The world of prenatal vitamins can be confusing and overwhelming. There are over-the-counter brands, prescriptions, and standalone supplements. Prenatal vitamins are very important, but it is crucial to remember that they are called supplements for a reason— the most important and best way to fulfill suggested vitamin intake levels are through diet, and supplements are just meant to fill in the gaps. Therefore, just because you’re taking a prenatal vitamin does not mean you can skip your three to four balanced meals each day, or disarm your attempts at eating a colorful diet. This is all still very important.
So where to begin? Let’s start with the most important nutrients, essential during pregnancy. These are folic acid, iron, and calcium. These nutrients may not be as concentrated in everyday multivitamins, this is why pregnant women are urged to switch to prenatal vitamins. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects, especially early in the pregnancy. Iron is key in the delivery of oxygen to the baby, along with preventing anemia in the pregnant mother. And lastly, calcium helps to build your baby’s bones without depleting bone stores in the mother that can eventually lead to osteoporosis.
What To Look For
According to the Mayo Clinic, below are the levels of essential nutrients that your prenatal vitamin should meet. If deciding on an over-the-counter brand, it is important to have it approved by your doctor.
• Folic acid — 600 to 800 micrograms
• Calcium — 250 milligrams
• Iron — 30 milligrams
• Vitamin C — 50 milligrams
• Zinc — 15 milligrams
• Copper — 2 milligrams
• Vitamin B-6 — 2 milligrams
• Vitamin D — 400 international units
If you are planning a pregnancy, beginning to take prenatal vitamins three months before you start trying to conceive is highly recommended. Doing this ensures your egg has received the proper nutrients before it has even been fertilized. The first 4-6 weeks of development of the fetus are crucial. Getting at least 600 micrograms of folic acid daily from the very beginning of pregnancy helps to prevent against neural tube defects that can occur this early on. You should continue taking this vitamin throughout your pregnancy, and some doctors even suggest continuing while breastfeeding to ensure your baby is getting the nutrients he or she needs.
Some prenatal vitamins may meet all of the requirements, but you know you are lacking a certain nutrient in your diet. This is when you may supplement with another pill. For example, a majority of prenatal vitamins only provide 250 milligrams of calcium, yet pregnant women are recommended to get 1,000 milligrams per day. Though this is fairly easily met by consuming three servings of calcium rich dairy products per day, if you are vegan, lactose intolerant, or don’t enjoy dairy, an additional calcium supplement is recommended. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are important for the brain and eye development in your baby. Consuming fatty, low mercury fish twice a week should be enough to support the health of your baby, but if you cannot meet this recommendation, adding a 300 mg DHA supplement to your regimen may be a good idea.
So How Do I Chose?
Some women must try a number of vitamins before they find what works. Many base their choice on what they are able to tolerate. Some pills might cause nausea or be tough to swallow. There are chewable options on the market for those who have trouble swallowing pills. If your vitamin causes nausea or you are experiencing frequent morning sickness, it is suggested to take the pill at night before bedtime. Your doctor may prescribe you a prenatal vitamin or you may chose to buy over the counter. There is not much of a difference between the two, in fact many of the brands overlap. But, when buying over the counter vitamins, especially those from health food stores, watch out for additional herbs and additives. Additional additives are not recommended, as many have not been tested for safety or approved by the FDA. Prescription vitamins are more closely regulated by the FDA. If you are unsure about which to chose, your obstetrician will help to point you in the right direction.