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Healthful Eating for a Safe Pregnancy

Nothing can replace the benefits of a well-balanced diet, but once healthful eating habits are established, women may benefit from taking dietary supplements to decrease the risk of birth defects in their babies and to prevent and treat ailments that can accompany pregnancy.

| April/May 1997

  • A mother's vitamin levels can be cruicial to her infant's development.
    Photo by mahalie/Courtesy Flickr:

Treating complications naturally

Here, Kathie Golden and Sarah Ackerly, naturopathic physicians and midwives, give their recommendations for supplementation to ease two common complications of pregnancy.

Nausea—During the first trimester especially, many pregnant women become nauseated as progesterone and estrogen levels rise. Vitamins B6—found in all foods but especially in brewer’s yeast, carrots, chicken, and wheat germ—and K, found in alfalfa, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, molasses, and egg yolks, can help alleviate nausea because those two vitamins help regulate the nausea center in the brain.

One caution: the Balchs warn against taking large doses of synthetic vitamin K during the last weeks of pregnancy because it can be toxic for newborns. Babies, however, are sometimes given vitamin K shots if the mother’s diet is low in the nutrient and did not pass sufficient amounts through the placenta to the baby. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting.

Depression—Hormonal changes and swings in blood sugar are a normal part of pregnancy, but vitamin B6, which is essential to mental and emotional function, can be useful in balancing the emotions. According to The Nutrition Desk Reference by Robert Garrison, Jr. and Elizabeth Somer (Keats Publishing, 1985), deficiencies in this vitamin can cause weakness, mental confusion, irritability and abnormal electroencephalograms. Boron and chromium, Golden says, can help treat postpartum depression by regulating blood sugar.

Laying the foundation: Preconception health

Difficulty in conceiving a child may have many causes. If your health-care provider has ruled out anatomical or hormonal abnormalities or psychological problems, consider your nutrition. Processed foods, foods grown in nutrient-depleted soils, environmental toxins, and certain drugs have caused nutritional deficiencies. Even the use of birth control pills can cause deficiencies in vitamin B6, iron, and folic acid.

For her patients who are having trouble conceiving, Sarah Ackerly, a naturopathic physician and midwife at the Open Gate Traditional Health Care Clinic in Brunswick, Maine, recommends that they change their diet to include more of vitamins A, E, and C as well as the B vitamins and zinc. If her ­patients prefer supplements, she makes dosage recommendations based on their individual health profiles. (If you are interested in taking therapeutic doses of vitamins, it is wise to seek your health-care professional’s advice; taking high doses of vitamins, even a multivitamin, may block absorption of other key nutrients.) Vitamins B6 and B12 are necessary for a healthy menstrual cycle and conception. Vitamin B6 supports many bodily functions, including protein metabolism and the formation of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 promotes the synthesis of DNA and the formation and maturation of red blood cells. Intrinsic factor, a substance normally secreted by the gastric glands, is necessary for its utilization, and a deficiency of this factor causes anemia.

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