Proper nutrition plays an essential role in the development of your child’s cardiovascular system. Like adults, babies require adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, along with essential vitamins and minerals to develop properly. Since fetal heart development primarily occurs in the first trimester, it is important for pregnant women to receive plenty of essential nutrients -- such as calcium and phosphorous -- that help form the tissues of your baby’s heart. For best results, talk to your doctor or dietitian about the best nutrition plan for your baby’s development.
An average person’s heart is equivalent to the size of her fist; as your body develops, your heart and hand grow at a relatively similar rate, according to The Franklin Institute. However, fetuses in the womb have much larger hearts during the first and second trimesters, in relation to the surrounding organs. As your baby develops, the heart grows in size from a simple tube to an intricate mass of vessels and ventricles. Since the nutrition of the fetus is directly related to the nutrition of the mother, pregnant women are typically advised to avoid certain substances and foods -- such as caffeine or excess sodium and cholesterol intake -- which may hinder the development of the baby’s heart.
The Best Food Choices
Most pregnant women can consume a sufficient amount of heart-healthy nutrients by following a balanced diet rich in whole grains, leafy greens and lean proteins. However, some pregnant women may want to emphasize foods that contain high amounts of certain minerals and nutrients. Calcium, copper, phosphorous and thiamine are four nutrients that are critical to the development of the fetal heart, according to the BabyCenter.com. Calcium and phosphorous can be found in found in milk and are recommended in daily quantities of 1,000 and 700 milligrams respectively. You should also receive at least 1 milligram of copper per day from foods such as cashews, kidney beans and crabmeat. Lastly, thiamine is necessary -- about 1.4 milligrams a day --- and can be found in oats, split peas and most meat products.
Foods to Avoid
In addition to increasing your intake of heart-healthy foods, try to decrease the amount of unhealthy foods you eat. The Franklin Institute recommends limiting your fat intake to less than 30 percent of your total caloric value each day. Additionally, keep your cholesterol and sodium intake under 300 and 3,000 milligrams per day, respectively. Food additives and chemicals, such as MSG, may also have undetermined side effects on fetal development. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about specific foods and beverages to eliminate from your diet.
Once your baby is born, his heart continues to grow along with other bodily organs. To maintain adequate cardiovascular development as he gets older, emphasize a diet of beans, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, tuna and flaxseed play an important role in protecting the heart from antioxidants. Check the labels of the foods you buy to make sure they contain these healthy ingredients.
- MayoClinic.com: Fetal Development, The First Trimester
- BabyCenter: Pregnancy Nutrients You Need to Help Your Baby Grow
- The Franklin Institute: Development of the Human Heart
- The Franklin Institute: Healthy Heart Diet
- Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics: Heart-Healthy Foods
- American Cancer Society: Heart Healthy Foods Your Whole Body Will Love