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Chelsea at Crunch Gym

Forty Weeks of Fitness!

Chelsea, our pregnancy fitness expert, is a certified personal trainer at Crunch gym in San Francisco, California. She gave birth to her daughter, Madeira Re, in July 2006. Read more

Eating for Two


Iron is an essential component of proteins found in red blood cells that transport oxygen to tissues, and it is also essential for the regulation of cell growth and differentiation. Extra iron is needed during pregnancy because your blood volume increases 40 to 50 percent to support your growing fetus. A woman who is not pregnant absorbs about 10 percent of the iron contained in the food she eats; but a pregnant womanís body absorbs up to twice as much. The Recommended Daily Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron for pregnant and lactating women is 27 mg a day. Good sources of iron include meat (especially liver and other organs), egg yolks, and legumes. However, the average American diet does not contain enough iron to meet these requirements, so many pregnant women are encouraged to take a daily iron supplement of 30 to 60 milligrams.

Inadequate iron levels can cause anemia, which decreases your ability to fight off infection and tolerate hemorrhaging during childbirth. It has also been suggested that pica, the craving for substances with little or no nutritional value (such as dirt, clay, starch, and ice), may be associated with iron deficiency. According to the National Research council, as many as 50 percent of the pregnant women attending southern health department clinics ate clay. Eating these substances may take the place of nutritionally valuable foods; and many pica substances, such as starch, are high in calories and may contribute to obesity. In addition, some pica substances (such as charcoal, air fresheners, and mothballs) contain toxic substances, which can interfere with the absorption of minerals. Although it is not known whether anemia is the cause or effect of pica, the craving abates when the anemia is corrected.

Folic Acid

Pregnancy doubles a woman's need for folate (folic acid or folacin), yet folic acid absorption may be impaired by hormonal changes during pregnancy. Repeated studies have shown that women who consume 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70 percent. Doctors and scientists still aren't completely sure why folic acid has such a profound effect on the prevention of neural tube defects, but they do know that it is crucial in the development of DNA, cell growth and development, as well as tissue formation.

You can get additional folate by eating more green leafy vegetables, certain fruits, and liver and other organ meats. Because folic acid is crucial to cell multiplication, the fetus's needs are met before those of the mother; therefore, pregnant women are at an increased risk of folate deficiency. Severe folate deficiency can result in a condition called megaloblastic anemia, in which the mother's heart, liver and spleen become enlarged and the life of the fetus may be threatened.

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