What happens to a mother’s body during pregnancy?
Hormonal changes mark the start of a pregnancy. Once a fertilized egg implants in the uterus lining, the body will produce hormones that jumpstart a variety of processes , preparing the body for pregnancy.1
First and foremost, the body has to ensure that nutrients can be delivered to the womb. Estrogen, one of the primary pregnancy hormones, stimulates the uterus to thicken its lining, growing more blood vessels that allow for nutrient transfer.2 Once the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall, this egg (called a zygote) is able to grow into an embryo and, eventually, develop into a fetus, thanks to the absorption of key nutrients and building blocks for growth.3
Nutrient absorption, through the mother’s body, is what supports the pregnancy to term. The mother’s nutrition during pregnancy is integral not just to the development of the fetus in the womb, but also in the delivery of the baby, and for the mum and baby’s health after birth.
Pregnancy Nutrition: Important Nutrients For Mother And Baby
Pregnant mums have increased nutritional requirements. These vitamins and minerals in the right amounts, are vital to staying healthy during pregnancy:4
Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth. Some studies have shown that taking calcium supplements during pregnancy can reduce the risk of hypertension during pregnancy, also known as preeclampsia.5
Iron is used to make haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body, and the baby in your womb. Pregnant mums need twice as much iron as their usual intake.
Iodine is an essential mineral used to produce thyroid hormones that regulate the energy you derive from food. Expecting mums produce more thyroid hormones to support the pregnancy, which means they need more iodine than the daily recommended intake.14
Choline regulates mood, memory, and muscle control. It enables cells to build cell walls, particularly in the central nervous system.15
Vitamin A is essential for maintaining healthy skin and vision. It also helps the immune system and various organs in the body function properly.16 However, ingesting high amounts of vitamin A may be detrimental to your pregnancy.8 Make sure that you’re not exceeding the recommended amount in your daily diet, and avoid foods rich in vitamin A, such as liver or liver products.
Vitamin C is essential to both the mum and baby during pregnancy. It’s vital to boost the immune system. It helps in the production of collagen, which, in turn, aids in tissue development and repair. It also helps mum absorb more iron to boot.9
Vitamin D helps expecting mums maintain healthy bones and teeth.10 It aids in calcium absorption and in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.
Vitamin B6 helps the mum to metabolise macronutrients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It also helps mum produce more red blood cells, which is crucial during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 aids in the production of red blood cells and in maintaining nervous system health. It’s also important to making DNA in cells and in reducing the risk of anemia.17
A type of B vitamin integral to growth and development, folic acid has been shown to lower the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), or birth defects of the central nervous system.6
Pregnancy food: Types of food for pregnancy
Food is the primary source of mum’s and baby’s nutrition during pregnancy. It is of utmost importance that expecting mums maintain a healthy, balanced diet, consisting of these major food groups:12
Fruits and Vegetables
Experts recommend eating at least ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables each day.14 Fruits and vegetables provide many essential nutrients, as well as fiber, which helps prevent constipation.
Starchy food like bread, potatoes, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles provide much-needed energy in the form of carbohydrates. These foods should make up a little over a ¼ of your healthy plate.14
Beans, fish, eggs, meat, poultry, and nuts are rich in protein. Experts recommend eating two portions of fish each week, one portion of which should be oily fish like salmon, sardines, or mackerel, for essential omega-3 fatty-acids.
Milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium. Expectant mums should aim for 3 servings of these during pregnancy. Pregnant mums are advised to opt for low-fat milk to avoid excess calories and avoid eating unpasteurised cheese.
Benefits of Maternal Milk for Mothers
Busy, working women may struggle to find fully balanced nutrient dense meals every single day. Using maternal milk as supplements can fill the nutrition gaps across a range of nutrients.
Where a typical daily diet can fall short, supplements like maternal milk can ensure that pregnant mums get the appropriate amount of nutrition during pregnancy. Maternal milk is enriched with the essential vitamins and minerals that are needed by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
When choosing a maternal milk, opt for one that contains DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that improves cardiovascular health, regulates blood pressure, and boosts brain development.
Also, choose low fat maternal milk for it to be an ideal supplement not just during the pregnancy, but during postnatal care and the breastfeeding stages. It helps new mums, manage their weight, and improve their overall wellbeing, whilst making sure their body can provide for their baby’s nutritional needs.
1How Pregnancy (Conception) Occurs – University of Michigan Health. Accessed December 22, 2021.
2The 6 Pregnancy Hormones Expectant Mothers Need to Know About – NTD Genetics. Accessed December 22, 2021.
30 to 8 weeks pregnant – Our Health Service. Accessed December 22, 2021.
4Nutrition During Pregnancy – American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed December 22, 2021.
5Calcium Supplementation for Preventing Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy – AAFP.org. Accessed December 22, 2021.
6Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy – March of Dimes. Accessed December 22, 2021.
7Higher Maternal Choline Levels in Pregnancy Had Protective Role in Infant Brain Development – Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Accessed December 22, 2021.
8Vitamin A – NHS. Accessed December 22, 2021.
9How Much Vitamin C Do You Need During Pregnancy? – What To Expect. Accessed December 22, 2021.
10Vitamins, supplements, and nutrition in pregnancy – NHS. Accessed December 22, 2021.
11Natural Sources of Vitamin B During Pregnancy – American Pregnancy. Accessed December 22, 2021.
12Roles of Vitamin B in Pregnancy – American Pregnancy. Accessed December 22, 2021.
13Have a healthy diet in pregnancy – NHS. Accessed December 22, 2021.
14Plan your meals with My Healthy Plate. Accessed January 26, 2022.