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Heavy nutrients: There are a few critical nutrients that play particularly important roles in fetal development. The increased demand on your system, plus your developing baby, requires lots of extra nutrition '- a lot of nutrition to pack into only 200 to 300 extra calories each day. So you'll have to pay special attention to your diet, choose nutrient-dense foods and take a vitamin supplement. These are the nutrients you'll want to look for:
- Protein: Protein provides materials for the growing tissues (including the placenta), your blood and the baby. Get three good servings a day from tofu, beans, chicken, fish, meat or eggs. Aim for the National Academy of Science's suggestion of 74 grams of protein daily during pregnancy.
- Calcium: This mineral is needed for proper bone formation in the baby and to help preserve your own bone strength. Calcium is needed most during the last trimester, when fetal bone formation takes place. If your diet doesn't supply enough calcium, your baby will draw the calcium first, leaving you depleted. Drink a little more than one quart of milk a day to ensure you get enough. This much milk will also make a significant contribution toward your protein intake.
- Iron: An iron supplement is recommended during pregnancy because it is so difficult to get enough in your diet. The National Academy of Science recommends pregnant women take a supplement containing 30 milligrams of iron a day during the second and third trimesters. Most of this iron is used during the last three months of pregnancy when the baby is accumulating iron for use shortly after birth. You will also need extra iron to replenish your red blood cell supply and keep your iron count up as your blood volume increases.
- Folic acid: This is a B vitamin needed for proper cell division. Folic acid taken while trying to conceive and in early pregnancy can help prevent certain birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of spina bifida (open spine) and anencephaly by about 50 percent. Try to get 400 micrograms a day at least one month before becoming pregnant, because these birth defects develop during the first month of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Taking a vitamin supplement is the best way to ensure you meet your requirements. Foods such as orange juice, spinach and legumes help too.