Nutrition: The Journey from Bump to Baby and Beyond

For some women, it’s only when they are trying to get pregnant or when they actually become pregnant that they think about their nutritional health, their lifestyle and what they put into their bodies. As we know, a developing baby derives all its nutritional needs from its mother so there must be an abundant supply of all nutritional co-factors.

Adequate nutrition during pre conception, pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding are absolutely vital for mother and baby. The responsibility of feeding and growing another human being is not one that is taken lightly.

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Photo courtesy of Angela Martin, Redboots Photography

Fertility is multi-factorial, there are many things that affect your ability to conceive, it’s important to look at every aspect of your diet and lifestyle. Your nutrient intake can maximise your (and your partners!) fertility and it can be beneficial to prepare for pregnancy by changing your eating and drinking patterns up to 3 months before conception. It takes 3 months for a women’s eggs to fully mature ready for ovulation and the quality of the eggs can change during the maturation process.

Once you’re pregnant you need to keep healthy and energised to help prevent problems such as morning (or all day!) sickness, anaemia, gestational diabetes, constipation, heartburn, haemorrhoids, excessive weight gain and more. It’s a time when nutritional needs are the greatest and all of your resources will be drawn upon.

The microflora of the vaginal canal is predominantly composed of lactobacillus and acidophilus, the same micro-organisms that should be predominant in the gastrointestinal system. During a vaginal birth, the baby should be exposed and inoculated with these organisms.

You can follow some simple steps to clean up your body – give yourself a pre-pregnancy ‘NCT’ to make sure you create the optimum environment for your baby to develop as well as boosting your own health and wellbeing. A few of them are mentioned here.

A good place to start would be a diet rich in good quality protein and lots of fresh vegetables, so focus on low mercury fish, the best quality lean meat and poultry you can afford, organic eggs, not forgetting your vegetable proteins such as pulses and beans, seeds and nuts. Vegetables supply the diet with some of the highest amounts of nutrition so eat a wide variety and eat them often!

It would be worthwhile to consider a pregnancy probiotic supplement to ensure your gut flora is healthy and that you pass this onto your baby. The microflora of the vaginal canal is predominantly composed of lactobacillus and acidophilus, the same micro-organisms that should be predominant in the gastrointestinal system. During a vaginal birth, the baby should be exposed and inoculated with these organisms. There are specific probiotics designed for babies too, especially important if baby is born by C-section and doesn’t get the benefit of the bacteria from the vaginal canal.

If there is a family history of allergies or atopic conditions (asthma, eczema, hayfever) ensuring your gut bacteria is healthy can greatly reduce your child’s chances of inheriting these conditions.

Essential fatty acids are crucial for brain, eyes and central nervous system development in a growing baby and they are even more vital in the last trimester of pregnancy where the intellectual development is at its most critical point. Early research indicates that they can also help prevent low birthweight and decrease the risk of premature birth. Focus on the Omega 3 fats found in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout, 2 or 3 times a week would be good as well as ground linseeds/flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, a handful or tablespoon a day. Avocados are also a good source and green leafy vegetables contain a small amount.

Once your bundle of joy has arrived, you will be coping with the demands of a newborn, may be breastfeeding and not have much time to cook and this is where a little pre-planning comes in handy.

And if that wasn’t enough food for thought a recent study suggests that pregnant mothers can influence their child’s palate before they’re born. So, if you want your child to like vegetables, eat plenty of them when you’re pregnant!

Before taking any supplements, pregnant women should consult with a qualified health care practitioner trained in the field of nutrition

Ciara Ryan is mother and a nutritionist at Ciara Ryan Nutrition.

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