An exciting, important area of research receiving a lot of attention in recent years involves pregnancy influences. Exposure of a fetus to a wide array of influences has been clearly demonstrated to deliver a positive or negative impact to
the resulting offspring’s health, measurable many years after the child’s delivery.
Exercise, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and a low-stress environment during pregnancy offer measurable, crucial benefits for many years following childbirth. Major stress events (death of a loved one, loss of a job), antibiotic use, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy result in measurable detriment to the child for many years post-delivery. The focus of this article is to describe a selection of natural health product supplements supported by impressive scientific evidence of delivering important benefits when supplemented during pregnancy for the health of the resulting offspring.
The best publicized supplement for use during pregnancy to prevent disease in the resulting offspring is folic acid. It is ideal to be supplementing folic acid for several months prior to pregnancy to obtain the benefit of reduced risk of neural tube defects in the child. It is estimated that supplementation with folic acid prior to and during pregnancy reduces risk of neural tube defects by 72 per cent1. Most women should consume 1mg (1000mcg) of folic acid per day for two to three months prior to becoming pregnant. Women considered at high risk for a child with neural tube defects are advised to consume 5mg (5000mcg) per day.
Above and beyond the impact of folic acid, a daily multivitamin is highly advisable for pregnant women. Use of a multivitamin during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of five congenital abnormalities (cleft palate, heart defects, etc.) and three pediatric cancers2,3. The multivitamin should contain very low, or zero, vitamin A and beta-carotene.
Supplementation of fish oil during pregnancy has been shown to deliver a long list of important outcomes to the resulting offspring. More rapid development of visual acuity, auditory processing, and improved IQ have all been demonstrated, as has improved prosocial behaviour during childhood years. More recently, it has also been shown that infants whose mothers supplemented fish oil during pregnancy are at reduced risk of developing atopy: wheeze,
Adults, and children very shortly after birth, possess more bacteria in their colon than they do cells in their entire body! The types of bacteria in the colon have immense impact on our health, and scientists discover new roles for these microorganisms every day. A fetus, however, has a sterile colon — there are no bacteria present. The colon of a newborn is inoculated (receives its first bacteria) upon delivery. The appropriate bacteria to receive are introduced during a vaginal birth (as the baby leaves the birth canal, it picks up bacteria from the mom). A very different, and detrimental array of bacteria are picked up by the child during C-section deliveries. Supplementation during pregnancy with a probiotic has been shown to powerfully reduce a child’s risk of atopy7. Probiotics can also be administered directly to a newborn baby, and is especially important among children who have been born by C-section. It is highly advisable to consult with a naturopathic doctor when seeking to administer a probiotic directly to a newborn infant.
Guidelines have recently changed regarding what is considered an appropriate blood level of vitamin D. Based on these revisions, virtually all Canadians are deficient in vitamin D (unless they are already taking a supplement)! Specific to pregnancy, studies have shown that children born to mothers who supplemented vitamin D while pregnant are at reduced risk of developing type I diabetes as children.8
The study of influences in pregnancy and their impact on the health of offspring is a fascinating area that will continue to evolve in the years to come. It is incredible that simple things done during pregnancy can have such a profound impact on the health of the child throughout their entire life! There is clear scientific evidence to support the recommendation for pregnant women to supplement with folic acid, a multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics, and vitamin D prior to and throughout their pregnancy.
1. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Oct 6;(10):CD007950.
2. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2006 Aug;28(8):680-9.
3. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2008 Feb;50(2 Suppl):487-9.
4. BJOG. 2011 Jul;118(8):916-25.
5. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):548-57.
6. Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.
7. Epidemiology. 2012 May;23(3):402-14.
8. Diabetes. 2012 Jan;61(1):175-8.