A mother’s health during pregnancy is of critical importance since it impacts both the mother and foetus. During this time, the immune system of a woman goes through several changes that contribute to the success of the pregnancy. And so, maintaining maternal immunity can help to fight infections that can otherwise affect both mother and child.
Conditions such as inadequate nutrition and anaemia can increase the risk of developing infections during pregnancy. Therefore, a robust immunity is critical to maintaining good health for both mother and child especially in today’s global public health crisis scenario.
How do nutrients influence immunity?
The dietary intake of multiple micronutrients affects the processes of inflammation, immune cell function, and modulation. For that matter, the slightest deficiency of certain nutrients can compromise immunity and increase the risk of prenatal infections. These, in turn, increase the risk of certain diseases in the foetus, with effects being seen in the child even after birth.
Adequate intake of nutrients like zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D are essential to help support a woman’s immune system during pregnancy and even mild deficiencies can lead to immune impairment. Zinc, in particular, plays a central role in building immunity owing to its antioxidant action and role in cellular regulation.
Following are the essential micronutrients that can help support and build immunity:
Zinc: An antioxidant and immune regulator. Its regular intake is important since it is not stored as a reserve in the body
Selenium: It plays a role in innate immunity and provides self-protection of immune cells. Selenium has shown enhancement of immune response to viruses in deficient individuals.
Vitamin C: It improves iron absorption from the gut. Acts as a significant antioxidant and may also reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia.
Vitamin D: It plays a central role in immunity affecting structural and functional components of the immune system and modulates the antimicrobial function of macrophages (a type of white blood cell).
Vitamin B: Vitamin B complex and folic acid are all essential in pregnancy and have a key role in maintaining immune integrity. Vitamins B6, B12 and folate are particularly important
How can you meet your nutritional requirements during this time?
In India, a large proportion of pregnant and lactating women consume inadequate amounts of essential nutrients which can be corrected through nutritional supplementation.
For many pregnant women in India, the dietary intake of vegetables, meat, dairy products and fruit is often insufficient to meet the nutritional requirements.
A study has found that some women can have >50% deficiency of multiple essential micronutrients. These deficiencies combined with anaemia, infections and other differences in the diet can explain the inadequacy of maternal nutrition which can lead to complications later on during the pregnancy.
To keep your nutrition in check, talk to your gynaecologist about the foods you should be eating during this time. You can also ask about nutritional supplements rich in these nutrients in order to keep your immunity in check.