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A mother's diet is critical for normal fetal development and having a health baby.
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You're probably aware that it's important to eat well during pregnancy, but you may not realize how critical getting the right nutrients and enough vitamins and minerals are for normal development of a fetus. Eating a poor diet not only affects development during pregnancy, but it could also have negative effects on the future health and well-being of the baby.
When you're pregnant, the amount and type of food you eat is extremely important for the health and normal development of your fetus. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that, on average, pregnant women should consume 2,200 to 2,900 calories daily, increasing their intake gradually as pregnancy progresses. A study published in May 2010 in "Biology of Reproduction" describes the negative effects of poor maternal nutrition on growth and development of the fetus. It indicates that, when a pregnant woman doesn't consume enough food and becomes undernourished, overall fetal growth slows and the baby could be underweight. Human babies with low birth weight are more likely to develop problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and neurological problems later in life, according to this study. Although why poor nutrition and low birth weight lead to these problems is not clear, research with laboratory animals published in July 2000 in "The Journal of Nutrition" found that poor maternal nutrition changes gene expression in fetuses, compared to those of normal animals, suggesting that a mother's poor diet may alter how fetal genes function.
The balance of dietary nutrients is also important in ensuring normal fetal development. Each day, a pregnant woman should consume at least 71 grams of protein and 175 grams of carbohydrate. She should also consume about 13 grams of healthy fats such as oils derived from plants, along with a moderate amount of other fats. A diet poor in protein can be especially damaging to fetal brain development, according to many research studies on animals. In a landmark study published in August 1999 in "The Journal of Nutrition," researchers found that laboratory animals fed a normal calorie but low-protein diet during pregnancy and nursing had offspring with poor blood vessel development in their brains, compared to those of normally fed mothers. These animals also had reduced brain DNA content and lower brain weight as adults.
Vitamins and Minerals
It's also extremely important to get enough vitamins and minerals during pregnancy to help ensure normal fetal development. Although it's difficult to associate a particular vitamin deficiency with a fetal problem in humans, laboratory studies on animals have given many clues to their importance. Low vitamin C could cause abnormal heart development, while low vitamin A may slow cell division in general and interfere with lung, liver and heart development. Deficiency in vitamin D can slow general growth and development of bones in fetuses, while low intake of vitamin K could interfere with development of the face and teeth and with mineral deposition in fetal bones. Fetuses also need all of the B vitamins, but one of these, folate, is especially important. Low folate levels may cause spina bifida, a condition in which development of the fetal spinal cord and vertebral column is abnormal. Minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and iodine are also crucial for both the fetus and the mother, helping ensure a normal pregnancy and healthy full-term baby.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet low in saturated fats and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is an important first step. You might consult a registered dietitian while developing a healthy diet plan. Your doctor may recommend taking a vitamin and mineral supplement designed for pregnancy, called a prenatal formula, starting several months before conception to ensure that your nutritional status is excellent and ready to support fetal development. If you have any condition that interferes with absorption of nutrients, you should discuss this in detail with your doctor to determine how best to ensure good nutrition for your fetus.