Whether you are trying to conceive or are currently pregnant, providing your body with the essential nutrients is important for proper fetal development. Most mamas only take a prenatal vitamin and assume it will be enough to create a new life. However, one of leading causes of infertility is maternal nutritional deficiency. Let's dive into the basic building blocks, both dietary and supplemental, that it takes to build a baby.
Macronutrients are the basic building blocks that allow our bodies to generate energy, in the form of calories. The 3 macronurtients are:
Diets throughout history have consisted of a balance between these nutrients. Fat made up 50-80%, protein between 10-30%, and carbohydrates between 5-35%. Both history and research suggest that the ideal ratio for fertility and pregnancy is a high fat, moderate protein, and low to moderate carbohydrate diet.
Our bodies require fat for healthy cellular structure and function. Breast milk is a perfect example of how nature gets it right, as it is made up of 55% fat, 38% carbohydrates, and 7% protein. Also, eating fats with vegetables (i.e. olive oil on a salad or steamed veggies) helps your body better absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins will support a healthy cell function in mom and growth of baby. Protein is important for muscle creation. However, studies have found that pregnant hunter gather women are mildly adverse to protein intake. This is due to a decrease in the body's ability to make urea, a waste product of protein metabolism. Typically, a pregnant body will crave less protein. If the body require more protein, she will crave more. The prental body needs 10-15% protein, which equates to 50-75 grams (g): 1 egg has 6 g, 1 cup of chicken breast has 43 g, 1 cup of black beans has 39 g.
Major prenatal nutrition goals:
- Eat real, whole foods
- Maintain steady blood sugar levels
- Maintain steady blood pressure levels
- Incorporate essential nutrients to support developing baby and maintain mom's health
- Reduce risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, over or under weight gains
- Promote best post-partum recovery
Supplementation is important during pregnancy to provide mom with the essential nutrients to create a new life. Prenatal vitamins are essential, but quality matters. It is recommended to avoid options that are full of filler, artificial ingredients and colors, low doses or missing ingredients. I recommended taking whole food based prenatal vitamin with methylated B vitamins. Methylated B9 (L-5 methylterahydrofolate) and B12 (methylcobalamin) are the active forms of these vitamins and are easier for mom's body to use in developing her baby's nervous system.
Links to a few of my favorite prenatal vitamins:
Beyond a prenatal vitamin there are 3 other essential nutrients for building baby.
Vitamin D3 is a hormone that influences almost every cell in your body, and has been linked to boosting fertility rates in women and men.
Vitamin D benefits:
- Improves reproductive health
- Improves sperm quality and count
- Higher fertilization and implantation rates
- Lower risk of miscarriages
- Reduces risk of pre-eclampsia, premature delivery, and pregnancy complications
- Enhances immune system
- Decreased risk of infection, asthma, and eczema in baby
It is recommended to have your vitamin D levels (serum 25(OH)D) checked prior to supplementing. Optimal vitamin D levels are between 50-100 ng/mL. A minimum of 50 ng/mL is recommended to be hormonally healthy. Maternal levels greater than 65 ng/dL are optimal for transferring vitamin D to infant while breast feeding. The general recommended dosage is 2,000-4,000 IU per day to meet your body's needs; however, higher dosage may be necessary depending on you level.
Fish Oil/Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA) are important in promoting fertility and development of your baby's brain, eyes, and heart during pregnancy.
Fish oil benefits:
- Regulate hormones and increase blood flow to the uterus
- Help normalize menstrual cycle
- Promote ovulation
- Increase white cervical mucus to help the sperm reach the egg
- Produce healthier sperm
- Higher rates of conception
- Lower rates of miscarriage and premature birth
- Decreases chances of developing postpartum depression
- EPA is necessary to grow a healthy circulatory system (heart and blood vessels)
- DHA is important to build a healthy central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)
Sources of fish oil:
- Dietary: fish, eggs, meat, nuts, seeds, dark greens, and leafy vegetables
- Supplements: 1,000 - 3,000 mg/day
Probiotics help to establish a healthy microbiome. Microbes (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) colonize our mouth, gut, genitourinary tract, skin, and breastmilk. Supplementing with probiotics (10-20 billion c.f.u/day) will support a healthy immune system and digestion during pregnancy. During vaginal delivery mom gives baby their first dose of microbes. She continues to share and help baby's colonization through skin on skin contact and nursing, which helps the developing immune system and digestion.