Nutrition Gaps during Pregnancy

by Grace Goodwin Dywer, MS, MA, RD, LDN

 

It’s old news that prenatal nutrition is crucial for staying healthy during pregnancy and optimizing your baby’s development.

But it might be *new* news to you that specific nutrients matter now more than ever - and on top of that, you might absorb these key nutrients less efficiently based on your genetic makeup.  

Rootine’s prenatal supplement program solves both of those problems by delivering nutrients in quantities that are 1) tailored to meet the increased nutritional needs during pregnancy and 2) customized to your unique genetic needs. Thanks to Rootine’s bespoke approach, we’re able to deliver you more of what you need without risking an overload of the nutrients that you don’t need. 

 

Mind the Nutritional Gaps of Pregnancy

Here’s a rundown of some key nutrients that your prenatal supplement program should include:

 

Folate & Folic Acid

Vitamin B9 is more commonly known as folate or folic acid (its synthetic form). Pregnancy is B9’s time to shine, as this nutrient is famously important for fetal development. Folate is necessary for a baby’s neural tube (the structure that ultimately becomes her brain and spinal cord) to properly form. Folate also serves as a coenzyme for synthesizing new DNA and proteins. On the maternal end, folate helps create new red blood cells so that mom’s blood volume can increase to accommodate pregnancy.

Dietary folate is found in plenty of foods, including beans, citrus fruits, greens, and nuts. Folic acid is added to many foods - like cereals, bread, pasta, and juice - as fortification. 

However, folate and folic acid from foods may not be enough for some individuals. Folic acid and most dietary folates must be “activated” in our body by an enzyme called MTHFR in order to actually function. About 85 percent of people have genetic variations that make the MTHFR enzyme less efficient at converting folate and folic acid into their active form. Rootine addresses this by offering a certain proportion of folate as pre-activated folate, depending on your genetic variant.

Taking a prenatal supplement that incorporates genetic testing for genes like MTHFR ensures that you’re getting the right type and dosage of folate for both you and your baby. 

 

Vitamin D

During pregnancy, vitamin D helps create your babies’ skeletal system and immune system. Getting enough vitamin D may also help prevent negative birth outcomes like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

About 50% of people both globally and in the US have insufficient vitamin D levels. This is even true among prenatal and postpartum women who take prenatal multivitamins that include vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is found in very few foods, and our main source of it is sun exposure. But thanks to indoor lifestyles and living at higher latitudes, many of us do not synthesize enough vitamin D. 

In addition to lifestyle challenges, we’ve got nutrigenetics to consider. About 11% of people have a genetic variant that makes it more difficult for their bodies to process vitamin D, elevating their needs even higher. Rootine takes your blood data and your genetic data into account to deliver vitamin D at the level you actually need. 

 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

From mom’s diet during pregnancy and lactation, omega-3 fatty acids - most notably, DHA - serve as building blocks for the baby’s brain and eyes. DHA has been found to play a role in reducing inflammation associated with pregnancy complications and preterm birth. 

The richest sources of DHA are cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. The standard American diet favors animal protein over marine proteins, so it’s no surprise that most people in the US are not getting an optimal amount of DHA from food.

Eating cold-water fish twice weekly is recommended during pregnancy to help supply both mom and baby with DHA. Some moms don’t meet these guidelines due to concern for fish-based mercury, adhering to a vegan diet, or disliking fish’s taste. Omega-3 supplementation from a high-quality, safely-sourced makes it easier to know that you’re getting what you need for a healthy pregnancy. 

 

Calcium

Calcium helps your baby develop a strong skeleton, particularly during the second and third trimester when growth really starts to accelerate. Moms need enough calcium so that they can transfer some to the fetus while maintaining their own maternal bone density. 

The recommended daily intake levels for calcium do not change during pregnancy, perhaps because mom’s body actually becomes more efficient at absorbing calcium during pregnancy. With that said, moms-to-be still need to eat and drink enough calcium to provide this critical bone-building ingredient.

It’s estimated that only about half of women in the US meet their recommended daily calcium needs. The richest sources of calcium are dairy foods like cheese, milk, and yogurt. Calcium is also available in soy, green leafy vegetables, sardines, and certain seeds.

Some adults struggle to digest the lactose (milk sugar) in dairy foods thanks to a genetic variation. Rootine accounts for this by offering extra calcium based on your lactase enzyme capabilities, in addition to your dietary preferences which are analyzed during the lifestyle assessment. How you eat can have a large influence on how much calcium you intake on a daily basis. Vegans, for example, typically consume less calcium than their omnivore counterparts.

 

When to Start Supplementation

Eating as diverse an array as possible of fresh, colorful, whole foods is key for nourishing your body before, during, and after pregnancy. Adding a prenatal supplement to this healthy diet is an insurance policy to make sure you’re filling any possible gaps. 

I recommend starting your prenatal supplementation program three months before you start trying to conceive and/or discontinue using contraception. That provides enough time to restore any nutrient levels that were low, plus offers a buffer in case you become pregnant earlier than expected! 

Male partners can also start supplementation 3 months in advance (as nutrition influences sperm quality, too!). Have your partner check out this blog we wrote about the nutrients men need most.

If you’re already pregnant, no stress: start a prenatal supplement as soon you see your positive test result. 

Once your baby arrives, prenatal supplements are still useful! Continuing to take your prenatal supplement while you’re breastfeeding helps support the nutritional demands of making milk. Taking a prenatal vitamin postpartum can also promote your recovery by restoring nutrient levels that were depleted throughout the pregnancy and birth. 

 

By Grace Goodwin Dywer, MS, MA, RD, LDN

Hear more about peri-natural nutrition from Grace at GraceGoodwinDywer.com