A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will go a long way to ensuring a healthy diet but some nutrients are particularly important - and you'll need to take supplements. Folic acid
Folic acid is important both before and during pregnancy as it helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Ideally women trying to conceive should take a 400 microgram tablet each day, and continue until the twelfth week of pregnancy, but if you were not taking it before you fell pregnant, start as soon as you find out the good news.
Foods such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice contain folate, a naturally occurring form of folic acid. If you or your partner has a neural tube defect, you have diabetes or there is a family history of the condition, you may need a higher dose of folic acid - your doctor can advise.
Though many vitamins can be gained from a good diet, supplements may help to provide you and your baby with essential benefits. Vitamin D, found naturally in oily fish, eggs and meat, regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, both of which are needed for healthy bones and teeth. The ideal source of vitamin D is sunlight, but if the bulk of your pregnancy occurs during the winter, a supplement will give your baby's bones a boost.
Vitamin C is another helpful little nutrient, as it protects cells, but most people get all they need from a diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Make sure to take a supplement especially formulated for conception and pregnancy - ordinary multi-vitamins should be avoided as they can contain too much vitamin A, which could harm your baby.
Calcium is an essential mineral as it helps to make your baby's bones and teeth strong. You should consume all the calcium you need as long as you are eating dairy products, green leafy vegetables and fish with edible bones such as sardines.
Iron is also normally gained from diet (lean meat, leafy vegetables and nuts), but some women become short of it during pregnancy and this can lead to anaemia. If you are feeling unusually tired, speak to your GP or midwife about the possibility of taking supplements.
Help with pregnancy health
If you are on a special diet, you may need help getting all the nutrients your baby needs. Vegetarians, for instance, may find it hard to get enough iron and vitamin B12 so may require supplements, and if you are on a strict vegan diet, you should ask to be referred to a dietician for advice on getting the necessary nutrients.
Meanwhile, if you are struggling to find the money to eat healthily or buy supplements during pregnancy, the Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to qualifying families, which can be used to buy milk, and fresh and frozen vegetables, as well as coupons for vitamins, both for pregnant and breastfeeding mums, and for children up to five years old. Visit the Healthy Start website to see if you qualify, or talk to your midwife about NHS organisations that also offer free vitamins.
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