Miraculous. That is the only word that encompasses the power of the female human body. It creates life, grows a new organ to house the developing fetus and provides the baby with all of the nutrients it needs to survive. In fact, a woman’s body will always prioritize the baby during pregnancy. If you are not consuming the necessary vitamins and minerals that your baby needs to properly develop, your body will get them from the source -- you. However, there are certain details that your doctor doesn’t always tell you about when it comes to how to choose a prenatal vitamin. Here is what you need to know!
Skipping Your Vitamins? Here Are The Consequences
First and foremost, if you are a woman of reproductive age and you are having sex, you need to be taking a prenatal vitamin. While you may not be planning to conceive, according to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 2.8 million pregnancies in the United States were unplanned. Unfortunately, without the necessary nutrients for development, a fetus is prone to developing a slew of birth defects and having a low birth weight. The mother can also experience preterm labor and anemia.
Moreover, your baby is also more likely to take what they need from you. This is especially true for women lacking in calcium. In fact, according to a Danish study, women who exhibit a deficiency in this important mineral, and produce multiple children, are more likely to notice tooth loss over time.
This is further supported by research conducted at the New York University College of Dentistry. Studies “found that of 2,635 pregnant women, many had dental problems, and that as the number of children increased, so did a woman’s risk of periodontal disease, missing teeth and untreated cavities.”
What does this mean for you? Take your vitamins! However, not all prenatals are created equal. Here are the top ingredients to look for in this essential supplement.
Top Six Ingredients For Prenatal Vitamins
Folic Acid / Folate [400 - 800 mcg]
Folate is the naturally occuring version of the water soluble B Vitamin, B9. It is considered one of the most essential parts of a pregnant woman's diet. Why? It prevents neural tube defects like anencephaly and spina bifida.
In case you didn’t know, a neural tube is the beginning stages of your brain and spine. It forms within the first six weeks of conception. This is why taking a prenatal regularly is so incredibly important. Most women do not even get confirmation that they are pregnant until at least four weeks, meaning that their developing child can miss out on the key nutrients they need in their beginning stages of life.
When looking at the various types of prenatals, most varieties contain folic acid, not folate. While the names are used interchangeably, folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. This distinction is crucial for about 30-40% of the population who have a mutation of their MTHFR gene.
This part of your genetic makeup tells your body to convert the synthetic version of this vitamin into folate. Without it, women cannot provide their child with what they need. Thus, if you do not have this gene, it is imperative that you talk to your doctor about alternatives that include the natural version of this vitamin. These can be found under the name L-Methylfolate, 5MTHF or Levomefolic Acid. For those who do not know their status, genetic testing such as 23andMe can give you the answer!
Calcium [200-300 mg] / Vitamin D [400 IU]
As mentioned above, calcium is essential for a baby’s growth! This mineral is crucial for the development of your child’s skeletal structure and teeth. However, without Vitamin D, the calcium is unable to absorb into either of your growing bodies.
Additionally, this is one of the nutrients that your baby will take from you if you are not giving them what they need. Not only will your dental status suffer, but you can also develop osteoporosis without getting enough calcium for the two of you.
However, calcium has a nasty habit of competing with both iron and zinc. Too much and these minerals will not absorb so a healthy mix of these supplements is important. Otherwise, you will not only lack in what you and your baby need, but you can also develop kidney stones.
Iodine [150 mcg]
Iodine is a trace mineral that helps to regulate a woman’s thyroid function. However, during pregnancy, this element also aids in your child’s brain development. Without it, you and your child can develop hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. This can cause jaundice, constipation and poor feeding habits in your newborn and fatigue, insomnia and depression in a postpartum mother.
Additionally, your baby can be born with abnormalities and a lower IQ. Unfortunately, these are irreversible conditions. Thus, make sure that you are getting enough of this essential ingredient.
Iron [27 mg]
Iron is another extremely crucial part of your pregnancy diet. Not only do the demands for this element increase tremendously by the third trimester, but without it, you risk preeclampsia, low birth weight, postpartum depression, among other issues. This mineral helps in the production of blood, which ensures that ample oxygen is transported to your baby.
It is important to note that while this is a necessary nutrient, many of the gummy versions of prenatals do not include it in their ingredient list. This is because an excess of iron can also lead to constipation. In an attempt to ensure that women continue taking their prenatal vitamins daily, this mineral is sometimes excluded. Therefore, speak with your doctor to determine if a separate dose is right for you.
Additionally, iron is an essential mineral for your baby after birth as well! Thus, if you are breastfeeding, you need to ensure that you are continuing to get the recommended daily value of this element. However, the amount you need drops tremendously after birth. Depending on your postpartum status, your doctor can the amount that is ideal for you and your baby’s health.
DHA Omega-3 [200mg]
This fatty acid aids in the development of your baby’s eyes, brain and nervous system. It also helps to increase your baby’s birth weight, decrease the risk of preterm labor and diminish your chances of postpartum depression. Fish is a known source for DHA, but pregnancy requires that you limit your intake of this dish. Thus, finding a supplement that gives you the amount you need is required for a healthy pregnancy.
Of course, you also want to have the recommended dosage of your other B vitamins and Vitamins A, C, E and K as well as zinc, choline, magnesium, potassium, selenium and sodium. These are all an integral part of creating a life!
Moreover, remember that at minimum, you want to start taking prenatals at least a month before conception and for the following six months after birth. If you are breastfeeding, it is advised to continue these supplements until you wean your baby off the breast.
Lastly, always talk to your doctor about any supplements you intend to take as well as methods for coping with the nausea and constipation that can come with taking a prenatal. Remember that food alone is not going to provide you with the nutrition you need to effectively grow a healthy baby to term. Thus, despite symptoms, you should never stop taking your vitamins without first consulting your physician.