitamin A, should it need to.

During pregnancy it is important that your preformed vitamin A consumption (like liver) is not excessive as it can cause birth defects and liver toxicity in the developing foetus. This is not true for the carotenoids (fruits and vegetables), however, since they are converted to vitamin A as needed by the body.

For this reason you also shouldn’t double up on antenatal supplements which contain preformed vitamin A. Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should also avoid using high dose vitamin A medications that are used to manage acne.

Vitamin D

This vitamin is called the sunshine vitamin, since the body makes it when it is exposed to the sun. However, this conversion is affected by the use of sunscreen.Vitamin D conversion cannot happen through glass either. Many pregnant women avoid the sun since they are prone to pigmentation changes exacerbated by pregnancy.

Certain medications and gastrointestinal malabsorption This vitamin is called the sunshine vitamin, since the body makes it when it is exposed to the sun. However, this conversion is affected by the use of sunscreen.

Vitamin D conversion cannot happen through glass either. Many pregnant women avoid the sun since they are prone to pigmentation changes exacerbated by pregnancy.

Certain medications and gastrointestinal malabsorption toxicity levels in the blood and should not be taken in large doses without the supervision of your medical practitioner.

Also: "Eating oranges gives your baby jaundice"

Folic acid

Folic acid or folate is regarded as somewhat of a pregnancy superhero vitamin. Folate is important in the production of red blood cells and the development of the neural tube into the brain as well as the spinal cord of the foetus.

The birth defects associated with lack of folate occur within three to four weeks of pregnancy. Therefore it is important to take folic acid in the planning of pregnancy since so many women who are in the early stages of pregnancy are not even aware of this fact.

It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take a supplement with folic acid in it. If you are taking an antenatal supplement with approximately 400ug to 600ug (mcg) of folic acid, it is not recommended that you take any additional folic acid.

This is because high doses of folic acid have been associated with the development of some cancers.

In addition to the neural tube issues associated with folate deficiency, supplementation with folate can ensure your baby is protected against cleft lip, premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage and poor growth in the womb. Foods naturally high in folate include dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, and fortified cereals.

More info about: Epidurals and spinal blocks

Choline

This important nutrient is necessary to assist in proper development of brain cells. A number of scientific studies have shown adequate choline intake during pregnancy may impact not only on baby’s ability to learn and remember, but may also protect against certain mental illness.

Choline, like folate, is also important in the development of the foetal neural tube. Foods that are rich in choline include eggs, meat, fish, raw spinach and some nuts. Most antenatal vitamin supplements do not contain choline, hence dietary sources remain the best source.

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