While eating a healthy and balanced diet is one of the best ways to support a healthy pregnancy, it can be difficult to meet the daily recommended vitamin and nutrient intake. This is why many professionals suggest supplementing your diet with a good prenatal vitamin during pregnancy.
Indeed, Prenatal vitamins can be helpful ways of including vital nutrients in your daily meals. Vitamins and minerals are essential to a healthy development of your baby, as well as your own physical health. Your baby will draw on your resources which you need to replenish to stay healthy through your pregnancy and prepare for childbirth.
During pregnancy your body needs larger amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, particularly iron and folic acid, as well as DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Prenatal vitamins, which can be purchased by prescription or over the counter, meet these needs. Some prenatal vitamins contain DHA; or you can take a separate fish oil capsule; or eat fish twice per week, avoiding shark, swordfish, King Mackerel and tilefish.
If you choose to supplement your diet with prenatal vitamins, be sure to keep track of daily amounts that you take and let your health care provider know.
The earliest weeks of pregnancy are crucial in the fetus’ development, so the sooner in pregnancy you start taking a prenatal vitamin, the better.
If you plan to get pregnant or learn that you are, talk with your doctor right away to find out which prenatal supplement would be best for you to take. During pregnancy, your iron requirement increases to 27 mg and your folic acid requirement to 600 mcg. The calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) remains at 1,000 mg for women ages 19 and over, although some clinicians suggest adding calcium during pregnancy for extra insurance.
Guidelines from the World Health Organization recommend that pregnant and nursing women consume an average of 200 mg/per day or more of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), either by eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, to optimize the baby’s brain development.
There are a number of prenatal vitamins on the market, but generally obstetricians & gynecologists recommend taking supplements with 800 micrograms of folic acid. It is important not to take other supplements unless specifically advised by a qualified health care provider.
Remember, prenatal vitamins are a complement to a healthy diet, not a substitute for good nutrition.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a pregnant woman’s intake should consist of a variety of foods, including:
From these, you should get the right nutrients and vitamins for pregnancy health and your baby’s development.
Always let your health care provider know what prenatal vitamins you are taking.
Following you will find a comprehensive list of recommended micro nutrients based on The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine that can be used as a referencing tool when making a selection of prenatal vitamins:
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is involved in the regulation of gene expression, growth, and development, cellular production, vision, and immunity. Forms of Vitamin A, known as retinoids, are essential for embryonic and fetal development including the formation of the eyes, ears, limbs, and heart.
- Vitamin B Complex: The B-vitamins, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Biotin (B7), Pyridoxine (B6), Folate (B9) and Cobalamin (B12), are amongst some of the most important vitamins to supplement with during pregnancy. While all of the B-vitamins are essential, Folate sits at the top of the list for its imperative role in creating red blood cells, proteins and DNA. In addition to playing a vital role in the healthy development of the baby, folate has also shown in numerous studies to play a large role in the prevention of birth defects. Folate is preferable over folic acid, or the synthetic form of folate typically found in various fortified supplements and foods. Vitamin B deficiencies during pregnancy can cause fetal abnormalities and various side effects to the mother including hair loss, anemia, digestive problems, lower immune response, weakness, and fatigue.
- Vitamins C & E: Vitamin C and Vitamin are two antioxidant vitamins that play a vital role in the production of collagen, a structural protein found in cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin. As antioxidants, they also support a healthy immune system and protect against oxidative damage.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is recognized as its function in bone health, however, Vitamin D also plays a number of other roles in health and disease prevention. Vitamin D levels affect pregnant women’s blood pressure, mood and brain function, and immunity, and as such, avoiding deficiencies is imperative to the health of mom and baby. Good sources of vitamin D include: fatty fish, like salmon, milk and cereal that has vitamin D added to it.
- Folic acid: Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). Some studies show that taking folic acid may help prevent heart defects and birth defects in your baby’s mouth called cleft lip and palate. Foods that are fortified with folic acid include: bread, breakfast cereal, cornmeal, flour, pasta, products made from a kind of flour called corn masa, like tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, tamales and pupusas, white rice. You also can get folic acid from some fruits and vegetables. When folic acid is naturally in a food, it’s called folate. Good sources of folate include: leafy green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, lentils and beans, orange juice.
- Calcium:Calcium supplementation supports the development of the baby’s bones while simultaneously protecting the mother from bone loss while carrying the baby. Calcium has also been shown to support the functioning of the circulatory, nervous and muscular systems. Good sources of calcium include: milk, cheese and yogurt, broccoli and kale, orange juice that has calcium added to it.
- Iron: Iron requirements are significantly increased during pregnancy. While the mineral is needed for a variety of biological functions, the mineral is generally needed to support growth and development of the fetus and placenta during pregnancy, in addition to meeting the increased demand for red blood cells to transport oxygen. Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia during pregnancy, and as such, supplementing with iron during pregnancy is crucial. You also can get iron from food. Good sources of iron include: lean meat, poultry and seafood, cereal, bread and pasta that has iron added to it, leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, raisins and dried fruit.
- Iodine: Sufficient intake of iodine is required for maternal thyroid hormone production, and thyroid hormone is necessary for myelination of the central nervous system and healthy fetal brain development. Iodine deficiencies have been shown to lead to inadequate production of thyroid hormone during pregnancy which can lead to irreversible brain damage, miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects. Good sources of iodine include: fish, milk, cheese and yogurt, enriched or fortified cereal and bread, Iodized salt (salt with iodine added to it).
- Magnesium, Sodium & Potassium: Electrolytes are chemicals that support hydration within the body which is necessary for functions including transmissions of nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Magnesium, perhaps the most important electrolyte to supplement with during pregnancy, is required for healthy development and supports sufficient blood flow to the brain.
- Zinc: Zinc deficiencies are common in pregnant women due to rapid cell growth, and as such, proper supplementation is imperative. Zinc deficiencies during pregnancy have been associated with adverse outcomes including low birth weight, premature delivery and labor complications.
- Choline Bitartrate: In small amounts, choline can be synthesised by the body, but dietary intake is needed to maintain sufficient health. Choline is vital for embryonic and fetal brain development, healthy liver function and placental function. During pregnancy and lactation, a mother naturally delivers large amounts of choline to the fetus across the placenta and to the baby through breast milk, which places a larger demand on internal stores. As such, supplementation is key to maintaining adequate choline levels during pregnancy and lactation.