The Scoop on Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal supplements (PNVs) are specialized vitamin and mineral supplements that women can take even before pregnancy to get all of the essential nutrients they need during pregnancy. Studies have shown that the use of prenatal supplements before and throughout pregnancy can benefit a healthy baby.
Vitamins and minerals should never replace a healthy diet. They are only meant to supplement a healthy diet, not take the place of any one food or any food group. Foods contain hundreds of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Only food supplies the ideal mixture of these substances that are essential for optimal health. Supplements can provide you with insurance that you will receive everything you need, but they cannot do the entire job.
Prenatal vitamins come in many formulations. Most PNV are distributed as samples to physician's offices, and it is a good idea to try multiple samples because some have stool softeners and other binders, which you may or may not tolerate. Finding one that you can tolerate will make it easier to take and therefore easier to remember to take it daily.
The Ideal Prenatal Vitamin
The components all PNV supplements should have in common are folic acid, iron, and calcium. Most PNVs have only 100 to 250 mg of calcium — women need 1,000 to 1,200 mg daily, so you should also take a separate calcium supplement. Except for calcium, you should never take any additional supplements with your prenatal supplement unless they are prescribed by your doctor. Since some over-the-counter supplements contain too-high levels of vitamins and minerals, it may be smarter to use a supplement such as a PNV that has been specifically formulated for pregnant women and/or women trying to conceive. PNVs are not recommended postpartum unless the mother is considered to be at “nutritional risk.” Some women can benefit from taking prenatal vitamins postpartum if they plan to become pregnant in less than one year, but most experts recommend spacing pregnancy by at least one year.
Who Should Take Supplements?
If you are a healthy woman who eats a well-balanced diet and has no risk factors, your doctor may not feel that you need to take a prenatal supplement. This is something that you need to discuss with your doctor so together you can determine what is right for you. No matter how healthily you eat, it is generally difficult to get what you need each and every day, especially while pregnant or trying to conceive, so a prenatal supplement can act as insurance. All doctors do agree that a folic acid supplement is necessary.
Women who have a history of poor eating habits, who are on a restricted diet such as a vegan diet, or who require a specific nutrient due to an existing medical condition will definitely need to take some type of supplement.
Women who are expecting more than one baby or have closely spaced pregnancies will need extra iron and may require additional vitamin and mineral supplementation. Nourishing two babies demands more from your body and therefore requires more nutrients. After pregnancy, your body may be depleted of some nutrients. If you are planning to become pregnant again soon, you may need special supplements to restore those nutrients. Speak to your doctor before starting any supplement program.
Are Your Prenatals Making You Sick?
Many women have trouble taking prenatal vitamins once they become pregnant because the iron content can exacerbate morning sickness. They are also known to cause constipation and gas. If you are having problems, try taking your prenatal vitamins with food or taking them right before bedtime. Also drink plenty of water and include plenty of fiber in your diet. If that doesn't work, talk to your doctor about trying a different brand or switching to a prenatal supplement without iron for the first trimester. Many times these problems only last for the first trimester. In the meantime, make certain your prenatal contains vitamin B6. This vitamin has been found to help relieve nausea in some women during pregnancy, a common discomfort during the first trimester.