Pregnancy - Key Ingredients For A Healthy Baby

Posted on June 17th, 2013

Photo by Trevor Bair

My wife and I are expecting a baby and while I am looking forward to educating my child about positive beliefs, coping, having a winning attitude, persistence, compassion, resilience, and other positive constructs there is not much that I can do right now to improve my child’s well-being other than provide a happy and peaceful environment for my wife.

However, my wife can do a number of things to improve the probability of giving birth to a healthy baby. After doing my own research through various scientific sources, I found a few practical steps you can take to make sure that you will have a healthy child.

Dr. John J. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist suggests that in the earliest stages of pregnancy babies mostly want to be left alone.1 This means that the mother must make sure that her emotional and physical well-being are taken care of. If you want your child to have a healthy body, well balanced temperament, and a high IQ, you need to maximize the mother’s peace and quiet. One of the most important organs during a chid’s development in the womb is the brain and there are four proven factors that can help ensure a healthy development of the brain:

  • Appropriate weight gain
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Limiting stress
  • Regular exercise

Reduce and Manage Your Stress

During pregnancy, babies develop a very active mental life where their brain is creating 8,000 neurons per second. This is a very important and delicate process, which requires a healthy environment. Because the baby is directly connected to the mother, what happens to the mother happens to the baby. Thus, if the mother is stressed the baby can feel stressed.

One of the primary functions of stress is to redirect the energy within the body to cope with problems. If the energy is redirected away from the baby’s development, there is a strong likelihood for all kinds of neurological problems, which may later reflect on the baby’s behaviour, physical or mental traits. This is why Dr. Medina recommends that during pregnancy the mother should eat right, stay fit, and really take care of her well-being in general.

Based on my research and personal experience, the top things you can do to manage stress are:

Daily Physical Exercise

The minimum recommended exercise is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. But this is only if your circumstances do not allow you to do more. If you have more time, you absolutely have to move more often because 30 minutes of exercise per day is not enough when you consider how much time people spend sitting.2 Consider also taking long walks in a park or anywhere else if you have that opportunity.3

Remember, physical exercise helps reduce stress, make the mother and baby happier, reduce labor pains, control blood sugar, increase mental functioning, improve rest, and improve overall health in many countless ways. For specific physical exercises during pregnancy you can take a look at Tracy Anderson’s The Pregnancy Project.

Supportive Social Network

Create and use a meaningful supportive social network of friends and family. Having lots of friends on Facebook and posting messages online is not a meaningful way to build a network. Connect with people you care about in person, talk to them live using Skype if they are away, and focus on the quality of the relationship. Compassion, kindness, sincerity, and real interaction are the qualities that you should be looking for.

Have a Good and Loving Marriage

You probably already know that life is not all about sunshine and rainbows, there are challenges that you have to deal with every single day. Resilience and coping in a loving marriage are important. Practical steps that you can take to improve your marriage include: maintaining constant open communication, practicing empathy, having frequent sex, sharing work, and having a solution-focused attitude in problem situations.

Pregnancy and child-rearing are very demanding and create additional stress in marriage. It is very important that you learn to become more flexible and manage your own stress to overcome personal and relationship challenges.

Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

The ideal situation is for the female to be in good health before becoming pregnant. Doctors may start a female on pre-natal vitamins before she is pregnant to help make sure the mother is in optimal health when conceiving. An extra 340 - 452 kcals and an additional 25 grams of protein are needed per day during the last six months of the pregnancy.4 Meat, dairy or eggs, as well as corn consumed should come from organic sources.

Try to eat less fish unless you can find some from deep, cold water where purity can be better. A lot of fish on the market is tainted with too many chemicals such as mercury and PCBs that are too much of a risk today for a developing fetus.

Prenatal Vitamins

Evita Ochel (natural health and optimal nutrition expert) suggests that all of the typical prenatal vitamins sold at stores like Materna are poor in quality and full of synthetic vitamins and minerals, fillers, and colors. She recommends these high quality prenatal formulas instead which use vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients from whole food sources (no affiliation):

  1. Vitamin Code® RAW Prenatal™
  2. Whole-Food Complexed Multivitamin + Herbs + Minerals
  3. Baby & Me™
  4. Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamins
  5. Standard Process - excellent company but don’t have single formula, you have to buy single supplements and use as personal needs dictate.

Most important of all, remember to eat lots and lots of vegetables, especially organic greens!

Folic acid

Folic acid is essential for spinal column development. Assuring adequate folic acid before pregnancy (400 mcg) and during the first trimester (600 mcg) helps to ensure the neural tube closes correctly (by day 28 of the pregnancy).5

There is as much as a 70% reduction in the rate of neural tube defects when a woman supplements with 400 – 600 mcg of folic acid. The neural tube closes before the first trimester ends, which is why nutritional guidelines for all women in their child bearing years should recommend taking a folic acid supplement or a multivitamin. 6 However, taking multivitamins does not mean that you will have a healthy baby if you continue to eat junk food. You have to learn about healthy nutrition and get essential nutrients from natural sources. Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition7, Evolving Wellness8, and Healthytarian9 are good starting points.

Food manufacturers have considered fortifying their foods with folic acid but this has been discouraged because research is indicating that too much folic acid (over 1000 mcg) may increase the risk of cancer. If many foods are fortified, it might be easier than you might think to consume too much folic acid. Plus, isolated nutrients, especially in synthetic form, do not have the same benefits as when they come to us as part of whole, natural foods.

Sources of folate (folic acid):10

  • Leafy vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, lettuce and some Asian vegetables 11
  • Legumes such as dried or fresh beans, peas and lentils
  • Egg yolk, Kidneys 12
  • Baker’s yeast
  • Fortified grain products (pasta, cereal, bread); some breakfast cereals (ready-to-eat and others) are fortified with folate
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Liver and liver products contain high amounts of folate (just be sure they are from organic sources)

Calcium

Extra dietary calcium is not needed because the body increases its ability to absorb calcium during pregnancy. However, consuming the daily recommended intake of 1000 mg per day is important in order to protect the mother’s calcium stores such as bones and teeth (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2010).

Vitamins and Essential Elements

Extra Vitamin A and C, B12, zinc and iron are also needed.

Adequate fluid consumption is important to help prevent constipation and premature contractions. Remember to drink enough water during the day.

  • Vitamin A

    - Retinol: liver, fish, fortified milk and margarine, butter, eggs 
    - Carotenoids: carrots, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, apricots, cantaloupe
    
  • Vitamin C - Citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries, greens, peppers, potatoes

  • Vitamin B12 - Products fortified with B12 such as non-dairy beverages and cereals, Red Star nutritional yeast, vitamin supplements

  • Zinc - Meat, seafood, whole grains, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds

  • Iron - Red meats, leafy greens, dried fruit, whole and enriched grains

  • Iodine - Iodized salt, salt water fish, seafood, dairy products, sea vegetables

Omega-3

Polysaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids that prevent arteries from clogging and reduce inflammation to ward off heart disease and promote brain health. You can find it in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, sea vegetables (seaweed) and olive oil.

Additional Recommended Resources


  1. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina 

  2. “Sitting Is Killing You” Infographic Shows Just How Bad Prolonged Sitting Is 

  3. Why Walking Is Almost as Healthy as Running 

  4. Smolin, L. A., & Grosvenor, M. B. (2010). Nutrition: science and applications (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 

  5. Mcg - 1 microgram (mcg) = 0.001 milligrams 

  6. Advocating For Folic Acid: A Guide For Health Professionals 

  7. Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition  

  8. Evolving Wellness - Holistic, Natural, and Green Approach to Optimal Wellness 

  9. Healthytarian - Fresh Thinking. Smart Eating. Mindful Living. 

  10. Wikipedia - Sources of folic acid 

  11. Houlihan, A. et al. (2011). Folate Content of Asian Vegetables (Technical report RIRDC Publication No. 10/167). Canberra: Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Government. ISBN 978-1-74254-134-1. 

  12. KwaZulu-Natal Dietitians: Department of Health. Foods Rich in Folic Acid. 

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