Most people in the US do not lead a healthy lifestyle. Their daily intake of nutrients does not reach the optimum level that adequately satisfies their nutritional needs. This data is especially concerning for expectant mothers who have to meet their own dietary needs as well as those of their unborn child.
Throughout the pregnancy period, mothers should take in holistic meals that will prime their bodies for pregnancy and also nourish the child they are carrying. Unfortunately, the day to day dietary regime of an average American cannot sustain the nutritional needs of a pregnant woman and her child. This is why a pregnant woman needs to supplement her diet with the necessary vitamins and minerals lacking in her regular diet. Prenatal vitamins are a good way of making sure that both mother and child are well-nourished.
What Are Prenatal Vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are supplementary multivitamins that enrich a patient with the necessary nutrients for pregnancy. They are not meant to be substitutes for regular dietary intake. Instead, you should take them together with a balanced natural diet. The natural diet should consist of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. If taken correctly, prenatal vitamins will not only support a patient’s dietetic needs during pregnancy but also restock her nutritional reserves after birth.
Difference between Prenatal Vitamins and Other Vitamins
As the term suggests, prenatal vitamins, unlike other vitamins, are specially made to be consumed before conception and during the early stages of pregnancy. They contain minerals that help the patient to prime her body for the pregnancy.
The prenatal vitamins also help with the development of a child during the early stages. Research suggests that prenatal supplements reduce the chances of a baby being too small for its gestational age. Unlike vitamins, prenatal supplements contain more than one nutrient. For instance, folic acid and iron are typically some of the nutrients contained abundantly in prenatal vitamins.
Folic acid prevents some neurological defects that affect the brain and spinal cord. Iron, on the other hand, supports the development of red blood cells, which in turn reduces the risk of anaemia. While other vitamins are often taken over the counter, in certain circumstances, only a doctor can prescribe these prenatal vitamins. Prescription supplements often target a specific deficiency identified by a doctor. A patient may be instructed to take supplements with calcium, omega 3, or even a soft softener.
Each constituent nutrient has its unique role in the patient’s or baby’s health. Vitamin A, for example, promotes good vision while B vitamins are generally great for metabolism. Omega 3 is a fatty acid that controls inflammation of the fetus and, as some studies have suggested, reduces the risk of fetal diabetes.
Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
The most significant benefit of prenatal vitamins is that they prepare the patient’s body for pregnancy. Prenatals equip an expectant mother with the key nutrients for both herself and the baby.
- Calcium, which is often present in prenatal vitamins, promotes the development of strong bones and teeth for the mother and the child as well.
- Vitamin D is normally obtained from the sun, and it helps in the absorption of calcium. Most patients who work in offices lack Vitamin D since they have minimal exposure to the sun. Prenatal vitamin supplements suppress natural deficiencies and ensure that the patient and baby have well-rounded nutrition.
Perhaps the most publicized advantage of prenatal vitamins is the prevention of birth defects. When women take these vitamins before conception, it enriches their body with folic acid. This nutrient, as has been said before, helps in the development of the neural tube, which later develops the baby’s spine and brain.
The benefits of prenatal vitamins stretch beyond pregnancy. Ideally, every person has to take a balanced diet full of nutrients. Most nutrients can be found naturally in organic foods but sometimes not in the right amounts.
Prenatal vitamins provide the right amounts of nutrients required by an expecting mother. These vitamins will see her through the pregnancy and even after childbirth. It is also known that vitamin deficiencies can lead to a host of diseases such as anemia and low immunity problems. Researchers have confirmed that prenatal vitamins are capable of preventing such diseases and common pregnancy problems as;
- Postpartum depression
- Low immunity
- Low appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Fetal diabetes
- Irritation of the skin, and
Prenatal vitamins rich in Vitamin B6 also helps in reducing instances of nausea or morning sickness during the first four months of pregnancy. Vitamin B12 reduces the risks of preterm birth and low birth weight.
When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins
If you are trying to conceive, doctors often advise that you start taking prenatal vitamins one month before and continue all the way through the first trimester. A daily intake of prenatal vitamins a month before trying to conceive equips a patient’s body with essential minerals. The essential minerals, such as folic acid, are crucial in the early stages of pregnancy. At this early stage, prenatal vitamins will also counteract some severe symptoms of pregnancy, such as fatigue, muscle cramps, and nausea.
However, your medical professional might recommend that you continue taking prenatal supplements throughout the pregnancy and even after birth when breastfeeding.
How to Choose Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal supplements are generally available over the counter across many pharmacies. They do not require a doctor’s prescription. The choice of what prenatal vitamins to take is solely in the patient’s hands. However, there are some nutrients that you should look out for when purchasing these supplements. The key is to look for the right amounts of the nutrients and balanced them out properly. Where in doubt, consult a professional.
Folic acid is highly beneficial in many ways. It is necessary for neurological growth and development of the child. Professionals recommend that women of child-bearing age should ingest a daily dose of 400 milligrams of folic acid before pregnancy and increase the dosage to 600 once they conceive. Luckily, most over the counter supplement contains an even higher dosage, which Dr. Levitt, an ob-gyn in Chicago, says is much better.
The recommended dose of iron for pregnant women is 27 milligrams a day. Iron will help to increase red blood cells, which in turn creates more blood and improve circulation.
Calcium is the mineral responsible for strong bones, teeth, and heart muscles. It is useful to both the mother and the child. For this reason, calcium in very high doses is suitable for an expectant mother. The recommended dosage is 1000 milligrams daily. A deficiency of calcium results in a condition known as osteoporosis later in the mother’s life, which is a fancy word for bone depreciation. This is because if the baby lacks calcium, it will get it from the mother’s bones. Doctors also warn that calcium inhibits the absorption of iron. When taken together, you should only take 250 mg at the same time as an iron supplement.
Doctors recommend the consumption of Iodine in small doses. Ideally, pregnant women require 220 micrograms of Iodine to promote the baby’s growth. Doctors, however, say that supplements with 150 micrograms of Iodine are sufficient. Rest is available through ingesting natural foods in the diet.
Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium and also develops a skin. The daily quota of Vitamin D should be about 1000 UI.
Vitamin A is essential for eyesight. 4000 UI or 800 micrograms is enough for a day. Taking over 10,000 UI of Vitamin A can be toxic. Many brands have reduced the amounts of Vitamin A in their supplements or replaced it with the much safer beta-carotene.
Did you know that many anti-morning sickness drugs are a mixture of vitamin B6 (otherwise known as pyridoxine) and antihistamine? This nutrient helps reduce nausea during the first four weeks of pregnancy. According to doctors, 2 mg should be enough in a day. It might also be prudent to check out other nutrients such as copper, thiamin, niacin, zinc, and Vitamin B and C.
Omega-3, also known as DHA, is also advantageous to the unborn child. The March of Dimes recommends 200mg of Omega-3 every day. Do not be surprised to find other minerals like fluorine, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. In some instances, a doctor may prescribe a higher dose of a specific nutrient. This occurs when the doctors establish a critical deficiency of that nutrient in the mother’s body.
What to Look Out For
With all this handy information about what supplement works the best for what condition, the next step is to understand what to look out for when starting the supplements.
Prenatal Vitamins come in many forms. The three most common forms are pills, soft-gel capsules, and gummies. The soft-gel capsules and gummies are easier to ingest, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy when nausea is rampant. However, gummies lack iron, so the mother should take extra iron supplements. Recently, liquid prenatal vitamins have begun to make headway in the market. They are easier to swallow and often come with additional iron. The downer is that most liquid prenatal vitamins skimp on calcium.
Many brands in the market have also ensured that every dietary orientation or preference has been catered for. For instance, there are prenatal supplements for vegans or vegetarians, those without glutens, or those lacking dairy or nut extracts. Be keen to read the label before committing to make a purchase to avoid any complications.
An Independent Seal of Approval
Many brands of prenatal supplements in pharmacies have undertaken serious tests before bringing their products to market. Yet still, there are some unscrupulous business people out there who skip testing and try to sell inferior products. It is important to look for a seal of approval before making any purchase. A seal of approval is a testament to quality. Take note that getting this seal is a voluntary process and not required under the law. In any case, brands bearing seals from the below-listed organizations are tested and passed;
- Consumer Lab
- United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
- NSF International
Common Problems & Their Solutions
Pills can be difficult to swallow. Large pills especially seem scary and impossible. They may induce nausea or a phobia of medicine. Taking smaller pills or the alternative forms of supplements will help with this part.
- Some prenatal supplements may induce nausea in some patients. The first solution is to try and ingest the vitamin with a meal or just before bedtime. If this does not work, you can try out something different after consulting with your doctor. Ask your doctor to give a different supplement that you can digest easily.
- Other patients experience diarrhea and gas. The most common cause of these symptoms or side effects is extra iron. Physical exercise and fiber-rich foods will counter these symptoms.
- Constipation is another cause of concern for women who take these prenatal supplements. Choosing a supplement with a pregnancy-safe stool softener is an ideal solution for this situation.
How Many Supplements Do You Need?
A good prenatal vitamin will contain the full Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of folic acid and iron. Sometimes iron may be more than what is required but not to worry, there are no known perils of a little extra iron. In this regard, only one supplement will be enough. However, over-the-counter supplements will often have 250mg of Calcium, which is below the RDA. This is because excess calcium intake will inhibit iron absorption. In cases such as these, it is recommended that you take extra supplements of calcium at different hours during the day.
Choosing the right prenatal vitamin is imperative to the health of your unborn child. Taking into account the considerations above, you are well equipped to know what brand to use and how long to use it. The key thing to take away is that you have to stick to the recommended RDA unless otherwise advised by a doctor; don’t overdo it. Prenatal vitamins should only mean to supplement not substitute natural foods. Prepare wholesome meals with all the dietary needs that you require and only supplement where necessary. Once you get the right combination, child nourishment in subsequent pregnancies should be a breeze.