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Nutrition and Pregnancy

Nutrition and pregnancy refers to the nutrient intake, and dietary planning that is undertaken before, during and after pregnancy.

In a precursory study into the link between nutrition and pregnancy in 1950 women who consumed minimal amounts over the eight week period had a higher mortality or disorder rate concerning their offspring than women who ate regularly, because children born to well-fed mothers had less restriction within the womb.[1]

Not only have physical disorders been linked with poor nutrition before and during pregnancy, but neurological disorders and handicaps are a risk that is run by mothers who are malnourished, a condition which can also lead to the child becoming more susceptible to later degenerative disease(s).[2] 23.8% of babies are estimated to be born with lower than optimal weights at birth due to lack of proper nutrition.[3]

Nutrition before pregnancy

As with most diets, there are chances of over-supplementing, however, as general advice, both state and medical recommendations are that mothers follow instructions listed on particular vitamin packaging as to the correct or recommended daily allowance (RDA).

* Magnesium and zinc supplementation for the binding of hormones at their receptor sites.

* Folic acid supplementation, or dietary requirement of foods containing it for the regular growth of the follicle.

* Regular Vitamin D supplementation decreases the chances of deficiencies in adolescence. More importantly, it is known to reduce the likelihood of rickets with pelvic malformations which make normal delivery impossible.

* Regular Vitamin B12 supplementation, again is known to reduce the chances of infertility and ill health.

* Omega-3 fatty acids can increase blood flow to reproductive organs and may help regulate reproductive hormones.[4] Consumption is also known to help prevent premature delivery and low birth weight.[5] The best dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish. Some other omega-3 fatty acids not found in fish can be found in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and enriched eggs.[4]

Nutrition during pregnancy

The conception and the subsequent weeks afterwards is the time when it is at its most vulnerable, as it is the time when the organs and systems develop within. The energy used to create these systems comes from the energy and nutrients in the mother's circulation, and around the lining of the womb, such is the reason why correct nutrient intake during pregnancy is so important.

During the early stages of pregnancy, the placenta is not formed yet, so there is no mechanism to protect the embryo from the deficiencies which may be inherent in the mother's circulation, so it is critical that the correct amount of nutrients and energy are consumed. Supplement your diet with foods that are rich in folic acid, like orange and dark green leafy vegetables to prevent neural tube birth defects in your baby. Taking iron-rich foods like lean red meat and beans helps to prevent anemia and ensure adequate oxygen for your baby.[6] A necessary step for proper diet is to take a daily prenatal vitamins, that ensure their body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to create a healthy baby. These vitamins contain folic acid, iodine, iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and calcium.[7]
[edit] Potentially harmful determinants during pregnancy

It is advised for pregnant women to pay special attention to food hygiene during pregnancy in addition to avoiding certain foods in order to reduce the risk of exposure to substances that may be harmful to the developing fetus. This can include food pathogens and toxic food components, alcohol, and dietary supplements such as vitamin A.[5]

Dietary vitamin A is obtained in two forms which contain the preformed vitamin (retinol), that can be found in some animal products such as liver and fish liver oils, and as a vitamin A precursor in the form of carotenes, which can be found in many fruits and vegetables.[5] Intake of retinol, in extreme cases, has been linked to birth defects and abnormalities. However, regular intake of retinol is not seen as dangerous. It is noted that a 100 g serving of liver may contain a large amount of retinol, so it is best that it is not eaten daily during pregnancy, something which is also the same with alcohol intake in binge drinking.

Excessive amounts of alcohol have been proven to cause Fetal alcohol syndrome. The World Health Organization recommends that alcohol should be avoided entirely during pregnancy, given the relatively unknown effects of even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.[8]

Pregnant women are advised to pay particular attention to food hygiene and to avoid certain foods during pregnancy in order to minimize the risk of food poisoning from potentially harmful pathogens such as listeria, taxoplasmosis, and salmonella. Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid foods in which high levels of the bacteria have been found, such as in soft cheeses. Listeria are destroyed by heat and therefore pregnant women are advised to reheat ready-prepared meals thoroughly. Pregnant women should also wash their fruit and vegetables very thoroughly in order to minimize risk. Salmonella poisoning is most likely to come from raw eggs or undercooked poultry.[5] Maternal obesity has a significant impact on maternal metabolism and offspring development.[9] Insulin resistance, glucose homeostasis, fat oxidation and amino acid synthesis are all disrupted by maternal obesity and contribute to adverse outcomes.[9] Modification of lifestyle is an effective intervention strategy for improvement of maternal metabolism and the prevention of adverse outcomes.[9]

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