The Importance Of Micronutrients During Pregnancy - Part I
Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life and every expecting mother wishes for a healthy baby. Yet, the progress and outcome of each pregnancy depends on multiple factors such as the mother’s diet and life style before and during pregnancy, the genetic makeup of the parents, and the physical and psychological health of the woman.
Every woman of childbearing age should take care of her health all the time. The early days and weeks of pregnancy are critical for fetal development, when a woman may not be aware that she is pregnant. In the first 8-12 weeks of pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes rapid changes, some experience morning sickness and lose important nutrients.
The placenta, which is a highly vascular organ essential for the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the mother and the developing fetus is formed in the first few weeks. The placenta also produces hormones required to maintain the pregnancy to term and to prepare the mother’s breast tissue for nursing the baby. If the woman is deficient in receiving adequate nutrients in the early days of pregnancy, it results in poor placental development, which is difficult to correct later and thus compromises fetal development.
Proper nutrition and especially a constant supply of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and other micronutrients is very important for a developing fetus and the expecting mother. Different organ development in the fetus starts and continues at different periods during pregnancy. Inadequate nourishment in any phase of pregnancy will affect organ systems, birth weight, and survival of the baby. This is important because how the organs develop during pregnancy can determine how their growth continues after the baby’s birth. Moreover, this may have a long-term negative impact on the mother’s health as well.
Most pregnant women are expected to gain approximately 25-30 pounds during the 38-40 weeks of pregnancy. Although the normal birth weight of a healthy baby is 7-8.5 pounds, the rest of the weight gained during pregnancy is distributed throughout the woman’s body to support the baby and prepare for lactation. While most of the focus is on the baby’s growth, a woman’s body also undergoes several changes during the second and the third trimester of pregnancy. For example, there is a 30-50% increase in the woman’s blood volume during the second trimester of pregnancy and her body’s requirement for proteins, iron, folic acid and other nutrients are very high in order to support this increase. Therefore, she is prone for high blood pressure, anemia, high blood sugar and other cardiovascular conditions if she does not have a sufficient supply of critical micronutrients.
During the course of pregnancy, the body’s demand for total caloric energy from food increases, compared to a non-pregnant state. It is estimated that the body’s caloric demands increase about 300 calories per day and the protein requirements increase by 10 grams per day. Increased amounts of micronutrients are required to support the increased basal metabolism of the mother’s body and to maintain her own tissues as well as support the growing fetus. Unlike fats, the body does not store excess amino acids. If proteins and minerals such as calcium are not adequately supplied, these important nutrients are extracted from the mother’s body stores such as her muscles and bones, thus making her vulnerable for future health issues of her own.
We will elaborate more on the specific micronutrients required during pregnancy in our next issue of the Health Science News Page.