“Taking prenatal vitamins can minimize birth defects and can lower the chances both of morning sickness and premature delivery.”–Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Today, the prenatal supplements market is booming. When you’re pregnant, it is natural that you would be thinking about nutrition than ever. After all, what you are putting into yourself is also going to the growing fetus inside of you. In fact, most doctors recommend that women who are trying to conceive start taking prenatal vitamins, even before they are pregnant.
A lot of emphasis is put into getting a healthy pregnancy diet these days, but there are times when you still can’t help but question whether or not you are getting enough folic acid, calcium, protein, vitamins and iron in your diet. This is where supplements come in.
Prenatal vitamins are able to cover any nutritional gap in your diet (whether due to a busy life, dietary restrictions or food allergies). Some would argue that real food contains micronutrients aside from their main vitamins. The complexity of the nutrients you would get from say, an orange, would be hard to replicate in the form of supplements. But if you are working full-time up to your eighth month, supplements are an easy and important way to maintain your health (and your baby’s health).
Because folic acid and iron are such important components of the pregnant woman’s ideal diet, supplements are especially useful in this department.
Folic acid supplements are especially crucial because they help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain, spine, spinal cord). In fact, getting a good amount of folic acid reduces these risks up to 70%!
Folic acid also reduces the risks of cleft lips and certain heart defects for the baby.
For the mother, folic acid reduces the risk of preeclampsia.
Moreover, folic acid is unique in that the body is actually able to absorb it better in supplements form.
Iron supplements help blood to carry oxygen both for the baby and for the mother.
Having a good amount of iron intake also reduces the risks of preterm delivery, low birth weight and infant mortality.
Although folic acid and iron are the two most important supplements to take during your pregnancy, we should remark that most prenatal multivitamins do not actually contain enough calcium and it would be beneficial to take a separate calcium supplement.
It would also be beneficial to take a separate Omega-3 fatty acids supplement (not included in most prenatal vitamins) as they aid in the healthy formation of your baby’s brain, nerves and tissues. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important as the growing fetus draws a lot of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, one of the essential fatty acids) from the mother leading to the necessity of increased intake.
Most women can take prenatal supplements without any side effects.
However, because most prenatal supplements contain a slightly higher amount of iron (around 30 mg) instead of the recommended 27 grams, some women might feel some changes in terms of bowel movements when taking these supplements. Iron can cause either diarrhea or constipation.
You may also notice a metallic taste in your mouth when taking supplements, but this is natural and in part caused by changing levels of hormones during pregnancy.
B-vitamins in the supplements may also cause your urine to change colour.
In general, you should look for a prenatal supplement with this composition:
400 mcg of folic acid
17 mg of iron
200 mg of calcium (supplement this with a separate iron supplement and aim for 1300 mg/day)
400 IU of vitamin D
70 mg of vitamin C
10 mg of vitamin E
3 mg of thiamine
2 mg of riboflavin
20 mg of niacin
6 mcg of vitamin B12.
15 mg of zinc.
150 micrograms of iodine