Maternal and neonatal health outcomes are significantly influenced by nutrient availability throughout preconception, pregnancy and lactation.
Inadequate nutrition during preconception and pregnancy poses significant risks to the foetus, including impaired development, preterm birth and low birth weight.
This relies on having a foundation of micronutrients, omega-3 essential fatty acids and a healthy gut microbiome.
Pregnancy is a critical time during which DNA methylation can shape neonatal health outcomes by helping regulate healthy gestational development and genetic expression.
Genetic polymorphisms associated with impaired methylation have been linked to the accumulation of homocysteine, which is associated with adverse outcomes in pregnancy, including preeclampsia, miscarriage, neural tube defects (NTDs) and poor brain development.
Adequate consumption of choline (found in eggs, meat, fish), vitamins B6 and B12, and folic acid before and during pregnancy supports methylation and helps with a healthy pregnancy and neonate.
Gestational neurodevelopment is highly sensitive to nutritional status. Poor nutrition, high levels of oxidative stress and poor glycaemic control may also elevate the risk of neural tube defects.
Choline is an often-deficient essential nutrient utilised by the developing brain.
Additionally, human data indicates lutein comprises 59% of total brain carotenoids, and is found in high concentration within the infant nervous system, particularly in those areas involved in learning and memory.
Lutein (found in kale, spinach, broccoli, eggs), Vit 6, Vit B12, and folic acid supports healthy neuronal communication, exerts neuroprotective properties, and can help support neural growth and healthy brain development in newborns.
NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT FOR MOTHER AND CHILD
Pregnant women require a varied diet and nutrient intake to allow for increased needs during pregnancy, and for the development and growth of a healthy baby.
Many nutrients have multiple mechanisms of action and support various aspects of health including:
- Thyroid Health: Iodine supports maternal thyroid function during pregnancy and lactation due to its role in the production of thyroid hormones. Demand for iodine is increased during pregnancy, as the foetus is reliant on maternal thyroxine for cellular growth, neuronal migration and myelination of the brain and nervous system.
- Anaemia Prevention: One of the most common complaints in pregnancy is fatigue, which is associated with nutritional deficiency in pregnancy. Iron plays an important role in energy production as it transports oxygen via haemoglobin between mother and baby. Prenatal iron intake has been shown to improve neurological and physical development in newborns.
- Bone Health: Skeletal health in neonates is dependent on the availability of key nutrients during foetal development and the neonatal period. Adequate maternal levels of vitamin D are vital for offspring bone development. Vitamin K is also a key factor required for the formation of the neonatal skeleton and manganese supports the structural growth of bone tissue.
- Morning Sickness: Vitamin B6 administered within the first trimester of pregnancy has been shown to improve symptom severity.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS:
Studies show that higher intakes of omega-3 essential fatty acids during pregnancy improve foetal growth and development during gestation.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular plays a key role during foetal and infantile brain development, gene expression, protection against oxidative stress, and neurotransmission conduction.
The maternal microbiome is instrumental in the development of the infant microbiome, with the transfer of organisms affecting a wide range of organ systems beyond the gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotic supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to influence both the maternal and infant gastrointestinal microbiota. If the mother supplements with specific strains of probiotics during pregnancy and lactation, the risk of allergy based conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, as well as behavioural problems including attention deficit disorder (ADHD) can be reduced.
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS FOR A HEALTHIER LIFE
Specific nutrients can help to offset the risk of dietary insufficiency related to inadequate nutrient intake during pregnancy. Creating a solid foundation of nutrients, omega 3 essential fatty acids (especially DHA), and a healthy gut microbiome is essential for preconception and pregnancy care to ensure the best possible health for both mother and child.