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Thoughts on nutrition, vitamins, and pregnancy.


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Eating for Two
Thoughts on nutrition, vitamins, and pregnancy.

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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

HealthThe old adage "You are what you eat" takes on new meaning when you're expecting, because you're also the source of nutrition for your growing and developing baby. Nutritional choices for expectant mothers, and those who anticipate they may become pregnant in the near future, are vitally important as early nutritional choices establish a base of the proper dietary elements to insure the proper growth and development of a fetus. Planning for a new addition to the family involves more than just choosing new baby furniture and investigating daycare options. Your baby will be growing from a single cell, and by making certain your body is fully equipped from the start to fuel its growth, you can make sure you've done everything possible to get your baby off to the best start possible.

HealthThe March of Dimes notes that besides helping maintain and repair the body's cells and tissues, vitamins and minerals are vital in helping the body use the energy provided by foods for both expectant mother and her developing baby. It adds that an expectant mother can get most of the vitamins and minerals needed from eating a healthy and balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, milk products, and sources of low-fat protein such as beans, poultry, tofu, lean red meat, and some fish. Certain varieties of fish are off-limits to pregnant women, so consult with your physician or nutritionist. For women who may be lactose-intolerant and have trouble digesting milk, there are lactose-reduced milk products and orange juices fortified with calcium that can help provide the required intake of calcium.

The American Pregnancy Association refers to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendation that pregnant women should increase their usual servings of a variety of foods from the five basic food groups. Those increases include:

  • Three servings of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, dried beans, and peas for protein.
  • Three servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese for calcium.
  • Three to four servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Nine servings of enriched or whole-grain pasta, cereal, rice, or bread for energy.

The ACOG adds that pregnant women should only take vitamin supplements on the recommendation of their health care provider. It adds that supplements do not replace a healthy diet, but ensure that a woman is receiving enough daily nutrients.

However, there are a few dietary elements that an expectant mother may not be able to adequately obtain through a healthy diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, for those women who are pregnant or hoping to conceive, a doctor will most likely prescribe prenatal vitamins to help fill in any gaps. Prenatal vitamins are different than daily multi-vitamins in that they contain more folic acid, iron, and calcium—all elements that an expectant mother requires. Prenatal vitamins help insure that you're getting enough of these essential nutrients during pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic notes that each nutrient plays a very important role prior to and during pregnancy:

  • Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the spinal cord and brain including spina bifida. Folic acid may also reduce the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. The ACOG underscores the importance of folic acid for those women considering becoming pregnant and notes that they should take folic acid 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy. It adds that these women should take folic acid alone and not as part of a multi-vitamin preparation (in order to get enough folic acid from a multi-vitamin, a woman would be getting an overdose of the other vitamins). The National Institutes of Health adds that taking folic acid supplements at least 1 month before and throughout the first 3 months of pregnancy can lower a baby's risk for certain serious birth defects (neural tube defects) by as much as 70%.
  • Iron supports the development of blood and muscle cells in both the mother and baby. Iron helps prevent anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells. Iron may also reduce the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery.
  • Calcium is essential for strong teeth and bones in both mother and baby. It is also an important element in keeping the nervous, circulatory, and muscular systems functioning normally.

The Mayo Clinic adds that prenatal vitamins don't include omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote a baby's brain development. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish. If you are unable to eat fish or choose not to, you should ask your health care provider if omega-3 fatty acid supplements are recommended in addition to prenatal vitamins.

The National Institutes of Health states that each year 4 million babies are born in the United States and adds that, by some estimates, 1 million expectant mothers in America will experience some sort of pregnancy-related complication. By eating a healthy diet and ensuring the proper intake of vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, iron, and calcium (through diet or prenatal vitamins), those anticipating pregnancy as well as those already pregnant can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy.

As with any health-related issues, consult with your family physician or health care provider for advice relating to your specific set of circumstances.

American Pregnancy Association—
March of Dimes—
National Institutes of Health—
Mayo Clinic—
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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