3.6 million babies were born in the US in 2020. While pregnancy is often associated with being a time of extreme joy and excitement, it is essential to remember that it also requires a great deal of attention, energy, and nutrients from the mom-to-be.
Pregnancy can be taxing to the body, especially if there are not enough building blocks (i.e., nutrition and healthy hormones) in the mother's body to support all of the changes and requirements needed.
A functional medicine approach to prenatal care involves a deeper look at how the total health of mother and baby can be optimized for this special time of life.
Common Prenatal Complications
Because pregnancy requires so much from the mother's body, some medical conditions are more prevalent during pregnancy. Some examples of these conditions are:
- Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA)
- Gestational Diabetes
- Depression and Anxiety
- High Blood Pressure or Preeclampsia
- Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Other Conditions Often Overlooked during Prenatal Care
Vitamin, mineral, and overall nutritional deficiencies are common during pregnancy since the fetus requires many of the mother's nutrients for growth.
Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) is caused by either a low intake of iron or inadequate absorption of the iron we are consuming. A woman's body requires extra iron for pregnancy-related mechanisms, so deficiency is expected at this time.
Furthermore, vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B6, folate, choline, and minerals including iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc are commonly found to be out of balance in pregnant women. Due to these studies, many practitioners request improved dietary guidance to help pregnant women meet but not exceed nutritional recommendations.
Intestinal dysbiosis occurs when the microbiome is out of balance. When this is present, especially during pregnancy, it can disrupt the function of other internal organs, which disturbs our overall delicate physiological balance. This could lead to pregnancy complications. Another reason to focus on gut health during pregnancy is over 63% of an infant's bacterial microbiome can be traced back to their mother's gut microbiota at the time of birth. Therefore focusing on the microbiome during pregnancy can make a massive difference in the mother's and newborn's overall health.
Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone must be circulating during pregnancy in precise amounts to keep the pregnancy healthy. If these two hormones are not at optimal levels, it could lead to a hormone imbalance, negatively affecting the pregnancy significantly.
Certain women may also be genetically prone to pregnancy-related complications. One specific example is if the mom has genetic markers that negatively influence her ability to methylate. Methylation is a process that can modify DNA, which means that if it is something that the mother's body is struggling to do effectively, it could impact maternal and fetal health during pregnancy.
Conventional Prenatal Labs
During pregnancy, working with a specialist to monitor maternal and fetal health is essential. An obstetrician (OB) or a midwife are both professional options.
When pregnancy is suspected, an hCG test is performed either through a urine or blood test to confirm the pregnancy.
Then, typically as soon as pregnancy is discovered, a prenatal blood panel is ordered by your midwife or OB to answer some questions about the mother's health status in these early days of pregnancy.
This panel usually includes:
- ABO blood type to confirm the mother's blood type
- Rh type to determine if there is a chance that the fetus's blood type is incompatible with the mother's blood type
- Complete Blood Count to check for signs of anemia
- Rubella IgG to make sure that the mother has enough antibodies against Rubella
- RPR, a screening test for syphilis
4 Functional Medicine Labs You Can Request During Pregnancy
Functional medicine can help us answer some questions about why certain pregnancy-related complications occur and how to counteract them.
1. Micronutrient Panel
Understanding the full nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy is very helpful. A Micronutrients Panel can help rule out potential dietary deficiencies or excesses.
2. Comprehensive Stool Test
A comprehensive stool test will give the patient an overview of her microbiome and suggestions on supporting it during pregnancy to increase beneficial bacteria.
Testing hormones during pregnancy can be a simple way to determine if the balance of the essential reproductive hormones - estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone - are in appropriate ranges for pregnancy.
Evaluating the mother's DNA may be a beneficial way to individualize aspects of health such as methylation status and nutrition. GrowBaby is a genetic test that provides valuable insights into optimizing health outcomes for mom and baby using gene-based personalized diet, supplements, and lifestyle interventions.
Functional Medicine Treatments for Prenatal Care
A functional approach to prenatal care is about optimizing the health of both mom and baby and perhaps preventing various pregnancy-related complications when possible.
During pregnancy, there are vital nutrients that should be consumed in adequate amounts by the mother. Some top nutrients are folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, choline, and omega 3, along with healthy sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Food sources of the common nutrients are:
- Folate: Legumes, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, avocado
- Heme iron: meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.), poultry (chicken, turkey), fish, and seafood
- Non-heme iron: eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and grains
- Calcium: dairy, seeds, sardines, canned salmon, beans, lentils, nuts, leafy greens
- Vitamin D: Dairy products and fish, including salmon, herring, and rainbow trout
- Iodine: seaweed, eggs, freshwater fish
- Choline: Eggs, beef, chicken, fish, dairy, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds
- Omega 3: Salmon, herring, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, rainbow trout, walnuts, and flaxseeds
- Fats: nuts, seeds, coconut oil and coconuts, olive oil and olives, wild-caught fish, avocados, eggs, grass-fed beef, and beef organs, pasture-raised poultry
- Protein: wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, organic non-GMO nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes
- Carbohydrates: Organic fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, wild and brown rice
Although food is an excellent primary source of nutrients, a high-quality prenatal vitamin is also commonly recommended to help fill in any possible gaps in the mother's nutrition.
DHA is essential for brain and eye development. Studies show that supplementing with DHA leads to healthier pregnancy outcomes.
A probiotic is also essential to help keep mom's microbiome healthy and happy. A healthy microbiome is associated with a reduction of pregnancy-related complications.
Balancing your hormones naturally via lifestyle adjustments is a good and safe way to maintain healthy hormone levels during pregnancy. Some simple recommendations are to eat protein at every meal, exercise regularly (in an approved manner and amount as per your physician or midwife), and maintain moderate weight (weight gain is expected during pregnancy but speak with your physician or midwife about how much weight is appropriate for you to gain specifically), be mindful about gut health, lower your sugar intake, try to reduce stress, eat healthy fats, get high-quality sleep consistently, and make sure there is enough fiber in your diet.
If, after a DNA test, it is apparent that the pregnant woman has genetic variants towards methylation issues, it would make sense to supplement with methyl nutrients. This is important because methylation is required to turn on or turn off various genes. Some examples of methyl nutrients are:
- Folate (vitamin B9)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Cobalamin (vitamin B12)
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- Choline (vitamin B4)
- As well as methionine and betaine
While a conventional approach typically monitors the prenatal period, functional medicine can help optimize and maintain maternal and fetal health.
Functional medicine labs are great additional options to labs that an OB or midwife may already order. They can help individuals take an even deeper look into the details of their health that may otherwise go unnoticed such as nutrient status, microbiome health, and DNA information.
Lab Tests in This Article
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