As January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, what better time than now to discuss the importance of nutrition and good health during pregnancy.
One nutrient, folic acid or folate, is especially important when it comes to preventing birth defects. Folic acid is needed for the development of a baby’s spinal cord and brain. Neural Tube Defects (i.e. spina bifida and anencephaly) have been linked to inadequate folic acid levels in mom.
As a result, women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms (600 micrograms if you are pregnant) to help reduce the risk of Neural Tube Defects. You can find folic acid naturally in foods such as citrus fruits, dark-green leafy vegetables, nuts, and liver. Folic acid is also fortified in foods such as grains, breads, cereals, pastas, and supplements.
In addition to folic acid, a healthy diet for pregnancy will also provide healthy amounts of calcium and iron, and eliminate alcohol. In pregnancy, calcium needs are 1,000 milligrams per day (1,300 mg/day if you are 14-18 years of age) and iron needs are 27 mg per day. Good sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and foods supplemented with calcium such as calcium-fortified juices. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, and poultry, spinach and leafy greens, oatmeal, and fortified breakfast cereals and iron supplements. A Registered Dietitian (RD) can help if you are not sure if you are meeting your nutrient needs for pregnancy.
For a healthy baby, avoiding toxic substances such as tobacco, cleaning solvents, lead, and mercury is also considered healthy practice for moms-to-be. Another danger is toxoplasmosis, a type of bacteria that can cause an infection and possibly harm your baby’s eyes, nervous system, skin, and ears. To prevent coming in contact with this bacteria wear gloves when working in the garden, and avoid eating undercooked meat and handling cat litter.