If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you’ve probably heard about the importance of taking prenatal vitamins. Pregnancy comes with a lot of questions, especially for first-time moms-to-be. Many women wonder whether or not it’s okay to exercise while pregnant, for example. Others search tirelessly for how to prevent morning sickness.
There are a million questions and many common pregnancy myths. But what’s the deal with prenatal vitamins? What do they do, and why are they important?
Keep reading to learn all about the function of prenatal vitamins for mom and baby and which vitamins and minerals are essential to your health care throughout pregnancy.
Prenatal Vitamins: An Introduction
Prenatal vitamins are supplements formulated especially for pregnant women, as well as women who are trying to conceive. Some organizations recommend that women start taking prenatal vitamins at least one month before they start trying to get pregnant.
The recommendation allows time for levels of essential nutrients to build up in the body, creating the best environment for babies to thrive in the womb. Women with certain health conditions, or who may have high-risk pregnancies, may receive instructions from their OB/GYN to start taking the supplements sooner.
There are specific vitamins that medical professionals identify as being particularly important for pregnant women to consume. The American Pregnancy Association states that these include folic acid, iron, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and more. Each of these vitamins and minerals plays an essential role in helping the baby to grow and thrive while protecting mom’s health as well.
The Essential Vitamins
Now that you know which vitamins health care professionals recommend for pregnant women, you’re probably wondering why, and what each vitamin does. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Folic acid is widely considered to be the most important nutrient in prenatal vitamins. The vitamin (officially vitamin B9) reduces the chance of congenital disabilities such as spina bifida and neural tube defects. Spina bifida is a condition where a baby’s spinal cord does not form correctly in-utero. Additionally, folic acid helps support the development of the placenta.
When Women Need Extra Folic
Doctors may prescribe a high-dose form of the vitamin to pregnant women during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy under certain circumstances. If they have epilepsy or are taking an anti-epilepsy medication, if there is a family history of neural tube defects, if the mother has diabetes, or if the mother is obese, a doctor may recommend extra folic acid.
It can help protect your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Do not take a higher dose of folic acid unless your doctor recommends that you do so. It is crucial throughout your entire pregnancy to not attempt to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition on your own.
Iron is another common mineral in prenatal vitamins. Health associations state that it can help prevent low birth weight and premature delivery. It also helps moms-to-be produce hemoglobin, which is necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body via red blood cells.
When Women Need Extra Iron
Your doctor may recommend that you take a higher dose of iron if you are anemic, or if there is a history of anemia during pregnancy in your family.
Vitamin B12 is said to play a role in the development of DNA. It can potentially reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies. It can help prevent anemia and protect mom’s nervous system. Additionally, vitamin B12 promotes the health of blood cells, meaning that it works with iron to ensure an adequate amount of oxygen makes its way through the body.
When Women Need Extra Vitamin B12
According to Harvard Health, the only way for humans to receive an adequate amount of vitamin B12 is through animal-based food products. Therefore, women who are vegetarian or vegan are likely to need extra vitamin B12 during pregnancy. Other populations at risk include anemic women, and women with celiac or Crohn’s disease.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for the development of the baby’s bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which may also help prevent blood clots. Pregnant women are more than five times as likely to develop blood clots than those who are not expecting a baby. Experts believe that this is due to rising estrogen levels throughout pregnancy.
When Women Need Extra Calcium and Vitamin D
Women with vegan diets may need an extra boost of calcium and vitamin D, as approximately 30% of human’s total intake is absorbed from foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Additionally, women with bone disorders or lactose intolerance are likely to need extra supplementation.
Are Prenatal Vitamins Necessary?
When determining if you should take prenatal vitamins, always discuss with your OB/GYN. It’s best to do so before you start trying to conceive so that you are prepared, but not all women plan their pregnancies. And that’s okay. What’s important is that you discuss your health care needs as soon as possible to develop the best course of action going forward.
While the FDA does regulate prenatal vitamins as a “dietary supplement,” they do not substantiate claims that the products will work as intended. You must have an open dialogue with your doctor regarding any symptoms you experience, concerns you have, as well as your family history to receive personalized care.
Additionally, taking too much of a vitamin could cause harm to your baby- or you. For this reason, you must seek medical advice before taking supplements of any kind while pregnant. Feeling comfortable enough to talk about these things with your doctor is important. It’s one of the many reasons you should never settle on a gynecologist.
Vitamins Don’t Replace a Healthy Diet
It’s important to note that prenatal vitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet. You can get many of the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs by eating the colors of the rainbow, with lots of fresh foods. Talk to your OB/GYN about your current nutritional intake. They can run blood tests to see if you lack any of the nutrients that both you and baby need to thrive.
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