Prenatal Vitamins- How Important Are They?

So you just found out you are pregnant- or you are trying to conceive hoping to give your new addition the best start possible… What comes to mind first? For many moms, it’s prenatal vitamins.

So what’s the deal with them? When do you need them? Do you really need them? What does the science say? How do you choose between the 847 varieties?? Read on for more info.

What We Know:

Good nutrition during pregnancy is very important to keep baby and mom in tip top shape. But studies have only been done on a limited number of ingredients in the average prenatal vitamin proving their necessity. When a woman is busy throwing up, craving Mac and Cheese and Ice Cream and oftentimes depending on takeout because they are exhausted during pregnancy, a prenatal can bridge nutritional gaps in an expectant mother’s diet. So let’s talk some of the key vitamins that HAVE been studied and why they are beneficial.

The Top 6 Nutrients Pregnant Women Need

Folic Acid/Folate:

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate used in supplements and fortified foods (think cereal, bread, and other foods and other grain based foods mainly). Supplementation with folic acid (folate) is internationally recommended to women from the moment they are trying to conceive until 12 weeks of pregnancy. Studies have shown that folic acid/folate drastically reduces the prevalence of spina bifida (or cleft spine), where there is an opening in one or more of the bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column, and anencephaly where the head (cephalic) end of the neural tube fails to close. Doses between .36mg and 4mg have been proven effective via 5 separate trials from one source alone.

Folic acid supplementation may also help prevent cleft/lip palate and congenital cardiovascular defects. More research is being done on this and the importance of choosing a folate based prenatal vs folic acid. Many women (possibly as many as 25%) have genetic characteristics that reduce their body’s ability to process traditional folic acid, therefore reducing folate concentration in their bloodstream. Bottom line- folic acid supplementation before conception and during pregnancy absolutely seems like a wise decision per the evidence. Questions about what kind of Folic Acid you need for your pregnancy? Your provider can give you more info- give them a call.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D works with calcium to help the fetus’s bones and teeth develop. It also is essential for healthy skin and eyesight. It is another important nutrient to keep your immune system running well before during and after pregnancy. All women, including those who are pregnant, need 600 international units of vitamin D a day. Good sources are milk fortified with vitamin D and fatty fish such as salmon. Exposure to sunlight also converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D. Great excuse to get out in the sunshine (or to take that beach vacation Babymoon!).

Iron:

Iron is used by your body to make a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your organs and tissues. During pregnancy, you need extra iron—about double the amount that a nonpregnant woman needs. This extra iron helps your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. The daily recommended dose of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg, which is found in most prenatal supplements. You also can eat iron-rich foods, including lean red meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereals, and prune juice. Iron also can be absorbed more easily if iron-rich foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin C is critical during pregnancy to help keep mom’s immune system in tip top shape. ESPECIALLY during flu season. In addition, consuming Vitamin C with Iron greatly improve’s iron absorption. Win Win! The Top 10 Vitamin C rich foods include: Guavas, Bell Peppers, Kiwi, Strawberries, Oranges, Papaya, Broccoli, Tomato, Kale, and Snow Peas.

Calcium:

Calcium is used to help build your baby’s bones and teeth. All adult women, including pregnant women, should get 1,000 mg of calcium daily; those aged 14–18 years should get 1,300 mg daily. Taking calcium during pregnancy can prevent a new mother from losing her own bone density as the fetus uses the mineral for bone growth. Milk and other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. If you have trouble digesting milk products, you can get calcium from other sources, such as broccoli; dark, leafy greens; sardines; or a calcium supplement if it is not already included in your prenatal vitamin!

EPA/DHA (Omega 3 Fatty Acids):

ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant and lactating women should consume at least 200 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) a day in addition to their prenatal vitamins. Not all prenatal vitamins include omega-3 fatty acids, which might help promote a baby's brain development, help you have a healthier pregnancy overall and even help with breastmilk production. If you don't eat fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, your health care provider might recommend DHA supplements in addition to prenatal vitamins. DHA can be found in supplements but also in foods. Mackerel, Salmon, Cod Liver Oil, Walnuts, Chia Seeds, Herring, Sardines, and Egg Yolks are among the top sources of Omega-3’s.

More great info on Omega-3’s can be found here:

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/omega-3-fish-oil/

The Bottom Line

While a daily vitamin supplement is no substitute for a healthy diet, most pregnant and lactating women need supplements to make sure they get adequate levels of important nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It IS possible to get these nutrients from diet alone, but this can be hard to commit to during many pregnancies. So I would have to agree with the evidence supplied by many studies and the recommendation of ACOG- Taking a prenatal supplement is vital to a healthy pregnancy. If the info above doesn’t help you figure out what nutrients you need most, or you are stuck between which brands to get, don’t despair! Contact your healthcare provider and they can help you figure out what is best for you and your baby!

Want more information? Looking for a doula to be your pregnancy go to? Contact me today!

Leah

leah@doulainmississippi.com

https://www.cochrane.org/news/vitamins-while-pregnant-healthy-or-unnecessary

https://www.cochrane.org/news/multiple-micronutrient-supplementation-women-during-pregnancy

https://www.cochrane.org/CD007950/PREG_folic-acid-supplements-conception-and-early-pregnancy-12-weeks-prevention-birth-defects

https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Nutrition-During-Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false#vitamin

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/9754-pregnancy-prenatal-vitamins

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945

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