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The Crucial Role of Electrolytes, Especially Salt, During Pregnancy


Pregnancy and breastfeeding are transformative periods in a woman's life, marked by significant physiological changes. The importance of proper nutrition during this time cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts both the mother and the child's long-term health. The first 1,000 days from conception are particularly vital, as they encompass the period when most of the child's brain development occurs. To frame this in context, an adult brain typically consumes around 20% of your daily calories. In a child's brain however, so much brain development is going on, their brain consumes 60% of their total daily calories!

In this article, we will delve into the crucial role of electrolytes, with a special focus on salt, during pregnancy.

Nutritional Status and Its Impact

Nutritional status during pregnancy and the first two years of a child's life is pivotal for lifelong health. It directly influences the risk of developing metabolic and cardiovascular diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Optimal nutritional balance involves macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) and micronutrients (electrolytes, vitamins, and water), all of which are essential for proper foetal development.

Pregnant and nursing women also need more:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin D

  • Niacin

  • Riboflavin

  • Vitamin B6

  • Vitamin B12

  • Iron (during pregnancy only)

  • Selenium

  • Zinc

  • Choline

Low iron or anaemia in pregnancy is treated as a ‘common’ pregnancy issue and many women don’t understand the lasting effects it can have on the development of your child’s brain. Iron deficiency will occur in your brain, liver, heart, and kidneys BEFORE you see it present as anaemia.

The significance of iron for a developing child is huge and is critical for:

  • several brain processes (neural coding)

  • brain energy metabolism

  • dopamine synthesis

  • gene regulation.

A great Podcast by Dr. Georgieff describes in depth how low iron in children, compromises the brain’s structure and function. There are other key nutrients such as Choline for brain function, however iron deficiency is seen so often in pregnancy and therefore potentially easier to address before conception in the mother.

If you are going to buy vitamin, make sure you it contains the above VITAMINS in. Supplementation is not a replacement for eating a fresh, whole food diet though, but it helps to plug the gaps.

Unlocking the Key Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Foetal Brain Development and Maternal Health During Pregnancy

During the latter half of pregnancy, there is a notable acceleration in the growth of the foetal brain, and this rapid growth rate persists throughout the first year of a baby's life, extending into subsequent years. It is believed that during pregnancy, there is an increased demand for omega-3 fatty acids, surpassing the normal requirements. This heightened need is primarily to support the development of the foetal brain and eyes. Studies conducted on animals have revealed that a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can lead to irreversible visual and behavioural impairments in offspring, even if omega-3 supplementation is provided after birth.

The significance of ensuring an ample intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy cannot be overstated, as these essential nutrients serve as fundamental building blocks for the foetal brain and retina. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids may have a role in influencing the duration of pregnancy and in preventing perinatal depression.

Among the various forms of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the most biologically active. These crucial fatty acids are primarily sourced from marine origins, including seafood and algae. Given these crucial considerations, it becomes evident that maintaining an adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids to the developing foetus throughout the entirety of pregnancy is of paramount importance. As a result, consensus guidelines have been established to recommend that expectant mothers should aim to incorporate a minimum of 200 mg of DHA into their daily dietary intake.

Essential Electrolytes: Sodium, Potassium, and More

Electrolytes are essential minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in bodily fluids. They play numerous critical roles in the body, including supporting adrenal health, regulating fluid balance, controlling blood pressure, facilitating the conduction of electrical charges, aiding detoxification, and enabling the transportation of vitamins in and out of cells. Among the primary electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, and phosphorous. In essence, they are just as critical as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins for overall well-being. Think of protein, fat and carbohydrate as the petrol in your car and the minerals/vitamins are the oil that allows the engine to work.

Why Do You Need More Electrolytes During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, a woman's fluid volume increases by a remarkable 50%. This increase begins gradually in the first trimester, and along with it, the levels of electrolytes, including sodium, rise to meet the heightened demand. Sodium, in particular, is a key player in maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure, making it vital for the developing foetus.

As the baby grows and the uterus expands, several important functions of amniotic fluid include:

  • Protecting and cushioning the baby.

  • Facilitating lung development since the baby breathes in the fluid, which contains hormones, nutrients, and antibodies.

  • Maintaining a stable temperature.

  • Supporting the development of the baby's digestive system.

  • Assisting in nutrient delivery and waste removal.

  • Promoting the growth of the baby's skeletal and muscular systems by providing space for movement and stimulation.

The Importance of Sodium

Sodium is often misunderstood as a health villain due to concerns about high blood pressure. However, it is an essential mineral that the body cannot produce, necessitating regular dietary intake. Sodium has a multitude of critical functions, such as generating blood pressure, facilitating the movement of thyroid hormones into cells, generating action potentials, and aiding in the transport of antioxidants in and out of cells.

The Paradox of Low-Salt Diets

Many people are advised to limit their salt intake, but research suggests that excessively low-salt diets can have adverse effects, especially during pregnancy. High levels of aldosterone, renin, and angiotensin II—the artery-stiffening hormones—are linked to low-salt diets, which can result in sustained high blood pressure. This elevated pressure is not ancestrally consistent to human physiology, as the body effectively processes and eliminates excess salt within approximately 75 minutes of ingestion. Remember we have 3,200mg of sodium (8g of SALT) per litre of blood and in pregnancy you are increasing your fluid volume by 50%! Electrolytes as dispersed in fluid in your body.

The Dangers of Low-Salt Diets in Pregnancy

Low-salt diets during pregnancy can lead to a range of issues, including:

  • Internal Starvation: Reduced nutrient delivery to the foetus.

  • Fat Accumulation: An increase in fat around vital organs.

  • Abnormal Leptin Levels: A hormone linked to appetite and metabolism.

  • Insulin Resistance: A precursor to diabetes.

  • Hypertension: Elevated blood pressure in both mother and child.

  • Kidney Disease: Chronic kidney issues in adult offspring.

Pre-eclampsia and Low-Salt Diets

Pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition characterised by high blood pressure during pregnancy, has led to recommendations for reduced salt intake. However, research indicates that low-salt diets can lead to muscle weakness, particularly in the legs, a condition that can be mitigated by increasing salt intake. Additionally, a review of available evidence suggests that low-salt diets may not prevent pre-eclampsia.

Common signs of insufficient sodium intake during pregnancy include swelling, headaches, leg cramps, fatigue, and high blood pressure. It's essential to maintain a balanced salt intake, particularly when you're pregnant.

Support for Maternal Salt Intake

Historical studies conducted on pregnant women have found that low-salt diets were associated with:

  • More miscarriages.

  • Increased risk of premature births.

  • Higher rates of stillbirths.

  • More perinatal and neonatal deaths.

  • Elevated oedema (swelling).

  • Increased incidence of preeclampsia.

  • Greater risk of bleeding.

These findings suggest that maternal salt intake is essential for the health of both the mother and the foetus.

The Role of Electrolytes in Amniotic Fluid

Amniotic fluid is vital for foetal development, providing essential nutrients and cushioning for the developing foetus. Electrolytes, including sodium, play a crucial role in maintaining amniotic fluid volume. Low-salt diets during pregnancy have been linked to both low amniotic fluid (volume depletion) and excessive amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios), underscoring the importance of electrolyte balance.

Choosing the Right Sources of Sodium

Increasing salt intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding doesn't mean indulging in processed, high-sodium foods. Instead, opt for unrefined sea salts, like Celtic salt, which contains more trace minerals. Additionally, consider consuming sodium-rich whole foods such as miso, sun-dried tomatoes, pork rinds, bacon, beef jerky, Parmesan cheese, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Potassium and Pregnancy

More Than Just Bananas Potassium is another crucial electrolyte that balances the effects of sodium in our cells. It works in tandem with other minerals to maintain normal fluid electrolyte balance and plays vital roles in foetal growth, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure regulation. Although potassium intake recommendations during pregnancy are based on non-pregnant females, inadequate potassium intake can contribute to conditions like preeclampsia.

Potassium-rich foods extend beyond bananas and potatoes and include items like coconut water, sun-dried tomatoes, avocados, bacon, ham, salmon, dried apricots, and various dairy products. Ensuring an adequate potassium intake is essential for a healthy pregnancy.

Magnesium and Pregnancy

The Jack-of-All-Trades Mineral Magnesium is a versatile mineral with over 600 roles in enzymatic reactions within the body. It plays essential roles in Vitamin D metabolism and activation, insulin regulation, muscle relaxation, foetal bone formation, immune function, and may even alleviate morning sickness during pregnancy. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is common, partly due to modern agricultural practices depleting magnesium from the soil, reduced concentration in food and low bioavailability from food.

Pregnant women should aim for magnesium intake of at least 300-500 mg per day, with some needing more. Supplementation may be necessary, with forms like magnesium citrate and malate being well-absorbed and less likely to cause gastrointestinal issues. Adequate magnesium intake during pregnancy can reduce the risk of preeclampsia, particularly in high-risk individuals.

Calcium and Pregnancy

Essential for foetal growth, calcium while not needing increased intake during pregnancy, plays a pivotal role in foetal development. The body's ability to absorb calcium doubles during pregnancy, ensuring the growing baby receives what it needs for bone development, muscle and nerve function, and hormonal activity. Most women can meet their calcium needs through food, but supplementation may be considered in certain cases.

Tips for Increasing Electrolytes During Pregnancy:

  • Embrace real, whole foods, preferably sourced locally from quality soil.

  • Season your meals with salt to taste, and don't be afraid to indulge in salty cravings.

  • Include potassium-rich foods in your diet, like coconut water and potassium-rich fruits.

  • Consider homemade electrolyte drinks or supplements to meet your magnesium needs.

  • Focus on a balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods.


Electrolytes are indispensable for overall health and play an even more critical role during pregnancy. Maintaining the right balance of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium can help ensure a healthy pregnancy journey. By making conscious choices about the foods, you eat and considering supplements, when necessary, you can provide both you and your growing baby with the essential electrolytes needed for optimal health during pregnancy. Remember, it's not about eating more processed foods but about embracing real, nutrient-dense options for the well-being of both you and your baby. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalised dietary recommendations during pregnancy and breastfeeding.



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