Prenatal vitamins are subject of debate and concern for many first-time future moms. Most women know that folic acid is an indispensable vitamin for the fetus but have no idea which are the other supplements they need.
At the other end of the line, there are those women who believe that conducting a healthy and balanced diet during pregnancy is enough to ensure the necessary nutrients for the future baby.
However, experts advise that even those women who follow a perfect diet have difficulties in assimilating the necessary quantity of nutrients during pregnancy.
Things get even worse for pregnant women who don’t eat enough vegetables – for them, prenatal vitamins are a sort of “insurance policy” that ensure the delivery of all the nutrients that may be lacking in the mom’s diet to the developing fetus.
Folic acid, as mentioned above, is the most famous prenatal vitamin. But during pregnancy, a woman also has to supplement the intake of iron due to the expansion of the blood volume. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen to the cells and tissues. And if hemoglobin doesn’t bind oxygen, your baby may be deprived of the essential gas.
As a result, if your diet doesn’t include foods rich in iron, such as red meat, egg yolks, and dark leafy greens, you’ll need an iron supplement to prevent anemia. And this is just one of the many prenatal vitamins and minerals you should pay attention to, according to the specialists.
PRENATAL VITAMINS & MINERALS: WHICH DO YOU NEED AND WHY?
The most important prenatal vitamin is folic acid, a vitamin belonging to the B group. Folic acid promotes cell division and prevents the congenital malformations of the neural tube, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
Experts recommend starting the supplementation of folic acid in your diet before you become pregnant. Because about 50% of all pregnancies take new parents by surprise, all women of fertile age should take folic acid supplements.
Once pregnancy is confirmed, the desired daily quantity of folic acid is at least 400mcg in the first trimester. The quantity rises progressively as the pregnancy evolves.
Choline, or vitamin B7, is another prenatal vitamin you need. This substance helps brain development during the intrauterine stages and contributes to the development of the memory and learning of the baby. The recommended dosage is 450mg per day.
VITAMIN D & CALCIUM
Vitamin D, together with the calcium, are a vitamin and mineral needed by both mom and baby. This combo strengthens your bones and teeth and promotes the production of pregnancy hormones. For the baby, both vitamin D and calcium contribute to the skeletal development and not only.
DHA – or docosahexaenoic acid on its full name – is a fatty acid present in Omega 3 and is responsible for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants. Studies have suggested this nutrient starts its action during pregnancy and this is certainly a supplement to consider from conception to weaning.
DHA is present in fatty fish and in breast milk; the only other way to ensure you get enough DHA is through supplements. The recommended dosage is 200mg per day.
Iodine is another important mineral that ensures the correct development of the fetal brain. You can get iodine from salt or marine air. Or from supplements. Make sure you’re consuming at least 250mcg of iodine per day throughout your pregnancy.
Iron, as mentioned above, is an important mineral to consider. The iron itself isn’t involved in the development of the baby but it helps you to produce new blood cells to respond to the increased blood volume during pregnancy.
Iron is responsible for binding oxygen to hemoglobin, ensuring both you and the fetus get plenty of it. The lack of iron in a mom’s diet can cause anemia in either mom or fetus and can prevent the normal development of the child in the womb. You’ll probably need between 27mg and 60mg of iron per day, and only your practitioner can advise you on the right quantity.
PRENATAL VITAMINS VS. MULTIVITAMINS
Multivitamin supplements are popular diet integrators recommended to all people, not only to pregnant women. And so the question arises: why are prenatal vitamins better? After all, most multivitamins contain the nutrients listed above and they cost less than specific prenatal products.
The answer is given by specialists who claim that multivitamins rarely contain the necessary amount of vitamin and minerals a pregnant woman needs.
Not only, but some nutrients, such as the DHA and the choline, are rarely included in generic multivitamin supplements.
When in doubt, the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor but in broad lines, prenatal vitamins are formulated to address all nutritional lacks of a future mom and developing fetus. That’s why you should switch from multivitamin to a specific prenatal product as soon as you learn that you’re pregnant.
PRESCRIBED VS. OVER-THE-COUNTER PRENATAL VITAMINS
That you need a specific product is clear, but should you choose a prescribed product or over-the-counter prenatal vitamins?
It depends. If your doctor confirms you’re in good health, and as long as you monitor the levels of all important micronutrients as the fetus grows, over-the-counter prenatal vitamins may suffice.
However, remember that over-the-counter medicines have a lower concentration of active substances. Therefore, a good communication with your doctor or midwife is essential to ensure you’re providing the baby with all nutrients.
Prescribed prenatal vitamins contain a higher amount of active substances and they are recommended in case of deficiencies either before or during the pregnancy.
These supplements are often more expensive but the fetal and maternal health is more important than a few bucks resting in your pocket.
ARE PRENATAL VITAMINS SAFE?
The fear of harming the baby through diet or medicine intake strikes many future moms. So, it’s legit to wonder if the prenatal vitamins are safe or not.
In general, prenatal vitamins are safe for the baby as long as you take prescribed vitamins and follow the doctor’s indications.
Over-the-counter prenatal vitamins are also safe, but it’s harder to control the dosage. It is also a bad idea to exaggerate, for example by supplementing your vitamin intake with both medicines and energizing bars, as an excessive amount of nutrients can be detrimental to fetal development.
Baby aside, prenatal vitamins can cause nausea and constipation. These are common symptoms of pregnancy and sadly the vitamins will only enhance these side effects.
Another thing to remember is that prenatal vitamins aren’t intended to substitute a healthy diet, they are intended to supplement your nutrient intake.
In other words, prenatal vitamins don’t entitle you to skip meals to avoid gaining weight. Weight gain is normal during pregnancy and is a result of the baby and placenta growing inside you. And the new life doesn’t need vitamins alone.
The fetus also requires an important amount of protein and needs sugars as a source of energy. Prenatal vitamins lack these elements, therefore you should have at least three healthy meals a day and snacks whenever you feel hungry, in addition to the vitamins.
If weight gain is really a concern, prenatal and postnatal fitness is a better way to address this issue.
Prenatal vitamins provide both mom and baby with nutrients essential for a healthy development of the child in the womb. They can’t be replaced by traditional multivitamins and must be integrated into the diet even if you eat the healthiest foods.
Prenatal vitamins can’t replace food, though. The best way to learn what vitamins you need and what diet to follow is by talking to your doctor.
Each woman is different and each pregnancy is unique. As everything baby-related, prenatal vitamins don’t come in “one-size-fits-all” formulas. Get blood tests and see what you need to supplement and why. Follow your doctor’s advice and you will surely provide the little angel with everything needed for a healthy development.