Smoking During Pregnancy – Dr. Torbati’s Thoughts

smoking and pregnancySmoking can cause serious problems for women trying to become pregnant, or those already pregnant, as well as the baby, both before and after birth.

Research suggests that cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including harmful substances such as lead and cyanide, as well as 60-plus cancer-causing elements. When a pregnant woman smokes, that toxic mixture is absorbed into your bloodstream, which is your baby’s only source of nutrients and oxygen.

In general, a fetus should not be exposed to any of the 4,000-plus chemicals, but even worse is the harmful effect of nicotine and carbon monoxide – two toxins that account for nearly every smoking-related pregnancy complication, with the most serious ones being premature delivery, stillbirth, and low birth weight.

Research suggests that nicotine narrows blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the umbilical cord, choking off oxygen supply to the fetus. As if this is not bad enough, the red blood cells that supply oxygen start to pick up carbon monoxide elements instead, further reducing oxygen supply to the mother’s tissues and the fetus.

So, how does this impact the fetus?

Lack of sufficient oxygen has tragic effects on your baby’s growth and development. In fact, research shows that smoking during pregnancy more than doubles the chances that your baby will be born too early, weigh less than 4.5 pounds, or be at risk of stillbirth. Other effects of smoking on the fetus include:

• Lifelong effects on the baby’s brain function, increasing the risk for learning disorders, low IQ, and behavioral problems

• Increased risk for a heart defect at birth, as well as infections and other health problems – especially if the mother smoked during her first semester

• Babies smaller in weight and size usually have underdeveloped bodies, and their lungs may not be fully functional at birth, requiring them to rely on a respirator for a few days or weeks.

Every cigarette a pregnant mother smokes increases the risks to the baby. The fewer cigarettes you smoke per day the lower the risk, though the difference may not be significant, since a smoker’s body is most sensitive to the first couple of nicotine doses each day.

It is hard to quit smoking, so ask for help from your spouse, family, friends, and a physician such as myself.

Calcium Requirements for Pregnant Women

Young couple in loveMaintaining an adequate intake of calcium is important to prevent or reduce bone loss. Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) suggests that an average diet should include 3 to 5 serves of calcium rich food every day, which translates to a total daily calcium intake of between 1,000 and 1,300 mg per day. The highest daily requirements are recommended for teenagers, women over 50, and men over 70.

Pregnant women need to fulfill their own body’s calcium requirements, as well as those of their developing baby, in order to build strong teeth and bones; develop blood-clotting abilities and a normal heart rhythm; and grow a healthy heart, muscles, and nerves. If your calcium intake during pregnancy is insufficient, your baby will obtain it from your bones, which may affect your health later on.

Recommended Daily Intake of Calcium for Women

To ensure that women are consuming the appropriate amount of calcium throughout their pregnancy, the Recommended Daily Allowance for calcium is set at 1,200 mg (milligrams) per day for both pregnant and lactating women over age 24. Calcium is also important after pregnancy as it helps to prevent bone loss later on in life. The recommended daily calcium intake for women under age 24 is 1,200 – 1,500 mg.

Calcium Rich Foods Pregnancy

The best way to ensure that you are getting the recommended amount of calcium in your daily diet is by consuming a minimum of 4 servings of calcium—rich foods and dairy products a day.

calcium requirements pregnancyDairy products are the top sources of calcium:

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • pudding
  • cream soups

Other excellent sources of calcium:

  • canned fish
  • beans
  • dried peas
  • green vegetables (i.e. spinach, broccoli, greens)

You can also meet your daily requirements by consuming calcium-fortified foods, such as rice beverages, bread, cereal, soy, and juice, though you should first check the label to ensure that they contain calcium. Non-dairy sources are particularly ideal for lactose intolerant women.

Watch Your Intake

It is important to note that excessive consumption of calcium, over 2,500 mg per day, can lead to constipation, interfere with your body’s absorption of zinc and iron from food, and increase your risk of kidney stones. So, pregnant women should take into consideration the amount of calcium in their prenatal vitamin when tallying their daily calcium intake.

DGA Guidelines for Pregnant Women: What You Should Eat During Pregnancy

Learn what dietary recommendations are best during pregnancyThere is a lot of advice out there informing all kinds of people about how to choose what to eat, but all of them seem to agree that what is most important is that you consume a balanced diet containing the appropriate amount of calories needed to perform daily activities.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), 2010, which was released early 2011 emphasizes that Americans need to manage their weight by engaging in physical activities; consuming foods with less refined sugars, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and fats; and consuming more fruits, vegetables, seafood, and general low-fat products.

DGA Guidelines for Pregnant Women

The guidelines also propose foods and nutrients recommendations for specific population groups, including women capable of becoming pregnant, and women who are already pregnant.

For the former group, the DGA recommends:

• Foods rich in heme-iron, because it is readily absorbed by the body; any other foods rich in iron; and iron absorption enhancers, such as foods rich in vitamin C
• Daily intake of 400 micrograms (mcg) of synthetic folic acid from supplements or fortified foods, as well as food forms of folate from a diverse diet.

For pregnant women and those breastfeeding, the DGA recommends:

• Weekly intake of 8 – 12 ounces of seafood from different seafood types
• Minimal intake of white tuna (6 ounces per week) because it is rich in methyl mercury
• That they avoid these four types of fish: swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark
• Iron supplements for pregnant women, as advised by a health care provider.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage pregnant and nursing mothers to follow the DGA recommendations, especially with regard to the intake of seafood.

According to the FDA, seafood (fish and shellfish) is low in fat, high in protein, and a great source of vitamin D, iodine, and selenium, which are absent in many Western diets, but are necessary to ensure proper growth, development, and general health. Children born to mothers who took omega-3 seafood during pregnancy are also said to have better functioning brains and nervous systems, and perform better in school.

Top seafood choices for Omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tilapia, canned tuna, catfish, Pollock, and cod.

Stick to the DGA’s advice and both you and your child will be happy!