How much red meat do you eat each week? If you're pregnant, the answer is probably "not enough." Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. Your blood volume expands during pregnancy to accommodate changes in your body and to help your growing baby create its own blood supply, which effectively doubles your need for iron. Research by University of Rochester Medical Center has also shown that an iron deficiency in infants might slow the onset of auditory nervous system development, compromising the baby's ability to comprehend sound. The moral of the story: Add lean red meat to your diet at least a couple of times a week.
Both you and your baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth, and you specifically need it to help your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run at their peak. Good sources of calcium are dairy products, with milk, yogourt and cheese being among the best-absorbed sources of calcium. If you don't eat dairy, then you can up your intake of broccoli and kale.
Vitamin D also helps with building your baby's bones and teeth. Good sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, such as salmon, along with vitamin D-fortified milk and orange juice.
This B vitamin is essential, as it can help prevent neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and dried beans and peas are great sources of folate. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid. As well as addressing the health concerns outlined above, folic acid supplementation has also been shown to decrease the risk of your baby arriving preterm.
At every stage of life, protein is important for optimal health, but when you're pregnant, it is crucial for your baby's growth. Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products and good-quality peanut butter are all great sources of protein. This is partly why Health Canada recommends pregnant women eat at least three servings of fish per week in Canada's Food Guide.
Zinc — found in lamb, beef, crabmeat, fortified cereals, nuts and beans — is an essential nutrient throughout all stages of pregnancy, as it helps your baby's cells to grow and replicate. Without adequate zinc intake, you might actually be risking miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. It's advised to have between 12 and 15 milligrams of zinc per day during pregnancy. If you're not sure that you're getting enough zinc in your diet, then a good prenatal vitamin might help give you a boost with a supplement of zinc.
Iodine is a necessary element for the production of thyroid hormones. We women need more iodine than usual during pregnancy, because when our bodies are busy growing humans, our maternal thyroid hormone production increases by about 50 per cent. According to the World Health Organization, severe iodine deficiency is "associated with poor obstetric outcomes, including spontaneous abortion, prematurity and stillbirth." You can boost your iodine intake substantially by sprinkling iodized salt onto foods in your diet.
An omega-3 fatty acid that helps your baby's brain development — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — consumed during pregnancy can actually help provide your baby with a better attention span and a greater capacity to learn. Getting DHA can be as simple as adding more fish — Health Canada recommends "at least 150g of cooked fish each week" — or omega-3-fortified eggs to your diet.
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