Helping Your Prenatal Vitamin do its Job

The use and necessity of prenatal vitamins are a growing source of controversy.  What exactly is in your vitamin? Do you have to take one or can you get everything you need from your diet? Does it have everything it should have in it?  Does it have anything in there that shouldn’t be there?

It’s important to realize that prenatal vitamins are not meant to be your sole source of nutrients. They are meant to supplement!  Pregnant women need more of almost every vitamin and mineral than non-pregnant women. Some say that most of these increased nutrient requirements can be met through a carefully planned, nutritious diet.  You should try your best to eat lots of fresh, non-processed foods. However, a supplement is important if you are NOT getting the required amounts from what you eat (and most of us probably are not!).

Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal. If you are unsure about the best one for you, do some research and talk to your doctors. Avoid artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, and sweeteners. You may want to follow this advice and purchase your vitamins at a health food store, instead of a drug company that “loads them with plenty of of low-quality, synthetic vitamins.”  Here are some other aspects to consider:

If you’re suffering from extreme exhaustion, you’re not alone. March of Dimes claims that anemia caused by lack of iron affects half of all pregnant women!

Your multivitamin won’t contain the 27 milligrams of iron that pregnant women need, so you can add to your levels by eating iron-rich foods like red meat or fortified cereals.

You may also be prescribed a supplement if you have low iron levels, or have pernicious anemia, sickle cell disease, or uterine fibroids. If iron makes you nauseous, try taking it in the evening, and improve your body’s ability to absorb it by avoiding coffee, tea, egg yolks, milk, fiber, and soy with your tablet.

Calcium is so important for your baby’s bones that your body will steal your stores and give them to baby, if necessary – putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Prenatals don’t contain anywhere near the recommended 1,000 milligrams (and women carrying multiples need even more). So add calcium-rich foods to your diet, or ask your doctor about a supplement.

The World Health Organization recommends that in order to reduce the risks of preterm birth and eclampsia, pregnant women should consume 1,500 milligrams of calcium.  (Note that anything beyond 250 mg of calcium, or 25 mg of magnesium, should not be taken at the same time as supplemental iron since both calcium and magnesium interfere with the absorption of the iron.)

Vitamin D
Sunshine is the body’s leading source of vitamin D. There are many reasons why vitamin D is vital during pregnancy. Women with darker skin and those who get little sun should be tested for vitamin D, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you’re deficient, you should consider a supplement.

Studies have shown that DHA, found in omega-3 fatty acids, improves baby’s visual-learning ability and attention span, and may help stave off postpartum depression. You can get enough DHA with two or three servings of salmon, herring, or sardines a week, but to be on the safe side, you might take a DHA supplement. The American College of recommends that pregnant women get 300 milligrams a day.

Iodine is critical for your baby’s brain development, says Donnica Moore, M.D. You should use table salt that specifically says, ‘iodized.’  If you are on a low-salt diet or have trouble with water retention, it may be better to find a prenatal supplement with iodine.

Choline helps develop the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, but is not included in many prenatal supplements. Eating two eggs a day can help you meet the 450-milligram daily choline requirement.

Folic Acid
Most moms have heard about the importance of folic acid in preventing pina bifida and other defects. The recommended dosage is 400 to 600 micrograms a day, but you need more if you’re carrying multiples, have anemia, sickle cell disease, or who’ve had a child with a similar brain defect.  (I did find one source saying that eating green, folate-rich foods is safer than taking folic acid, but I don’t know enough to comment on that.)

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