What you eat before and during pregnancy can really make a difference
For a lot of parents’ giving their child the best start in life centres on what happens after your baby is born, like breastfeeding and having a safe and nurturing environment. But did you know that there are other factors that can shape your child’s long-term future before they are born, indeed even before you are pregnant?
If you are reading this article, you probably already know that taking 400iu folic acid while you are trying to get pregnant and for the first three months of pregnancy can reduce the likelihood of your baby having a neural tube defect. But did you know that research published in The Lancet earlier this year has drawn attention to a worrying link between maternal iodine deficiency during pregnancy and low IQ in children? The team behind the study found a direct correlation between mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy and lower than average IQ scores in their children. As Iodine is found in seafood, including kelp, many women will be deficient in Iodine because many people do not eat enough fish.
Much recent research has also focused on Vitamin D. Many women are advised to take vitamin D during pregnancy and rightly so, as some estimates suggest that at least half the population or more become deficient during the winter months. You will probably know that Vitamin D is important for bone health, but as nearly every receptor in the body has a vitamin D receptor it is clearly more important than just for bone health. Much research has focused on Vitamin D’s preventative role in disease – such as cancer, depression and even diabetes. Indeed some research has said that Vitamin D supplementation can boost IFV success.
So, what should you do in terms of supplementation? If you are already pregnant, then I would buy a good quality multivitamin (designed for pregnancy, without Vitamin A), which will contain folic acid and Iodine and take it throughout your pregnancy. I would also recommend a fish oil supplement, especially in the last trimester when you baby’s brain grows the most. However, if you are only just thinking about having a baby I would take a pregnancy supplement for at least 3 months before your start trying, as it is too late to correct an iodine deficiency (if you are deficient) when you find out you are already pregnant – as you are likely to be 6 weeks into your pregnancy by then. Ideally, you should have your Iodine levels tested (which can be done privately), especially if you don’t eat fish or are vegetarian or vegan. I would also ask your GP to measure your Vitamin D stores, so that you can supplement the right amount accordingly. If your stores are low, then the amount found in a multivitamin and mineral supplement will not correct a deficiency.
But please remember that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet (apart from vitamin D as you can only make sufficient amounts from sunlight, so supplementation is essential during winter months). Green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and spinach – are your best source of folic acid and dietary sources of Iodine, include seafood, such as mackerel (which also contains the omega-3 fats which are also very important during pregnancy) and milk (ironically non-organic milk is a better source).
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