What are the most important vitamins for pregnancy? As you step into your second trimester, your body is ramping up for some serious growth and development. Expert nutritionist Rachel Bartholomew gives us her top recommendations for powering your pregnancy, in our brand new pregnancy supplements second trimester guide.
Focus on nutritional density, and quality
I always go back to the best and latest research, when recommending a prenatal formula. In a 2021 article on ‘nutrition during pregnancy and lactation’ published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the authors wrote, “women and providers often ask what a healthy diet for a pregnant woman should look like? The message should be eat better, not more.”
This message perfectly sums up how to approach your nutrition – both diet and supplements – during pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond. The key is to focus on nutrient density and nutritional quality in everything you choose.
With diet and supplements, quality is key, as is understanding what nutrients are needed and when. I combine my own clinical practice with writing and researching for Nutri Advanced, who formulate and offer some of the best pregnancy supplements available in the UK.
But what do we mean by quality? And how can you combine supplements with smart choices in your diet, meal prep and food shops, to give your body and baby the very best foundations for growth and wellbeing?
Today, we’re taking a closer look at the second trimester of pregnancy and beyond to birth and breastfeeding, highlighting some of the key diet and supplement considerations you need to be particularly aware of during this important time, for you and your growing baby.
Before we dive in, a clear starting point for your pregnancy nutrition plan is a high quality and potency baseline supplement, plus any extra nutrient support – from omega 3 to vitamin D. My go-to is the range at Nutri Advanced – TRB readers get 20% off everything right now with code TRB20, so do make the most of that at checkout.
Focusing on ‘dietary quality’ is key for every stage of pregnancy and beyond. This doesn’t mean you have to start shopping at the most expensive supermarkets, instead it means choosing foods based on how nutritious they are, and avoiding chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides wherever you can. Buying organically-produced food where possible will help to tick both of these boxes.
Many people ask whether buying organic is really worth it. Among the most compelling reasons, especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding, are the findings of the Environment and Reproductive Health Study (EARTH) Study which has been carried out by a team of researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and MGH Fertility Center in the US.
Led by Dr Russ Hauser, the EARTH Study research team have studied more than 1,500 participants since 2005 to investigate whether environmental chemicals and diet can impact fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Their research findings have been presented in over 130 publications and have repeatedly found that environmental chemicals do have the potential to negatively impact fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
So, if you can, the science points to organic food and produce being a smart addition, before and during pregnancy.
Are you getting enough protein?
Carbohydrates, fats and protein are the building blocks of a healthy balanced diet. And while all three are crucially important during pregnancy, protein deserves special mention because research shows that our intake may often be inadequate. This may be especially true for anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Protein is essential for structural (eg. keratin, collagen) and functional (eg. enzymes, hormones) roles and is crucial to support both baby’s growth and development and mum’s health during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Adequate protein intake is particularly important during the rapid phase of growth and development that occurs during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Animal protein sources – sometimes known as ‘complete’ – include meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. The rule of thumb is to include a good palm-sized portion with every meal.
Many plant foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes and soy foods, such as tempeh and tofu, also contain protein but most are ‘incomplete’. This means you need to pay careful attention to meal planning, combining different plant proteins to ensure your overall requirements are met.
The importance of iron during pregnancy is universally acknowledged and cannot be overstated.
Iron is an important part of our red blood cells, and blood volume expands by 35-50 per cent during pregnancy. It’s also essential for optimising baby’s organ development and function, including immune function and brain development. High requirements for iron means that pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to deficiency, particularly during the later stages of pregnancy, and especially if stores are low to start off with.
Maintaining adequate iron throughout pregnancy is crucial to support both maternal and foetal health, and to set a new baby up with adequate iron stores for the first few months of postnatal life.
So how can you ensure optimal iron levels and intake? Fortunately, iron levels are checked routinely during antenatal visits. You can help to support your own iron levels by including iron-rich foods such as beef, lamb, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables in your diet.
Consuming vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwi, strawberries, citrus fruits and bell peppers alongside these can further enhance iron absorption.
In addition, make sure your pregnancy multi contains a maintenance dose of iron. For this, we recommend the gentler, non-constipating form of iron bisglycinate that you will find in Multi Essentials for Pregnancy.
If blood testing reveals that your iron levels are low, you will usually need to supplement additional iron at a higher dose. Your healthcare provider will advise on the specific dose and iron supplement which is suitable for you. Nutri Advanced FerroDyn contains a higher dose of iron, also in the non-constipating and well-absorbed form of iron bisglycinate.
Although severe zinc deficiency is considered to be rare, mild to moderate deficiency may be relatively common. So it’s crucial to pay attention to zinc intake throughout pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters where zinc is involved in growth and development, nervous system health, brain function and infant behaviour.
Include zinc-rich foods such as nuts, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, red meat, poultry and wholegrains in your diet. Multi Essentials for Pregnancy contains meaningful levels of zinc in the high quality form of zinc citrate.
Brain-supportive omega 3 DHA (plus choline)
It is crucial to ensure optimal intake of omega 3 fats such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) throughout pregnancy. These omega 3 fats are found in rich supply in oily fish (such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines) but since intake should be limited during pregnancy, supplementation is highly recommended.
Once again, quality is absolutely key with omega 3 supplements and it is crucial to choose a fish oil supplement such as Nutri Advanced Eskimo-3 which has been thoroughly purified to remove potential contaminants.
Omega 3 DHA deserves special mention for its critical role in supporting brain development, structure and function. Foetal requirements for DHA rise throughout pregnancy and peak toward the end of the third trimester.
Maternal DHA levels impact both mum and baby in many different ways both during pregnancy and beyond, and ensuring optimal DHA during this time helps to support cognitive development during infancy. Low levels of maternal DHA have also been linked with postnatal depression.
Less well-known is the additional support needed from choline – a key nutrient which is essential for the transport of DHA from mother to foetus during pregnancy, and also the transport of DHA into the brain.
Both DHA and choline are essential for the normal structure and function of brain and nerve cells. Demand for choline is especially high during pregnancy and breastfeeding and it is critical to ensure optimal supply throughout.
Large amounts of choline are supplied to the foetus across the placenta. In fact, choline concentration in amniotic fluid is 10 times greater than what we see in maternal blood!
Choline is found in foods such as eggs, dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and wholegrains. My go-to Multi Essentials for Pregnancy supplies 20 mg choline per tablet to support these increased and critical requirements.
Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin
Awareness surrounding the importance of maintaining optimal vitamin D for just about every aspect of health has increased in the last 10 years or so. It will come as no surprise to learn that vitamin D is vitally important during pregnancy, too. It’s a bit different to most other essential nutrients however, as our main source of vitamin D is not food, but sunshine.
Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are common throughout the world, including a likely high prevalence in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Plus, links between low vitamin D, adverse pregnancy outcomes and impacts on the longer-term health of offspring have all been explored in recent years.
So it’s sensible to ensure your pregnancy multi contains a daily maintenance dose of vitamin D. Multi Essentials for Pregnancy contains an impressive 1000 IU vitamin D3 per tablet, making it a great starting point when building out your supplement plan. However, if you’re concerned that your vitamin D levels might be low, you can get them checked through your GP.
Lots of private testing companies also offer inexpensive vitamin D finger prick tests that you can easily complete at home.
If testing shows your levels are low, you may need to supplement additional vitamin D, and your healthcare provider will advise on the specific dose for you. Nutri Advanced Vitamin D3 Drops is an easy and convenient way to increase your levels in a flexible liquid format.
When it comes down to it, your diet and supplement routine should work in partnership to give you and your growing baby everything needed for a healthy pregnancy (plus recovery and breastfeeding support, if that’s part of your journey).
It helps to get everything you need in one go, and for this, my go-to is Nutri Advanced’s extensive range. Take a look and make the most of 20% off everything, with code TRB20. Just pop it into the box at checkout.