Pregnancy is a nutritionally demanding time, and the food you eat plays a critical role in nourishing not only your body but your baby’s as well. Certain nutrients are required to meet the demands of your rapidly developing baby. Folic acid, iron, and calcium are the most discussed nutrients. Yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is just as important for a healthy pregnancy as these other vitamins.
Folic acid and B12 metabolism are interrelated. Even if your folate intake is optimum, it might have an impact on your pregnancy and its outcome. For this reason, it is critical to monitor cobalamin levels at all three stages of pregnancy – before, during, and after (lactation).
B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in many metabolic activities and biochemical reactions in the body. It is one of the eight B complex vitamins required for nerve development in babies. As a result, low cobalamin levels increase the risk of neurological birth defects.
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What Does Vitamin B12 Do?
Helps Create Genetic Material:
Vitamin B12 aids in the production of RNA and DNA, the body’s genetic material. Genes contain a collection of coded instructions that is copied and handed down to the baby. B12 works with folate to create genetic material through a process known as methylation. Low cobalamin levels increase the risk of genetic abnormalities in babies.
B12 Helps Maintain Nervous System Health:
B12 is an essential vitamin for the health and development of your baby’s nerves. Cobalamin and folate work together to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). This is a compound that improves mood, decreases the risk of depression, and strengthens the immune system. B12 aids in forming the myelin sheath, which is the protective layer that coats nerve cells. Optimal cobalamin levels are required for nerve signal transmission and maintaining nerve health. Babies’ brain development can be impaired by low maternal reserves.
Healthy Blood Cell Count:
B12 works with folate (vitamin B9) to generate healthy red blood cells. In expecting mothers, adequate cobalamin levels lower the risk of developing a condition called pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia lowers red blood cell counts in the body, which often leads to chronic fatigue, depression, and numbness and/or tingling in the hands and feet. In infants, pernicious anemia can increase the risk of birth complications, including damage to the nerves and organs like the heart.
B12 Supports Heart Health:
B12, like B6 and folate (B9), helps regulate homocysteine (amino acid) levels in the blood. Elevated homocysteine levels increase the risk of heart disease and miscarriage. This is why B12 supplements are recommended for those trying to conceive.
Promotes Skin, Hair, and Nail Health:
Cobalamin is essential for cell division and proliferation. It aids in the formation of new skin and hair cells. The appearance of a person’s nails, skin, and hair may indicate an underlying deficiency. A high quality B12 supplement may help restore healthy skin, hair and nail formation.
According to the National Institute of Health, the daily requirement of vitamin B12 for pregnant women is 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg for breastfeeding women. Although only required in micrograms, replenishing our daily B12 reserves is vital as this essential vitamin is water-soluble, meaning the body only absorbs what it needs and flushes the rest.
How to Boost Vitamin B12 Levels
B12 is naturally found in animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. Vegans are at a greater risk of developing a deficiency, therefore it is critical for them to take B12 supplements. Salmon, beef, liver, turkey and herring are all excellent dietary sources. Other foods, including fortified plant foods, nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, and enriched cereals, are also adequate sources. Consult your OB/GYN regarding cobalamin levels and daily intake. For some, supplementing may be beneficial to help meet daily requirements.
Keep in mind that a healthy diet during pregnancy can be achieved by consuming a variety of whole, high-quality, and nutrient-dense foods every day rather than simply taking a small number of vitamins and minerals.