That’s according to Catherine Cooling, the Asia training manager for Blackmores Institute, the research arm of the Australian vitamins giant, who highlighted the importance of folate, iodine, iron, vitamin D, zinc, calcium and omega 3.
Speaking at a recent symposium organised by the institute in Singapore, she said pharmacists needed to be aware of the distinct nutritional needs of mums-to-be.
Citing published studies, she said academics found that pregnant women were often only receiving one third of the recommended 600mg daily intake of folate, less than half of the required 27mg of iron, and around one-fifth of the 5g of vitamin D that is needed.
Cooling also said many pregnant women were failing to get the required amount of calcium (1000mg) and magnesium (350mg).
With regard to folate, she said adequate intake “had the capacity to prevent 70% of all cases of neural tube defects. Other micronutrients that were associated with decreased risk included magnesium, zinc and thiamine.”
She also urged delegates, largely made up pharmacy professionals, to be acutely aware of the risks of iodine deficiency.
“Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which are important for a baby’s normal brain development," she said.
“Iodine promotes the healthy development of visual motor skills, hearing and supports a healthy IQ of the unborn child.”
She pointed to a study which found that the offspring of mothers with low iodine daily intake (below 150 mg), went on to have a 10% reduction is spelling ability, a 7.6% reduction in grammar skills and a 5.7% reduction in English literacy scores.
In Australia, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of iodine during pregnancy is 220mg a day, and 270mg a day while breastfeeding.
Turning her attention to iron, Cooling said low levels in pregnancy were assoicted with low birth weights, prematurity, and fatigue. She also drew attention to differing RDIs for Iron between Australia (27mg/day) and Singapore (19mg/day)
For vitamin D, she said Australian clinical practice guidelines for antenatal care stated there was no conclusive evidence for maternal vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy, but that it may benefit long-term maternal health for women who are deficient, especially in relation to bone health.
She also focused on the potential for calcium at 1g/day to reduce pre-eclampsia, the role of zinc to boost fertility and aid foetal growth, and the critical role of omega-3 for the cognitive health of infants.
“Often I get asked by people, ‘can I just give multivitamins’ during pregnancy, but the answer is no because some of the needs are far higher,” she said.
“Unfortunately, there is a lack of knowledge among some women and they jump on the net where here is a lot of misinformation. That’s why the role of the pharmacist is so vital.”