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8 Necessary Nutrients for Fetal Development

At this point, you likely know, I am expecting a son in September... so exciting!

As a dietitian, I pride myself on healthy habits, and as a now expecting momma, a key factor to staying healthy for me and my baby boy is proper nutrition and a quality prenatal vitamin.

So without further ado, here are the top 8 vitamins & minerals for a healthy pregnancy!

*keep in mind: less than 10% of nutrient supplements are absorbed in the body, so taking more than the recommended daily dose and consuming adequate food sources is essential.

1. Choline is a nutritional compound that aids in fetal spinal cord and brain development.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 450 mg (about the same as non-pregnant adult)

  • Food Sources: eggs, chicken, beef, fish, split peas, chickpeas

*If you are vegan, keep in mind that your supplementation may need to be higher than those who consume the foods listed above.

2. Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid, essential for fetal brain & retina development. This fatty acid is particularly important for mothers during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy and in infants.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 300 mg/day (about the same as non-pregnant adult)

  • Food Sources: seaweed & fatty fish (salmon)

3. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, helps form the brain and spinal cord around week 6 of pregnancy (meaning that adequate intake of folate helps prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy). Some women may not even know they are pregnant in week 6 of pregnancy, which is why folate intake is so important prior to pregnancy, as well.

Something important to note about this vitamin is that it comes in different forms. The ideal, most absorbable form to consume is methylfolate because it is in its biologically active form & does not need to be converted to another form.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 600 mcg/day (400mcg for non-pregnant adults)

  • Food Sources: green leafy vegetables, edamame, lentils, sweet corn, broccoli, avocado

4. Iodine helps make thyroid hormones. This mineral not only aids in proper thyroid functioning of the mother and baby, but it also regulates the baby's nervous system.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 250-300 mg/day; higher needs in pregnancy, as the mother shares stores with baby

  • Food Source: iodized salt, fish & shellfish, seaweed, eggs, prunes & dairy products

5. Iron is a mineral necessary to make hemoglobin which carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, the body needs significantly more hemoglobin to carry oxygen to both mother and baby.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 27 mg/day (45 mg/day for vegans who are pregnant)

  • Food Sources: meat, poultry, seafood, green leafy veggies, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, dried fruit, molasses, dark chocolate, legumes

*If you are vegan, keep in mind that your supplementation may need to be higher than those who consume foods listed above.

6. Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is necessary to synthesize DNA in the developing baby. Vitamin B12 and folate work together to create red blood cells and to help iron function properly in the body. Vitamin B12 and folate also collaborate to support immune function and mood. By trimester 3, vitamin B12 levels fall by 30%, so make sure you are supplementing if you're an expecting mama! The best form of B12 is methylated B12, also known as methylcobalamin, because it is most absorbable.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 1000 mcg/day for pregnant vegans in supplement form; pregnant non-vegans may only need a small amount of supplementation because of high dietary consumption

  • Food Sources: animal products (clams, tuna, crab, beef, eggs, cheese, etc.); nutritional yeast & other fortified foods (cereal, tofu, etc.)

*Note: Vitamin B12 is not naturally found in plant-based foods in today's society. Because of this, supplementation is essential, at all times. This, of course, includes pregnancy, where higher intake is necessary, particularly in vegans.

7. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that acts more like hormone. It helps develop baby's bones, kidneys, heart, teeth and nervous system. Additionally, it helps with absorption of calcium which is needed in elevated amounts during pregnancy, for mother and baby.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 600 IU/day (this could look like 4000 IU in supplement form!)

  • Food Sources: fish, eggs, tofu, fortified juice, mushrooms in sun!

*Note: If you are vegan, calcium supplementation is recommended, especially considering dietary preferences change with food aversions for some expecting mothers.

8. Vitamin K2 is a fat soluble vitamin that helps with bone development of baby and helps the mother maintain bone density during pregnancy.

  • Daily Recommended Dose: 90 mcg (supplement form)

  • Food Sources: egg yolks, sauerkraut, butter, chicken, eel, beef liver; one plant source: natto (a Japanese fermented soy food)

*Note: If you are vegan, vitamin K2 supplementation is recommended, and often found in vitamin D3 supplements.

Mamas- I know this can feel overwhelming and like an information overload. Know that most prenatal supplements have many of these nutrients.

The prenatal I take is Ritual Citrus Essenced. Not affiliated/sponsored, just love it. I suggest taking at night to avoid post-consumption Omega-3 burps.

If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to reach out!

Ashley Grant, RDN, LDN

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