The facts on nutrients important for pregnancy

Fish, omega-3 and mercury 

Fish and seafood should be an important part of your diet in pregnancy. It is an excellent source of protein, is low in saturated fat, has high amounts of omega 3 and can be a good source of iodine. 

Omega-3 fatty acids have a role in the development of a baby’s central nervous system and brain, and the retina in their eyes. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption during pregnancy has also been linked to a reduction in the risk of preterm birth and may lengthen pregnancy too. 

Women often cut down (or avoid) fish in pregnancy due to fears of mercury (a heavy metal linked to damage to the developing nervous system). Mercury accumulates in larger fish (those up the top of the food chain), as they eat smaller fish. This includes only a small number of fish. Pregnant women can safely eat fish in pregnancy if they follow the Food Standards Australia New Zealand guidelines (see image). Take a look at our suggested meal plans and recipes for ideas.
 

Source: FSANZ

 

Fish is a nutrient rich food for you and your baby.


Folate

Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin needed for healthy growth and development of your baby. Taking folic acid reduces the chance of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in your baby. It is recommended that women trying to conceive take an extra 400 micro grams (mcg; µg) per day of folic acid. The best way to get this is from a supplement. 

It is important to take folic acid at least one month before, and three months after, you become pregnant. You still need to eat foods that contain folate. Rich dietary sources of folate include green vegetables, fruit, and fortified cereals.
 

Source: FSANZ

 

Taking folic acid reduces the chance of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in your baby


Iodine 

We need more iodine when pregnant and breastfeeding for growth and development, especially for your baby’s brain. Studies show that the Australian population is mildly iodine deficient.  Pregnant woman need 220 micrograms (mcg; µg) of iodine per day. All women should take a supplement with 150 microgram s(mcg; µg) daily during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


 

Good food sources of iodine are bread, cereals, fish and seafood; plus most pregnancy multivitamins.


Iron

Iron is needed to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around you and your baby’s blood. Not having enough iron in your diet and body can cause anaemia, where there are not enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen around your body.  

The amount of iron you need increases during pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimesters from 18mg to 27mg per day. Good sources of iron include red meats, fortified cereals (e.g. Weet Bix, Special K), cashew nuts, baked beans and green leafy vegetables. 


 

It can be hard to get enough iron from your diet when you are pregnant. An iron supplement may be suggested by your dietitian, midwife or doctor.


Vitamin D 

Vitamin D helps calcium keep your bones and teeth healthy and strong.  A blood test will tell you if you do not have enough Vitamin D in your blood. Vitamin D comes from the sun, supplements and a small amount from food.

Most of the Vitamin D your body needs comes from the action of sun on your skin. Do not get sunburnt as this will increase your risk of skin cancer. If you are low in Vitamin D you will require an additional Vitamin D supplement of at least 1000IU.
 

Calcium  

Calcium is a mineral that helps form and maintain healthy teeth and bones for both you and your baby. Your body is more efficient at absorbing calcium during pregnancy therefore the recommendation is the same as for non-pregnant women at 1000mg per day.

Two to three serves per day of calcium rich food are recommended. One serve is equal to a glass of milk (250mL), a tub of yogurt (200g), 2 slices of cheese (40g), a glass of soy, rice or other cereal drink with at least 120mg of added calcium per 100ml. Learn more about the five food groups.


 

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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