3 Important Nutrients During Pregnancy

by Heather

Check out a recap of Baby SoS’s 2nd week. I can’t believe we’re already on week 3… !

Hello with a Side of Sneakers readers! I’m Katie, the Registered Dietitian behind Healthy Heddleston, and am here to talk about 3 important nutrients that have been on the forefront of my mind during my pregnancy. That’s right, I’m pregnant! It’s been fun to follow Heather’s journey, as she was just two months ahead of me. I’m so so happy that her bundle of joy has arrived and to be guest posting today in order to allow her plenty of cuddle time (and sleep!) with baby!


When my husband and I started discussing having a baby, one of our thoughts was making sure my current vitamin had enough folate in it. We also needed to make sure I was actually taking this vitamin. Luckily, the chewable Flintstone met the criteria and we were off to start baby making. After finding out that we were indeed expecting, I quickly switched to a chewable prenatal with the appropriate amount of folate.

6 weeks pregnant

The Recommendation for Folate

The DRI for folate in females 14-70 years of age is 400 mcg/day. This increases during pregnancy to 600 mcg/day during pregnancy and 500 mcg/day during lactation.

Why Folate is Important

Evidence has been shown that an inadequate amount of folate is linked to neural tube defects in the fetus. The neural tube closes 28 days after the baby is conceived, a time when some women have yet to find out they are pregnant. Thus, it is important for all women capable of becoming pregnant to consume the recommended amount of food folate from your diet, supplements or fortified foods. When pregnancy is confirmed, it is important to follow the increased recommendation as well.

What are Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)

NTD’s are one of the most common birth defects, occurring in ~1000 live births each year in the United States. An NTD is an opening the spinal cord or brain that occurs very early in development. There are two types of NTDs: open and closed. Open NTDs are the most common type and occur when the brain and/or spinal cord are exposed at birth through a defect in the skull or backbones. Open NTDs include: spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele. Closed NTDs are more rare and occur when the spinal defect is covered by skin. Closed NTDs include: lipomyelomeningocele, lipomeningocele, and tethered cord.

Foods Containing Folate

Folic acid is found naturally in some foods, including leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains. Folic acid is also commonly enriched in breakfast cereal, breads, flours, pasta, cornmeal, and rice.


During your first trimester, an initial blood panel is done to see your iron count. Mine was good and I didn’t need to worry about my iron intake then. However, plenty of women start taking iron in their first trimester, or just take a prenatal that contains iron. Chewable prenatal vitamins don’t contain iron though, because they would taste bad.

Then, when I had my glucose screening during the second trimester, another blood panel was done to check iron levels again. This is a time during pregnancy when many women start becoming anemic. I feel into this category and went out for iron pills that day.

Tummy Week 16

The Recommendation for Iron

The DRI for iron in females 19-50 years of age is 18 mg/day. This increases during pregnancy to 27 mg/day. The recommended intake assumes 75% of iron is from heme-iron sources, meaning foods that are from animal sources that originally contained hemoglobin (i.e. steak). It is important to note that non-heme iron absorption is lower for those consuming vegetarian diets and it is suggested that the iron requirement for vegetarians is approximately 2x greater than those with a non-vegetarian diet.

Why Iron is Important

Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen throughout the body. Your body will absorb iron more efficiently during pregnancy and carries oxygen to both you and your body. Adequate iron intake will also help your avoid symptoms of tiredness, weakness, irritability, and depression.

Foods Containing Iron

Non-heme iron sources include: fruits, vegetables, and fortified bread and grain products. Heme iron sources include: red meats, poultry, and fish.

Tips to Remember

  • Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.  Food sources of vitamin C include: citrus fruits, melons, cabbage, strawberries, green peppers, and broccoli.
  • Calcium can decrease the absorption of iron.
  • Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron.
  • Iron is lost in cooking some foods.
  • Constipation is a common side effect of taking iron supplements. Eating a fiber-rich diet and plenty of water will help reduce constipation.


Calcium is important during your entire pregnancy, and since I had a no-appetite period during my first trimester, I‘ve had calcium chews on hand throughout my entire pregnancy. I only take one when I don’t think I’ve consumed enough during that day, but I’ve become hyper-aware of my calcium intake during the third trimester because the baby deposits so much more now.


The Recommendation for Calcium

The DRI for calcium in females 19-50 years of age is 1000 mg/day. This recommendation stays the same throughout pregnancy and lactation.

Why Calcium is Important

Calcium is essential in the role of blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and bone/tooth formation. During your third trimester your baby’s nutritional demands increase, and about 250 mg of calcium are deposited into his/her hardening skeleton each day.

Foods Containing Calcium

High calcium food sources include: milk, cheese, yogurt, calcium-set tofu, cabbage, kale, and broccoli.

Of course I could have focused on more nutrients than just these three, but these have been on the forefront of my mind over the past 30 weeks of my pregnancy. Feel free to check out everything baby-related that has been happening in the Heddleston household! Thanks for having me, Heather!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiff January 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm
Thanks for the info! I'm not a mommy yet, but I'm a sponge soaking up all the info. :)
Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather January 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm
Wonderful post! I'm 23 weeks pregnant and wil be interested to see how my iron levels have been holding up when I get my next panel. Congrats on your pregnancy!!
Katie @ Healthy Heddleston January 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm
Thanks you! Congrats on your pregnancy as well!! Time is going to start flying by for you! Good luck on the panel, don't be worried if they are low though, it's very common!
Erin Smylie Walsh February 2, 2012 at 12:49 am
Thanks for the very informative post Katie! For us non-pregnant women there are details you don't even think of when falling pregnant. I'm also soaking up as much info as I can :) All the best with the rest of your pregnancy!

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