It’s calving season, my favorite time of year on the ranch.
I never get tired of watching a cow know instinctively just what to do when her time approaches. First, she finds a private place in the pasture away from the herd. Then she delivers her baby, usually with no help from us, thank you very much.
Right after birth, she licks her newborn clean. Then she stands by patiently as he struggles to his feet and wobbles to her side to find his first nourishment. It’s a true miracle.
We humans have somewhat different views on pregnancy. We prefer a clean hospital bed to a grassy pasture. And after delivery, we let the nurses clean up our newborns.
The basics of reproducing another life are similar, though. Certain ingredients are required to build a strong healthy baby. And if one or more of those components are missing, it could affect that new human for the rest of their life.
Our cows get plenty of exercise. Fresh water is readily available from our windmills. And their pasture diet is supplemented with protein and minerals recommended by an animal nutritionist in our community.
Pregnant women don’t usually live in a pasture, but they do need regular exercise, fresh water and a nutrient-packed diet supplemented with specific nutrients. One critical B vitamin, for example, is folate (also known as folic acid). It’s needed in the early weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
If folic acid is not supplied adequately during the first eight weeks of pregnancy when baby’s brain and spinal cord begin to develop, serious birth defects called neural tube defects can happen. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control advises any woman of childbearing age to get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. This increases to 600 mcg during pregnancy.
Food sources of folate include leafy greens such as spinach, as well as dried beans and peas. Also of note: Since 1998, breads, cereals, flour, pasta, rice and other grain products in the United States are enriched with folic acid.
When their pasture grass loses its green in the winter, we feed our pregnant cows additional protein and minerals. Likewise, a woman needs additional protein and calcium in her second and third trimesters of pregnancy. She will also need a prenatal vitamin throughout her pregnancy to supply other key nutrients for building a better baby.
Behind the inspiring scene of frolicking calves with their watchful mothers is the real work ranchers put in to care for each cow during her nine-month pregnancy. Human moms needs support, too. Follow your doctor’s advice and check out a personal food plan for pregnancy and breastfeeding at www.myplate.gov/life-stages/pregnancy-and-breastfeeding.
(Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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