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Pregnancy and Infant Nutritional Needs

Adequate nutrition, even as early as 8 weeks before pregnancy begins, can help to ensure proper growth during critical stages of embryonic and fetal development and maintain optimal health of the mother as well.

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Vitamin needs increase considerably during pregnancy. Certain vitamins such as folate and vitamin B6, and minerals such as iron and iodide, are needed in quantities nearly double that of nonpregnant females due to their involvement in cell metabolism and reproduction. Other nutrients newly found to be essential for health are not yet classified as either vitamin or mineral but have been shown to be necessary for promotion of normal development of the fetus into infancy and beyond.

Choline is an essential nutrient that is associated with memory storage and muscle control. Choline metabolism is closely inter-related with the metabolism of folate and vitamin B12 to produce the amino acid methionine from homocysteine. Eggs are an excellent dietary source of choline, which in laboratory studies has been shown to enhance fetal brain development and memory function even into old age. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, also found in eggs, have been found to protect eyes from illness associated with vision loss in the elderly.

Eggs contribute many B vitamins including folate and vitamin B6 as well as a readily absorbable form of iron. It is well known that severe iron deficiency in pregnancy, especially during the first half of pregnancy, may lead to preterm delivery, low birth weight, and increased risk for fetal death in the first weeks after birth.

Most recently, research has indicated that egg yolks are a good food source of absorbable iron for infants even after the first 4-6 months when their fetal stores of iron becomes depleted and dietary iron is essential for continued health. In a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (June 2002), both breastfed and formula fed infants age 6 to 12 months who consumed egg yolks had improved iron status when compared with infants that did not have egg yolks. In fact, this study also found that antibody levels specific to egg yolk or egg white were no higher for the group that received the egg yolks. Other recent findings have shown that infants who consumed adequate amounts of vitamin D had an 80% lower risk of developing diabetes. Again, eggs are one of the few foods that are a natural dietary source of vitamin D.

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