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Nutritional Needs of Pregnant and Nursing Women

Eating for two means that you’re the sole source of nutrients for your growing fetus. If you don’t get the vitamins you need in your diet, neither will your baby. The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for many nutrients are the same as those for women who aren’t pregnant. But when you’re pregnant, you need extra

  • Vitamin D: Every smidgen of vitamin D in a newborn’s body came from his or her mom. If the mother doesn’t have enough D, neither will the baby. Are vitamin pills the answer? Yes. And no.

    The qualifier is how many pills, because although too little vitamin D can weaken a developing fetus, too much can cause birth defects. That’s why until new recommendations for vitamin D are issued, the second important d-word is “doctor.” As in, check with yours to see what’s right for you.

  • Vitamin E: To create all that new tissue (the woman’s as well as the baby’s), a pregnant woman needs an extra vitamin — the approximate amount in one egg.

  • Vitamin C: The level of vitamin C in your blood falls as your vitamin C flows across the placenta to your baby, who may — at some point in the pregnancy — have vitamin C levels as much as 50 percent higher than yours. So you need an extra 10 milligrams vitamin C each day (1/2 cup cooked zucchini or 2 stalks of asparagus).

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): To protect the baby against structural defects such as cleft palate or a deformed heart, a pregnant woman needs an extra 0.3 milligrams riboflavin each day (slightly less than 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal).

  • Folate: Folate protects the child against cleft palate and neural tube (spinal cord) defects. As many as two of every 1,000 babies born each year in the United States have a neural tube defect such as spina bifida because their mothers didn’t get enough folate to meet the RDA standard.

    The accepted increase in folate for pregnant women has been 200 micrograms (slightly more than the amount in 8 ounces of orange juice). But new studies show that taking 400 micrograms folate before becoming pregnant and through the first two months of pregnancy significantly lowers the risk of giving birth to a child with cleft palate. Taking 400 micrograms folate each day through an entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defect.

  • Vitamin B12: To meet the demands of the growing fetus, a pregnant woman needs an extra 0.2 micrograms vitamin B12 each day (just 3 ounces of roast chicken).

If you are breast-feeding, you need extra vitamin A, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate to produce sufficient quantities of nutritious breast milk, about 750 milliters (3/4 liter) each day. You need extra vitamin D, vitamin C, and niacin as insurance to replace the vitamins you lose — that is, the ones you transfer to your child in your milk.

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