A woman's nutritional needs are partially modified during pregnancy. To support the growth and development of the fetus, as well as to meet the physiological needs of the mother, it is essential to ensure that her diet is sufficient in key nutrients. Among these, three minerals have a central role for the health of the mother and the development of the baby.
In a previous article, we discussed the importance of vitamin B9 and folate during pregnancy.
In this article, we detail the role of these 3 essential minerals during pregnancy , and how to cover additional needs through a balanced diet and supplementation if necessary.
Fetal development depends on the mother's diet
During pregnancy, the development of the fetus will gradually increase the daily needs of the mother-to-be, not only for macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, lipids and especially proteins) but also for a certain number of other trace elements: vitamins, minerals. and omega 3 (DHA).
The mother's hygiene and diet have a direct influence on the development of the future baby : the mother's blood is the only source of nourishment for this fragile new organism.
The principles of general food hygiene must be respected by the mother: abstinence from alcohol and other toxic substances which pass through the blood; limitation of ultra-processed foods rich in additives, in favor of simple and fresh foods; increase in protein needs in proportion to the weight of the fetus, advice shared by all doctors.
Calcium, a crucial mineral during pregnancy
Calcium is a vital mineral for the growth and health of bones, teeth and muscles.
During pregnancy, calcium is even more crucial because it contributes to the development of the fetus' skeleton and, in the event of insufficient intake, the mother's health can be affected in an insidious and almost imperceptible way.
The role of calcium
During pregnancy , calcium is necessary for the formation and development of the fetus's skeleton, teeth and nails, as well as for the proper functioning of muscles and the nervous system.
Calcium also helps maintain good blood pressure during pregnancy and reduce the risk of preeclampsia (hypertension during pregnancy).
Calcium needs during pregnancy
The mother's daily calcium needs are increased by 30% from the 3rd month until delivery.
This represents approximately 0.5 g of extra calcium to be absorbed into the bloodstream each day. (Approximately 1.5 g in total)
The risk of calcium deficiency in pregnant women
When the pregnant woman's diet in calcium is not sufficient, the body will draw directly from the mother's bone reserves for the ossification of the fetus.
This obviously results in a weakening of the mother's bones generally, without immediate consequences but which creates a favorable environment for osteoporosis later.
Although cases of osteoporosis during pregnancy remain very rare, a drop in bone density during pregnancy (and breastfeeding) is frequently observed. This tends to confirm lack of dietary calcium intake, amplified by hormonal variations which disrupt its metabolism.
Food sources of Calcium
Food sources of calcium for pregnant women are well known. Here are the main ones:
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent sources of calcium for mom. After birth, breast or infant milk is obviously the main source of calcium for babies.
- Green Vegetables: Dark leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale and spinach. Be careful though, calcium is soluble in the cooking water, be sure to salt it sufficiently to limit losses by osmosis or ideally favor steam cooking.
- Dried fruits: Almonds, hazelnuts and dried figs.
For vegan mothers, the recent European ban on calcium supplementation in organic plant-based milks obviously complicates the proper coverage of needs.
You should also remember to consume water rich in Calcium, choose the right source! Water intake can easily cover 25 to 30% of daily needs.
It is always relevant to have your daily calcium intake assessed by a nutritionist or dietitian for this important period for the mother and her baby.
Iron in pregnant women
Iron is an essential mineral for the health of the body, particularly for the formation of red blood cells and the transport of oxygen. During pregnancy, a woman's iron needs increase , making it an essential mineral for this period.
The role of iron during pregnancy
Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.
Its role is to capture oxygen in the pulmonary alveoli and deliver it to all the cells of the body. Without Iron, asphyxiation is immediate.
Iron requirements during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the mother shares her blood with the future baby , which is why pregnant women need more iron, because their blood volume increases, in proportion to the weight of the fetus.
And at birth, it transmits part of it to the baby. The baby's iron reserves at birth cover his needs for the first months of his life (from approximately 3 to 6 months)
Adequate iron intake reduces the risk of premature birth, low birth weight babies and early newborn mortality.
Note that iron is normally well recycled by the body. Consequently, supplementation needs concern almost exclusively the compensation of menstrual blood loss and pregnancy (and the optimization of aerobic efforts for sports mothers).
The risks of iron deficiency during pregnancy (H3)
Iron deficiency can cause anemia . It can cause fatigue and more rapid shortness of breath during exercise due to lack of oxygen for the target organs.
Women who have closely spaced or multiple pregnancies are at greater risk of iron deficiency if they do not compensate for these losses.
Those who have a diet low in heme iron (majority plant-based or flexitarian diets) are also more likely to have an iron level that is too low because iron from plants is less well absorbed: supplementation is required over longer periods.
It is important to carefully estimate the mother's iron reserves from the first months of pregnancy; recovery to a correct blood level is often slow.
In all cases, Iron must be the subject of particular vigilance during pregnancy.
Food sources of iron
Dietary sources of iron include red meats, poultry, fish, legumes, spinach and iron-fortified cereals.
It is important to note that vitamin C, B9 and A help with iron absorption.
Iodine during pregnancy
The importance of iodine during pregnancy is now recognized, which is quite recent.
The role of iodine during pregnancy
Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which are essential for bone formation, muscle contraction, heartbeat and nutrient absorption.
Iodine also contributes to the growth of the fetal brain, and a deficiency could lead to disorders in its development.
Iodine requirements during pregnancy
For women who do not live by the sea or consume little or no fish, dietary iodine intake is easily insufficient, although iodine is present in very small quantities in the body: the daily requirements are about a hundred micrograms.
The specificity of iodine lies in the narrowness of adequate intake levels: neither too little nor too much to avoid the risk of hypo or hyper thyroidism.
Special recommendations for iodine in pregnant women
Food supplements produced and declared in the European Union (in France: to the Dgccrf), have appropriate Iodine dosages (from 50 to 150 µg) to ensure adequate coverage of the Iodine needs of the mother and the fetus without risks.
However, a doctor's advice is strongly recommended for iodine supplementation, considering that daily or frequent taking of supplements in moderate dosages are safer than one-off large doses.
Using a health professional for a harmonious pregnancy
Pregnancy is an exceptional life event that impacts the mother and her future baby.
Its harmonious progress, the good development of the fetus, and the health of the mother also require particular attention to the three minerals mentioned above, as part of the general dietary hygiene of the mother-to-be.
If you have any doubts or questions, do not hesitate to contact a health professional to ensure you benefit from nutrition adapted to your specific needs throughout the pregnancy.