The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins




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Research has shown that prenatal vitamins are essential for both women who are pregnant, and women who are trying to get pregnant.  Even maintaining a near prefect diet cannot fully supplement all of the vitamins and minerals that are needed by the woman’s body and her baby while she is pregnant.  Taking a prenatal vitamin is even more important for women who are dealing with certain health issues, dietary restrictions, or special pregnancy circumstances.  Examples of dietary restrictions would be women who are vegetarians or vegans, or women who are lactose intolerant or have other specific food intolerances.  Examples of health issues would be women who have undergone gastric bypass, women suffering from some chronic diseases or blood disorders, and women who smoke or abuse other substances.  An example of a special pregnancy circumstance is a woman who is having twins or a large number multiple pregnancy.  In all of these cases, there can be an even greater need for the essential vitamins and minerals that are provided by a prenatal supplement.

As stated previously, a person with a meticulous, well-balanced diet may be providing their bodies with most of the essential vitamins and minerals that it needs, however, it has been determined that two particular nutrients are rarely sufficiently provided by diet alone in pregnant women:  folic acid and iron, which are present in almost all commercial prenatal vitamins.  Folic acid is a B vitamin that is absorbed better by the body when it is in a synthetic form, and it is often suggested that it be taken as a supplement in conjunction with a well-balanced diet.  Folic acid, when taken in sufficient amounts, can significantly reduce the risk of various birth defects, including spina bifida, anencephaly, cleft lip, cleft palate, and certain heart defects.  It has also been shown that folic acid can reduce the risk of preeclampsia for the mother.  It is not uncommon for a pregnant woman’s body to experience a greater need for iron than can by typically met by diet alone.  If this occurs, it can contribute to iron-deficiency anemia, which in turn can contribute to low birth weight, preterm labor, and even infant mortality.  The consistent presence of these two minerals in prenatal vitamins is a testament to the significance that they play in the developmental health of a pregnant woman, however, there are other vital nutrients that are beneficial to the woman’s body that are not commonly found in prenatal vitamins.

There are three primary essential nutrients that are not commonly found in prenatal vitamins: Vitamin D, Calcium, and fatty acids.  Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that serves to help with the development of the baby’s bones and teeth, while it also effectively maintains the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body.  If a pregnant woman is deficient on Vitamin D during her pregnancy, the baby may be equally deficient when he or she is born, which can result in a risk of rickets, delayed physical development, and abnormal bone growth.  Vitamin D deficiency has also been attributed to a greater risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women, which can result in emergency cesarean sections.  Calcium is sometimes present in prenatal vitamins, however, those which do contain it often do not have a sufficient amount, as calcium tends to be a very bulky mineral and the average prenatal vitamin is already quite large.  Calcium also contributes to the growth of strong bones and teeth, and it helps with the healthy development of nerves and muscles, including the heart.  Essential fatty acids are also not a component of prenatal vitamins.  Examples of these acids would be Omega-3, DHA, and EPA, all of which directly contribute to the healthy growth and development of eye tissue, brain tissue, and nerves.  Fish tend to be an excellent source of DHA and EPA, however, pregnant women should be very careful when it comes to eating fish, because elevated levels of mercury in the fish can be detrimental.  As Omega-3’s can be essential for good growth and development for the baby, it is strongly suggested that a pregnant mother consult her health care provider in regards to whether or not a specific supplement would be beneficial during pregnancy.

When it comes to making a decision regarding which prenatal vitamin to take, it is highly recommended that you consult with your physician or health care provider, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the specific components of vitamin and mineral supplements.  Your doctor should be able to make the best decision regarding which prenatal vitamin is best suited for your needs, and which will offer you the best opportunity for a safe pregnancy.  The discussion regarding the prenatal vitamin will most likely occur during your first prenatal appointment with the doctor, however, some women are prescribed vitamins during preconception meetings as well.  Some varieties of prenatal vitamins require a prescription and some are offered over-the-counter, and regardless of which one you are taking, you should refrain from taking any other supplements at the same time unless it is specifically recommended by your health care provider.  It has clearly been stated that prenatal vitamins provide for some of the required nutrients that are not sufficiently obtained through diet, such as iron and folic acid, however, women should bear in mind that they do contain the minimum recommend amounts of some minerals that can be harmful if too much is taken.  Once such mineral is Vitamin A, which can contribute to birth defects if taken in excess and derived from the consumption of animal products.  Studies have shown that Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which is derived from eating vegetable and fruits, is far safer, even when taken in large quantities. 

For this reason, it is more common for the Vitamin A component of a prenatal vitamins to be in the form of beta-carotene.
Though it has been stated that some of the mineral components of a prenatal vitamin can be dangerous if taken in excessive amounts, women should not be immediately concerned if they happen to take two in the course of the same day.  It is not recommended that you make a habit of this, however, and should your doctor suggest that you need some additional iron or folic acid, the answer should not be to double up your dose of the prenatal vitamin.  You should simply take a separate supplement, and have that supplement approved in advance by your health care provider.  Some women find that a prenatal vitamin containing more than the recommended amount of iron (30mg) can have a tendency to result in an upset stomach, and sometimes in bouts of constipation.  Women who are anemic may not be able to switch to a lower dose of iron, however, if anemia is not an issue, you may consult your doctor regarding making a switch.  For those women who a required to stick with their prescribed level of iron, it is suggested that you take dietary measures to help maintain your regularity, such as drinking prune juice or eating lots of fruits each day, and you may also want to consult your doctor in regards to taking a separate fiber supplement.  It is also suggested that taking the prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement at night, before going to bed, or taking it directly after a meal, on a full stomach, may help to avoid an upset stomach.

There are women whose chief concern about a prenatal vitamin is the overall size of the pill and the difficulty that they have swallowing it, especially when dealing with bouts of morning sickness.  There are versions of prenatal vitamins on the market that are in smaller sizes or have smooth coatings for easier swallowing, and there are also powdered forms of prenatal supplements that can be mixed with water and taken in liquid form.  Should you be having difficulty with the prenatal vitamin that is suggested by your doctor, simply let them know so that an alternative can be found.  Remember too, that typically the larger pills are the ones that contain calcium, so it may be beneficial to consider a separate calcium supplement, however, this should also be approved by your health care provider in advance.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that taking a prenatal vitamin is one of the best decisions that a woman can make if she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant.  The appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement will ensure that all of the essential nutrients that are required to meet the demands of pregnancy are met.  The aforementioned information reflects that a healthy diet will not efficiently provide everything that a woman and her baby will need, and the prenatal vitamin is the best mechanism for meeting those shortcomings.  The components of the prenatal vitamins will help reduce the risks of defects and illnesses for the baby, while at the same time augmenting growth and development.  An expectant mother should prepare for a lifetime of doing everything in her power to offer her child the very best in life, and taking a prenatal vitamin is essentially the first step in that long process!

 

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By Jack Rambadt of Expecting Parents Alliance of America







Get Access to Support, Benefits, and Resources for Expecting Parents. Join the EPAOA Community for FREE!




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