Nutrition In Early Pregnancy
It is also the period when the developing embryo is highly susceptible to its environment. This is because at this stage, the placenta has not been formed fully. The placenta serves as a protective barrier for the fetus. It is selective in what is allowed through and to some extent protects the fetus from certain harmful effects.
Even more important however is that the fetus at this time is undergoing organogenesis, the development of the various organ systems of the body.
Over the years researchers have come to learn that certain elements in the environment can have an adverse effect on the fetus and that some of these elements have a predilection for particular systems. For example, the German measles virus has an affinity for and affects the development of the brain, eye and hearing systems.
We must actually go one step back. What is seldom realized by most mothers is that what they consume in their pre-pregnancy period has an impact on the conceptus. A proper and balanced diet serves not only to boost her immune system, but also gives the mother a head start for her fetus. For example, zinc and magnesium supplements have been shown to help bind hormones to their respective sites – an important function in early pregnancy because of the sudden surge in hormone levels.
In diabetic women, proper sugar control is essential if they are to avoid the harmful effects of high glucose levels on the embryo.
In general, one must enter pregnancy neither underweight nor overweight. Excessive body weight has been shown to decrease insulin activity and sex hormones – important aspects for proper organogenesis.
The best way to objectively assess your body weight is to compute your body mass index. It is your weight divided by your height squared. The appropriate range to enter pregnancy is to have a body mass index of between 20 to 24.
Having become pregnant, do the first things first. Do not be in a rush to start getting into a high protein, high calorie and highly supplemented diet.
Firstly, it is unnecessary and, secondly, you may not be able to do so because this is the stage of “morning sickness”. Perhaps this is nature’s way of telling mothers to “go slow”. Stick to your normal diet and try to avoid anything unusual, especially drugs.
Based on research, we know that there are certain substances that you should take and some you should avoid. The first is folic acid. A deficiency in folic acid in early pregnancy predisposes to neural tube defects in the fetus in some women. These defects include spinabifida (defect in the spinal cord), hydrocephaly (water in the brain) or even anencephaly (absent brain). In certain geographical regions, the prevalence of such defects is higher.
It is recommended that you take folic acid supplements during early pregnancy. An adequate dose is 400ug per day.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A. It is fat-soluble and belongs to the retinoid group. Its dominant role is in maintaining proper eye sight and is an antioxidant and, hence, part of the immune system. However, in the embryo, it is also known to play a role in cell differentiation and growth of the embryo.
Excessive retinol in early pregnancy has been implicated in causing developmental abnormalities in the fetus. It follows, therefore, that it would be prudent to keep its intake within the normal range or, even better, reduce it during this stage of pregnancy. Retinol is absorbed in the body as a provitamin of vitamin D, rich sources of which include liver, milk, eggs and in vegetable like carrots and spinach.
The other culprit, is excessive alcohol consumption. It has been associated with, and known to cause, a particular birth defect known as the “feat alcohol syndrome”. Proper development of the face, heart and brain is affected.
In essence, during this stage of pregnancy, a woman must exercise caution in what she takes or does not take. If you are not sure, avoid it. Stick to a normal diet if you can keep it down.
By 12 weeks, the nausea and vomiting is over, the organ systems of the fetus are fully formed and the mother must now embark on a special diet that will maximize the potential of the developing fetus.