Study: Pregnant Women Lack Necessary Nutrients and Vitamins

Researchers revealed that many pregnant women have low or marginal levels of key nutrients, and plant-based diets could add to the problem.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported a significant increase in maternal mortality in the United States and other countries. While access to quality healthcare is needed to mitigate this growing crisis, adequate nutrition before and during pregnancy could also help lower adverse outcomes for both mothers and babies.

While most pregnant individuals take prenatal vitamins to prevent nutrient deficiencies, few studies have examined whether pregnant women lack specific vitamins and micronutrients.

In a study published on December 5 in PLOS Medicine, scientists examined the vitamin status of 1,729 women from the United Kingdom, Singapore, and New Zealand before, during, and after pregnancy. They found that over 90% of women had a low or marginal folate, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D status before becoming pregnant. Many of these nutrients are abundant in meat and dairy.

The scientists say that because plant-based diets lack vitamin B12 and are low in other vital nutrients, consuming this diet could worsen the situation.

The researchers also found that many participants developed the markers of vitamin B6 deficiency as pregnancy progressed.

While many assume nutritional deficiencies mainly occur among those living in underdeveloped regions, this research showed that these deficiencies also impact women in highly developed countries.

However, the research team says vitamin supplements available over the counter can reduce nutrient deficiencies if taken before pregnancy through breastfeeding.

Co-study author Shiao-Yng Chan, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore and Deputy Executive Director at A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), explains in a press release, "As we continue to move towards diets with less meat and dairy products, leading to reduced intakes of vitamin B12 and other micronutrients essential for the child's development, vitamin deficiencies will continue to grow unless women are supported with specific advice about nutrient-rich foods or start taking more supplements."

What vitamins and minerals do pregnant women need?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women need adequate amounts of vitamin C, folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy. While a nutritious diet can provide these nutrients, the ACOG recommends pregnant women take a daily prenatal vitamin to prevent deficiencies.

For pregnant women, the daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals are:

  • Calcium (1,300 milligrams for ages 14 to 18; 1,000 milligrams for ages 19 to 50)
  • Iron (27 milligrams)
  • Iodine (220 micrograms)
  • Choline (450 milligrams)
  • Vitamin A (750 micrograms for ages 14 to 18; 770 micrograms for ages 19 to 50)
  • Vitamin C (80 milligrams for ages 14 to 18; 85 milligrams for ages 19 to 50)
  • Vitamin D (600 international units)
  • Vitamin B6 (1.9 milligrams)
  • Vitamin B12 (2.6 micrograms)
  • Folic acid (600 micrograms)

In addition, the American College of Nurse-Midwives suggests that pregnant and breastfeeding women should get about 200 to 300 mg of omega-3s per day.

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