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Why you need zinc during pregnancy
Your baby needs zinc for cell growth and for the production and functioning of DNA – the body's genetic blueprint.
Getting enough zinc is especially important during pregnancy because there's so much rapid cell growth. This essential mineral also helps support your immune system, maintain your senses of taste and smell, and heal wounds.
Some studies link zinc deficiency to low birth weight and other problems during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
How much zinc you need
Pregnant women age 18 and younger: 12 milligrams (mg) per day
Pregnant women age 19 and older: 11 mg per day
Breastfeeding age 18 and younger: 13 mg per day
Breastfeeding women age 19 and older: 12 mg per day
Nonpregnant women ages 19 and older: 8 mg per day
You don't have to get the recommended amount of zinc every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.
Food sources of zinc
Fortified cereals and red meat are good sources of this nutrient. You can also get it from some shellfish, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products.
Here are some other good food sources of zinc for pregnant women:
- 3 ounces Dungeness crab, cooked: 4.7 mg
- 3 ounces beef, cooked: 3.7 to 5.8 mg
- 3 ounces dark turkey meat, cooked: 3.0 mg
- 3 ounces pork, cooked: 1.9 to 3.5 mg
- 8 ounces nonfat yogurt with fruit: 1.8 mg
- 1 ounce cashews: 1.6 mg
- 8 ounces milk: 1.0 mg
- 1/2 cup baked beans: 0.9 to 2.9 mg
- 1 ounce almonds: 0.9 mg
- 1 ounce peanuts: 0.9 mg
- 1 ounce cheddar cheese: 0.9 mg
(Note that 3 ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.)
Oysters are actually the richest food source of zinc – just two can provide more than the recommended amount for the whole day – but experts caution against eating raw oysters during pregnancy because of the risk of food-borne illness. What's more, oysters harvested from some areas contain high levels of mercury.
Should you take a zinc supplement?
If you're not already getting enough from your diet, your prenatal vitamin supplement will most likely provide all the zinc you need.
Most people who eat meat and have a reasonably well-balanced diet get plenty of zinc. But if you eat a mostly vegetarian diet, you may have a hard time getting enough zinc from food alone because it's harder to absorb the mineral from plant foods – you may want to ask your healthcare provider if you need a zinc supplement.
Can you get too much zinc?
Yes. Too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences, the group that sets the recommended daily amounts for the government, suggests that adults should get no more than 40 mg of zinc a day from all sources. (Women 18 and younger should get no more than 34 mg.)
The signs of a zinc deficiency
Deficiencies in the United States are rare, but it can cause impaired sense of smell or taste, a loss of appetite, failure to grow (for children), and a lower immunity to infections.