During your pregnancy, you have the power to influence your baby’s future health.

Research into early life has shown that the combination of good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy will directly influence your growing baby and the development of organs such as the brain and the heart. Some experts believe that at most, 20% of their future health is determined by their inherited genes. But around 80% is determined by environmental factors, and nutrition plays a key role.

Providing the right balance of nutrients while your baby is growing and their organs are forming will help them to develop healthily. This will stand to them for their whole lives. Some key nutrients during this stage include folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and iron.

Folic acid

Sources: Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, fortified cereals, citrus fruits and your folic acid supplement.

Folate is a B vitamin which is found naturally in foods such as leafy green veg and citrus fruits. Folic acid is the man made form of folate. Before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy you should be taking a 400µg folic acid supplement everyday. Folic acid is necessary during pregnancy for the normal folding and closure of the baby’s neural tube to form the brain and spinal cord. This occurs between days 21 – 28 after conception.

4 key nutrients

Omega-3 fatty acids

Sources: Oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel, linseeds, rapeseed oil and walnuts.

Long chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fats to include in your diet. DHA is one of these important fats which is thought to play an essential role for your developing baby. It is an important component of the brain, nervous system and retinas of the eyes. Therefore, during pregnancy it is advised to eat oily fish 1-2 times per week. This will help to make sure you are getting enough of these essential fatty acids to support baby’s healthy brain and eye development. Omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA also support the normal function of the heart in adults.

Vitamin D

Sources: Oily fish such as salmon, eggs, fortified milks and cereals and your vitamin D supplement.

A 5µg supplement everyday will help you to reach the recommended level as it is not naturally present in many foods

Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when skin is exposed to sunlight. However, due to Ireland’s northerly latitude and lack of sunshine it is often lacking in Irish diets. Vitamin D is important to maintain healthy bones for you and your developing baby and to aid calcium and phosphorous absorption. It also plays a role in cell division and muscle function. Your baby’s vitamin D stores at birth will also depend on your vitamin D stores. During pregnancy you need 10µg of vitamin D everyday. Taking a 5µg supplement everyday will help you to reach this recommended level as it is not naturally present in many foods.

Iron

Sources: Red meat, chicken, eggs, beans, fortified breakfast cereals and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.

Iron plays several key roles in the body. It is important for the transport of oxygen to your developing baby. It is also important for healthy blood which is essential during pregnancy due to the increased blood volume in your body. Blood volume usually increases by about 30-50% during pregnancy. Iron also helps to reduce tiredness and it supports your baby’s brain development. Your body adapts during pregnancy to absorb more iron from the diet. However, it is still essential that there is enough there to support you and your baby. So you should aim to eat iron rich foods twice daily.

These are just some of the important nutrients to consider during your pregnancy. There are many more that also play a role. A healthy, varied diet including foods from each food group is the best way to ensure that you are meeting all of your and your baby’s requirements.