A mother’s nutrition needs never stop changing. In part one of this series, experts at Abbott Healthcare delve into a mother’s dietary requirements to fuel her health through her 20s and 30s
Prioritising a mother’s nutrition— from your pregnancy and lactation to grandchildren and your golden years—is vital to ensuring that you are the healthy, happy mother children love to be around. But just like motherhood never stops changing, neither does a woman’s nutritional needs. Here’s a decade-by-decade guide to fueling a mother’s health:
Increase your folic acid intake
New recommendations published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, called Think Nutrition First, emphasise that your folic acid intake, years and even decades before pregnancy, can affect your fertility. What’s more, during early pregnancy, folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, helps ensure closure of the neural tube that becomes the baby’s spinal cord. By doing so, it helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), serious birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida), and the brain (such as anencephaly). Dr Irfan Shaikh, medical head for paediatric and maternal nutrition at Abbott, says, “The most common birth defect in India is neural tube defects (NTDs) and has a prevalence ranging from point five to 11 cases per 1,000 total births.”
While you can find folic acid in dark leafy greens such as spinach, legumes, sprouts, nuts and liver, are good sources of folic acid. Besides, almost all patients are prescribed folic acid either before or during pregnancy.
Pump more iron
By helping your red blood cells transport oxygen to all of your tissues, iron prevents anemia and related fatigue. But during your childbearing years, you need to consume more iron to keep your levels where they need to be. Dr Irfan says, “Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency seen in pregnant women in India. More than 50 per cent of women in the reproductive age group are iron deficient.”
During menstruation, your monthly loss of blood, could contribute to some iron loss each month as well. However, during pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body can increase by about 50 per cent, boosting your need for iron along with it. This increased iron consumption is needed for expansion of maternal tissues, including red cell mass, iron content of placenta and blood loss during parturition. More importantly, the need to increase your iron intake during one’s pregnancy is to effectively build the iron store in foetal liver to make it last for at least four to six months after birth. This is because the baby’s first food— milk is deficient in iron. While fertile and lactating women need 30 mg of iron per day, those who are pregnant require a full 38 mg per day. “Turn to pulses, sprouts, nuts, beans, dark leafy greens, tofu, meat, fish and poultry to fulfill your needs,” says Dr Shweta Rastogi, PhD, chief dietitian, Guru Nanak Hospital, Mumbai. Shake on some iodised salt Iodine can be tricky, especially for expectant mums. An essential micronutrient found in seafood, iodised table salt and even dairy products, iodine helps to regulate thyroid hormones for optimal physical growth and development of humans, and support your baby’s brain development during pregnancy. Deficiency of iodine causes goiter (enlargement of thyroid gland in the neck), neonatal hypothyroidism, and cretinism among newborns, mental retardation, delayed motor development, stunting, deaf-mutism and neuromuscular disorders. “However, in an effort to improve their heart health, many women are working to lower their sodium intake. Meanwhile, many moms shy away from fish during pregnancy and lower their salt drastically during pregnancy owing to edema or swelling in their feet. In that case, it’s easy for deficiency to occur,” explains Dr Irfan.