When we contemplate having a child, we may not realise just how much power we have in shaping their entire future wellbeing.
During the period of time known as ‘the first 1000 days’, which starts at the point of conception and lasts until a child's second birthday, we can make a profound impact on the lifelong health of our children.
Development And Growth
During this phase of intensive development, it is essential the correct ‘ingredients’ are in place to support this process properly.
These ingredients involve a combination of optimum nutrition, as well as an active and low stress environment for the mother during pregnancy.
When optimum nutrition is achieved (via the mum during pregnancy and postnatally via breast milk and weaning) a child can enjoy a reduced risk of multiple chronic disease states, obesity and even premature mortality (1).
Similarly, by reducing stress prenatally, and instead promoting the relaxation response, we are able to directly influence both the hormonal status and brain development of our child to be (2).
Studies indicate that reduced stress scores during pregnancy also increase the chance of a baby being born at a healthy weight, with lower inflammatory markers and improved immune response (3).
Sadly, we are not, as a society, always informed of the importance of these first 1000 days and consequently many women inevitably enter pregnancy with suboptimal nutrient status, and often, in a degree of chronic stress.
This nutritional depletion and stress elevation can manifest in children as learning delays, behavioural problems, and an enhanced disease risk throughout life.
We can benefit from taking a look at more traditional cultures, where mothers to be are pre-emptively fed a nutrient rich diet in preparation for conception, and postnatally they can expect to be nourished by nutritious meals made by the local community. We now also have the scientific backing to support such measures.
Once we understand which nutrients are essential for the healthy development of our future child, we can prioritise these both prenatally and postnatally, to set our children up for life.
Which Nutrients Matter Most?
Ideally, we don’t want to overlook any individual nutrient, as nutrients work best synergistically, that is, together, in harmony, when consumed in adequate amounts.
However, there are some specific nutrients which are especially important during the prenatal period:
An adequate iron supply is particularly time critical during a child's first 1000 days. We can maximise our developing child's brain processing speed, emotional regulation, and development of both learning and memory via optimal iron intake.
With up to 42 percent of pregnant women being anaemic it is worth focusing on our consumption of spinach, organic red meat and appropriate supplementation, especially when poor dietary iron intake is exacerbated by factors such as smoking, maternal hypertension and diabetes (4).
Iodine is another powerhouse of goodness for a developing baby. Upping our intake of this essential micronutrient can prevent conditions such as cretinism which occur from a true deficiency but also, we can reduce severe and irreversible learning delays, and even enhance IQ performance (5). You’ll find this brain booster in seafood, seaweed and all good prenatal multivits.
This form of Omega 3, which can be found predominantly in oily fish and marine algae, is essential for the baby's developing brain and eyes.
In addition, when a woman's prenatal DHA levels are optimum, there is a correlated reduced risk in their child developing ADHD (6), Autism and other behavioural issues (7).
Keeping maternal DHA status high involves the regular intake of oily fish, walnuts, chia and/ or via supplementation.
You are probably aware of the importance of taking ‘folic acid’ prenatally, as a deficiency in this nutrient during pregnancy has been shown to cause birth defects.
However, some women have a genetic variation known as an MTHFR mutation, which impacts the way synthetic folic acid is absorbed. However, methylfolate- derived from the natural folate found in food, is better recognised in women with the MTHFR mutation, leading to healthier pregnancy outcomes.
Even in the absence of this genetic variation methylfolate is more bioavailable than folic acid, as it does not need to first be converted into the active l-methylfolate form (8). Dark green vegetables are naturally rich in folate, but due to the amount of folate required during pregnancy supplementation is essential.
This nutrient is often under the radar when it comes to pregnancy nutrition. However, choline is such a beneficial addition during this time. Studies have shown that choline is essential for normal brain development (9), and is also involved in methylation processes/ epigenetics (how DNA interacts with the environment to switch genes on or off).
Furthermore, with regards to pregnancy outcomes - fetal growth and inflammation regulation both benefit from this multi-talented nutrient addition. Whilst abundant in eggs, beef and nuts, a good prenatal will also feature additional choline.
How To Maintain Optimum Nutrition Prenatally
Before we even fall pregnant, we can build our bodies up by consuming an abundance of nutrient dense foods. If you consume animal products then items to consider include organic liver, egg yolks, oily fish, as well as avocados, nuts and fermented foods.
If you are vegan or vegetarian then look for high quality proteins, fats, and avoid processed foods. Of course, in addition to this, consuming plentiful dark leafy greens and a rainbow of vegetables and fruits will further enhance your nutritional status.
You can also take a whole food prenatal vitamin for 3-6 months prior to pregnancy to ensure nutrient stores are sufficient before conception.
Once pregnancy occurs, then a similar approach is taken, of course avoiding items no longer suitable for pregnancy such as liver and aiming to maintain nutritional diversity whilst balancing changing food preferences and possible aversions.
Nausea and vomiting can alter our desire for nutrient dense foods in the first trimester, therefore the prenatal becomes an essential part of the pregnancy journey..
Pregnancy can be a naturally overwhelming experience, with many new sensations and changes within the body, and when coupled with fluctuating hormones, it is little surprise that elevated stress levels are part and parcel of the process.
However, we now know that any efforts taken to reduce this stress response can yield huge benefits for our babies’ health, as well as making the pregnancy experience more positive for ourselves.
Therefore, we can try to find what works best for us. There are some great prenatal yoga classes which are perfectly designed to support our changing body through pregnancy.
A lot of these classes also focus on the psychological aspect of pregnancy and birth preparation, using breathing tools, and supported relaxation techniques to encourage deep rest.
We can also combine gentle exercise to encourage adequate nutrient and oxygen deliverance to our baby, with the benefit of social support, which deregulates cortisol elevation and puts us and our babies at ease.
- We have a great opportunity to influence the lifelong health of our child by maximising our nutrient status prenatally and postnatally.
- Focus on ensuring adequate and balanced macronutrient intake to provide energy for the growing baby
- Prioritise your intake of Iron, Iodine, DHA, Methylfolate and Choline.
- Combining a nutrient dense diet with a comprehensive wholefood prenatal optimises prenatal health & babies wellbeing
- Find tools to manage associated stress such as prenatal yoga, gentle movement and a supportive community
Our Naturelo Prenatal Whole Food Multivitamin contains your daily prenatal folate requirements via the MTHFR friendly and activated L-Methylfolate form. You can also find the Choline, Iodine and Iron you and your baby need, all in a natural foodstate form.
As DHA will be removed from our upcoming Prenatal Blend - you can get all the brain boosting Omega 3 you need from either our Omega 3 Fish oil blend, which is made from pure sustainable Alaskan wild pollock, or from our Vegan DHA formula, which is derived from natural marine algae.
- Christian P, Stewart CP. Maternal micronutrient deficiency, fetal development, and the risk of chronic disease. J Nutr. 2010. doi:10.3945/jn.109.116327
- Coussons-Read ME. Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: Mechanisms and pathways. Obstet Med. 2013. doi:10.1177/1753495X12473751
- Chen HJ, Antonson AM, Rajasekera TA, Patterson JM, Bailey MT, Gur TL. Prenatal stress causes intrauterine inflammation and serotonergic dysfunction, and long-term behavioral deficits through microbe- and CCL2-dependent mechanisms. Transl Psychiatry. 2020. doi:10.1038/s41398-020-00876-5
- Allen LH. Anemia and iron deficiency: Effects on pregnancy outcome. In: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ; 2000. doi:10.1093/ajcn/71.5.1280s
- Qian M, Wang D, Watkins WE, et al. The effects of iodine on intelligence in children: A meta-analysis of studies conducted in China. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2005.
- Gillies D, Sinn JKH, Lad SS, Leach MJ, Ross MJ. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007986.pub2
- Richardson AJ. Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2006. doi:10.1080/09540260600583031
- McLean W. Folic acid supplementation and pregnancy – more than just neural tube defect prevention. Aust J Herb Naturop Med. 2020.
- Zeisel SH. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.26.061505.111156