By Dr Khushboo Shah Sawant
Pregnancy not only brings along with it a time to rejoice and feel good but also heralds the beginning of a phase to maintain a healthy and safe lifestyle in order to ensure the best for the unborn baby as well as for the mother to be. It is essentially very important to go for pre-natal check ups. These visits are to ensure normal development of the baby as well as the overall health of the mother. The mother must get all the necessary blood and urine tests as advised by the doctor for HIV, haemoglobin, blood sugar levels, thyroid function and any other condition that is necessary to check for. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is very important with the onset of pregnancy with the mothers needing to increase their daily calorie intake by about 250-300 calories. The daily calorie intake should come from healthy foods like meats, fruits, dried fruits, vegetables and milk rather than by junk food like fried snacks, biscuits etc which would only add weight but mean of little or no health benefits. Including plenty of fibres and fluids to the daily diet is also very beneficial.
Would-be-moms are encouraged to take prenatal vitamins as they provide all the essential nutrients that mothers might not have in their regular diets. Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated multivitamins that make up for any nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet. Nutrients such as folic acid, iron and calcium which are very essential may be included in more concentrated amounts as women who are pregnant require increased amounts of the nutrients.
The recommendations of vitamin intake for pregnant women are:
Folic Acid: is one of the most important vitamins to take before and during pregnancy. Not only is it important for normal DNA formation and growth of the baby, but can reduce the risk of having a baby with a serious birth defect of the brain and spinal cord, called as Spina Bifida. Rich sources of folic acid are Green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, citrus fruits like oranges, papayas, grapes etc. Calcium is needed to maintain strong and healthy bones. It is important to have calcium for the expectant mothers to maintain her bone density especially since she is carrying extra weight during the second and third trimesters. Moreover, calcium is integral to the development of the fetus’ healthy tissues and bones. Milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt and eggs are rich sources of calcium.
Vitamin A, which is the healthiest form of Vitamin which helps fight infections and supports the healthy development of the eyes. It is found in Papaya, carrots, pumpkin, mangoes etc. Iron is also essential for the formation of red blood cells and healthy foetal development and is found in Green leafy vegetables, liver (pork, chicken), nuts, beef etc.
Vitamin C on its part helps absorb iron and is vital to tissue and cellular growth. Vitamin C also plays an important role in fighting infection, tissue repair, and healing. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, guavas, peas and papaya are good sources for Vitamin C while Vitamin B6 and B12 helps tissue and skin development, supports brain function, prevents anemia and supports normal function of enzymes systems. Rich sources are: sunflower seeds, fish, chicken, pork etc.
Vitamin D: Supports development of healthy teeth and bones. Exposure to early morning sunlight and eating nuts aids in Vitamin D intake.
Another important dietary factor to be taken into consideration is Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help promote the baby’s healthy fetal development and increase pregnancy wellness. It has been shown to support the development of a baby’s brain s, eyes and heart, enhance infant cognitive function nad attention span while decreasing odds of premature delivery. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in Fish, fish liver, walnuts etc. Apart from the medication advised by the doctor, a pregnant woman must avoid any other medications as far as possible. However, if the need is pressing then it is important to consult a doctor before taking any medication, as there are many drugs which when passed from the mother to the child, often harm the baby. Alcohol consumption is best avoided, by women during pregnancy and if possible, total abstinence is the best as alcohol intake increases the chances of miscarriages, low birth weight, future learning and speech problems in the child.
Similarly consumption tobacco even in the form of cigarettes or gutkha etc. has harmful effects such as premature delivery, small baby or even still birth i.e. giving birth to a dead baby. In terms of physical activity, moderate form of exercise is permissible, but strenuous exercises, lifting of heavy weight, bending excessively etc must be avoided at all times. Healthy weight gain during pregnancy can be anything around 8-15 kgs. However it may vary from person to person and dieting or any form to weight adjustment is strictly prohibited. Mental well being is another very important aspect of pregnancy, especially for the well being of the child. Expecting mothers must try to be positive and do things that give them peace of mind. Activities like reading a good book, going for a walk, etc should be promoted. Pregnancy should be a journey of physical and mental well being, keeping in mind what is the best for the mother as well as for the child.
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