Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Student
Struggling to decide what kind of supplement you should take prior to pregnancy? Debating whether it’s worth taking those prenatal vitamins? Let’s talk about the key nutritional recommendations in pregnancy to help guide your choice.
Focus on 4 key nutrients
In general, you want to make sure that you have a well-balanced diet to ensure that your baby gets enough nutrients for growth. Once you’ve accomplished this, you’ll want to focus on 4 key nutrients: calcium, folic acid, iron, and iodine.
Adequate calcium intake is necessary for you to support the bone development of your baby and to ensure you maintain your own calcium stores during pregnancy. If you have less than 2 servings of dairy per day, it’s recommended to supplement with 1000mg calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D daily.
The only word of caution with increasing calcium intake is that it could cause or worsen existing constipation.
#2 Folic acid
Folic acid is another essential nutrient for brain, spine, and skull development. While they may be found in fortified grains, spinach, lentils, check peas, asparagus, broccoli, peas, brussel sprouts, corn and oranges, dietary intake alone may not be sufficient. Unless your healthcare provider suggests otherwise, supplement with 0.4mg folic acid each day. It’s typically recommended to start supplementing at least 2-3 months before pregnancy, continue during and for at least 4-6 weeks postpartum, or as long as breastfeeding continues.
For women with risk of NTD (neural tube defects), it’s recommended to see your healthcare provider before starting folic acid supplementation, as they may have a different suggestion for the amount of folic acid to take.
Iron is another important nutrient for reducing the risk of anemia in pregnant mothers. In the third trimester, the fetus uses the mother’s iron stores to build their own, depleting the mother’s iron level. Similar to folic acid, iron can be found in diet, but supplementing with 16-20mg of iron per day is recommended for most mothers.
If you find that your constipation, nausea and vomiting is worsened by iron supplementation, you could consider discontinuing it temporarily in the first trimester. It is always important to consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting or stopping any medications while pregnant.
Last, but not least, is iodine. While many of us may not have considered supplementing with iodine, it does play an important role in the neurologic development of the fetus and in maintaining the mother’s metabolism. So, supplementing with 150 micrograms of iodine each day is typically recommended.
So, should you take prenatal vitamins?
There is no straight black and white answer to this question. However, most prenatal vitamins contain all of the above nutrients, as well as others, to ensure you’re fully equipped for carrying a new life. So, if you feel that you may be lacking a lot of the nutrients we discussed, prenatal vitamins may be a quick, simple solution.
If you feel that you need only one or two of the nutrients, it could be more cost efficient for you to invest only in the supplements you need.
Before you make up your mind, you can always talk to your healthcare provider, who would be able to make the best recommendation for you.
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