Prenatal vitamins, or prenatal supplements, can function as good backups for any nutritional deficiency an expectant mother may have. They are designed to supplement the diet of women who are expecting a child or want to conceive a baby in the near future. If used correctly and according to your doctor’s advice, prenatal vitamins can help reduce the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight baby or various birth defects. Additionally, these supplements help many women through the challenges of pregnancy and birth, allowing a quicker recovery.
Are they really necessary?
There’s conflicting information on prenatal supplements, but the majority of the scientific community agrees that these supplements do have benefits, especially if future mothers don’t have an adequate diet. Usually, if the normal everyday diet of a woman includes the essential micro and macro nutrients, the minerals and vitamins, additional supplements may not be required. Unfortunately, many pregnant women already have deficiencies in their diets, or may not be prepared for the additional demands on their diet.
Taking prenatal supplements is particularly important for women who are on dietary restrictions, have a history of pregnancy complications or simply cannot get enough variety from their normal meals. Supplements are ideal for:
- vegetarian or vegan women
- women who smoke, consume alcohol or abuse substances
- women who have blood disorders, like anemia or have chronic disease related to the gastrointestinal tract
- women who are lactose intolerant or cannot eat certain food products
- women who expect twins or higher multiples
What can you get from prenatal supplements?
Most prenatal supplements offer a huge variety of vitamins and minerals to choose from, mostly coming in multivitamin packs or complete, all-in-one solutions. These supplements usually include a combination of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, C, D, E and K, as well as folic acid, iodine, iron, copper, magnesium, selenium or zinc. These are all very important, but there are two major vitamins you’ll want to pay special attention to: vitamin D and folic acid (otherwise known as vitamin B9), along with the mineral iron. These are, by far, the vitamins which are usually in low concentration in modern meals and many women fail to get enough of them through their normal diets.
Having a good diet, including healthy foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy products and meats, will most likely guarantee you will get enough macro and micronutrients, so going for a multivitamin supplement is not something to look for specifically. Sure, they do no harm, but you’re better off if you get those through your normal diet. On the other hand, vitamin D, iron, and folic acid should be supplemented.
Folic acid – getting enough folic acid before and very early in the pregnancy is crucially important for the development of your baby. It reduces the risk of serious birth defects, such as neural tube defects, spina bifida or anencephaly (all related to poor brain development) by up to 70 percent. Other risks reduced by folic acid include cleft lip or palate, heart defects and bone malformations. Keep in mind that synthetically produced folic acid (the one found in prenatal supplements) is better absorbed than the natural one.
Vitamin D – this vitamin works closely with calcium and it basically lays the foundation for calcium to grow and create new bone. In other words, vitamin D is the foundation for your baby’s bone structure and, if low, can lead to serious malformations. Poor vitamin D levels can lead to rickets (strongly correlated with fractures and deformity), bad bone growth and overall delayed physical development of the muscles. Low vitamin D levels can also increase the risk of preeclampsia (PE, a condition commonly occurring during pregnancies where red blood cells break down, leading to liver malfunctioning, kidney dysfunction, swelling and shortness of breath) and gestational diabetes for new mothers.
Iron – this mineral is fairly easy to get from a healthy diet, but many mothers fail to have adequate iron levels. Try to take iron supplements before and during pregnancy. Healthy iron levels reduce the risk of anemia, preterm delivery and infant mortality.