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GROWING A BABY NEEDS SALT

20/09/2023

The expectant mother, like every human being, needs salt as a biological necessity and this becomes even greater during her pregnancy.  Floating in a warm sea of nourishing fluids, her unborn baby shares this need and receives it in the only way it can, through the mother’s circulating bloodstream.

The placenta is the organ which makes the exchange of nutrients between mother and baby possible, providing the fetus with the nourishment it needs for growth and development. This includes facilitating the transfer of salt to the baby from the earliest weeks of pregnancy until the moment of birth.

While there is a great deal written on the perceived dangers of consuming too much salt (and we believe that may have a lot to do with the quality of table salt vs natural salt insert link to blog) there is one situation where over-salting is not a problem: during pregnancy. In fact, more salt is required during pregnancy and we’ll explain why.

GROWING A HEALTHY BABY REQUIRES SALT

As the baby grows, so does the placenta so that it can provide more nourishment. And in order for the placenta to do its job, it needs to have an adequate amount of blood flowing through it.  During pregnancy, the mother’s blood volume expands by more than 40% to meet this need.  And guess what is necessary to achieve this increase in blood volume? Yes, indeed, it’s salt.

Salt increases osmotic pressure and causes the body to retain more fluid, which, during pregnancy, is retained in the bloodstream to ensure adequate placental blood flow, enabling it to deliver sufficient nutrients to the developing baby [1].

Salt is not only essential for increasing blood volume during pregnancy, it’s also necessary for retaining magnesium which could mean fewer leg cramps, a common complaint in pregnancy.

THE EFFECTS OF A LOW-SODIUM DIET IN PREGNANCY

Pregnancy is not the time to start restricting your salt-intake. When salt is misguidedly restricted, it limits the normal expansion of blood volume, which then impacts on the necessary growth of the placenta, thus decreasing the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the baby.

This has obvious effects on the baby’s growth and development. Salt restriction in pregnancy has been connected to low birth weight, organ underdevelopment and later dysfunction in adulthood.[2]

Research shows that low salt intake can worsen blood sugar and insulin resistance, which may contribute to gestational diabetes.[3]

Salt restriction in pregnancy can also contribute to hypertension and the development of preeclampsia.[4] Increasing dietary salt has been shown to reverse eclampsia in a large percentage of cases. One study found that the prevalence of preeclampsia was approximately 2.6 times higher in women who were advised to reduce their salt intake in comparison to those who were told to increase their salt intake.[5]

HOW DO I KNOW HOW MUCH SALT TO CONSUME?

If you’re pregnant and wondering how much salt is enough, we have a simple suggestion: trust your body’s messages. Salt to taste. If your food is tasting flat and unappetising, that’s a signal to eat more salt, since we have a stronger desire to eat salty foods when we have low sodium, and vice versa [6].  One study found that 26% of pregnant women reported a decreased sensitivity to salt. In other words, they couldn’t taste salt as much as they used to, which may lead to a craving for more salt, understandably so, given what we know about the need for salt during pregnancy.[7]

While science isn’t fully able to explain it, the need for increased salt may just account for that legendary pregnancy craving for pickles!  Buy the naturally fermented kind and you’ll be delivering great probiotics to your gut at the same time.

References

Books:

Real food for pregnancy, Lily Nichols

What every pregnant women should know, Dr Tom Brewer

Articles:

[1] http://www.drbrewerpregnancydiet.com/id70.html

[2] https://jbiomedsci.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12929-016-0233-8#:~:text=Salt%20is%20one%20of%20the,probably%20through%20gene%2Dmediated%20mechanism.

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3050268/

[4] http://www.drbrewerpregnancydiet.com/id36.html

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/hr201790

[6] B. Lindemann, “Sodium taste,” Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, vol. 6, no. 5. 1997, doi: 10.1097/00041552-199709000-00003.

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15201206/

Disclaimer: while our blogs featuring salt and health are carefully researched and reviewed by our qualified nutritionist and biostatician, Jacqui Niehaus, they should not be construed as medical advice. Please consider our blogs as education on how the human body processes and metabolises natural salt and its importance for our wellbeing.

Spot the iconic Oryx horns on restaurant tables and in retail stores nationwide. South African customers can find Oryx Desert Salt in premium Woolworths stores, Cape Union Mart, Pick ‘n Pay, Food Lovers Market, Dischem and Spar as well as most health shops and deli’s countrywide.

Also available in Whole Foods Market stores in the USA, Namibia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Germany, UK, Taiwan, Nigeria and launching in Australia next.
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