October 03, 2019
Prenatal Vitamin 101

This guest post is written by Rachel Rothman, MS RD, CLEC, a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert, entrepreneur and mother of two little ones.  You can find out more about Rachel, check out her family friendly recipes and feeding tips on her website www.nutritioninbloom.com, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

You may know that when you are pregnant, or thinking of getting pregnant, it is important to take a pre-natal vitamin.  Most OBs will discuss this with moms-to-be, but beyond making sure you are taking one, doctors might not provide much information.  Prenatal vitamins are important, but all vitamins are not equal. Unfortunately, for moms-to-be, prenatal vitamins are supplements, which are not regulated the same way as prescription medications.  If you have spent time looking for a prenatal vitamin, online or at a drugstore or pharmacy, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the array of choices. When I talk about prenatals, I don’t recommend particular brands, but instead stress the importance of thinking about the nutrition you need as a way to cut through the clutter.  Let’s dive in!

Why is a prenatal vitamin recommended?

Pregnancy brings myriad changes in our needs and bodies – but it is often challenging to maintain the levels of specific, critical nutrients using only the foods found in our daily routine. To fill in the gaps, and to give us mamas some peace of mind, a prenatal vitamin is recommended.

So, what changes occur, from a nutritional standpoint, during pregnancy?

  • Iron

During pregnancy, the fetus and placenta are growing, so more iron is needed to meet this requirement.  The volume of plasma cells in a pregnant woman’s blood nearly doubles, because nutrients are flowing to the fetus through the circulatory system.  As a result, iron needs increase. It is recommended pregnant women receive at least 27 mg of iron per day. Iron deficiency (also called anemia) is common during pregnancy, so it is important to choose a prenatal that contains iron.  Many gummy prenatal vitamins so not contain iron, so choose wisely.

  • Folate (Folic Acid)

Folic acid plays an important role in neural tube development, the early structures which develop into a baby’s brain and spinal cord.  This is especially important during the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is one reason why it is recommended to start a prenatal at least one month before the pregnancy begins (since it typically 4-6 weeks of being pregnant, before you miss a period and can confirm with a pregnancy test or with your OB that you are expecting).  The recommended dosage for folic acid in a pregnant woman is 400 mcg per day at the start of pregnancy and 600 mcg of folic acid toward the end of pregnancy, which is why many prenatals have 600 mcg of folic acid.

  • Calcium

Pregnant women over 18 years of age are recommended to get 1000 mg of calcium per day, which is actually the same amount as a non-pregnant female of this age.  However, it is important to note the way calcium is absorbed. Our bodies can only absorb a certain amount of calcium at a time. Additionally, calcium competes with iron for absorption.  Most prenatals have a small amount of calcium because of these two factors above (so it is important to get calcium in your diet). Consider taking a separate calcium supplement. 

  • Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium (which is why you often see calcium supplements with added vitamin D).  During pregnancy you need 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily.  

  • DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fat that assists with growth and development, particularly for baby’s eyes and brain.  It is recommended that pregnant women get 200 mg of DHA per day. Some prenatals include this fat, since many women do not attain this level of DHA in diet alone.  

  • Other nutrients to consider in a pre-natal vitamin are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 and iodine.

Review the above information when choosing your prenatal.  The brand is not as important as the nutrients it contains.

Is that all? 

Keep in mind that a prenatal should be part of a balanced diet.  BUT if you are pregnant or have been pregnant, you may notice that you don’t feel your best in terms of eating.  Nausea or food aversions are one challenge, and you may also find yourself more tired and less motivated to cook for yourself or your family. Further, stress and food cravings are normal, but listening to our bodies isn’t always compatible with specific nutrients.   With these factors in mind, a balanced prenatal vitamin can help with some of the nutrients you may be missing in your diet. Additionally, your health care provider may recommend a specific vitamin based on your needs, prior pregnancies, or other risk factors.

Anything else to know about prenatals?

Sometimes, prenatals themselves can cause nausea!  To mitigate this, consider take them in the evening, as some women find that having food in their stomach mitigates symptoms of nausea. You may also want to try switching to a different brand, as formulations and non-active ingredients can vary somewhat. Additionally, a prenatal vitamin may cause constipation because of the added iron.  Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day and eat enough fiber, and if you have your physicians okay, move your body as able.

 

And now our favorite Bloomwell Blog activity... Hot seat questions!

Favorite vacation spot?  Menorca, Spain.  It's the smaller island, near Mallorca.  My husband and I were lucky enough to spend a few blissful days here on our honeymoon and it is magical.

 

Best book you’ve read recently?

One of my favorite books is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I love a good, although tragic, love story.

 

Favorite kids snack that you eat?

Goldfish: go with the classic.

 

Superpower: invisibility or super strength?

Super strength for sure.  

 

If you have an hour to yourself…what do you do?

Sounds delightful.  Probably just sit in the stillness and quiet.  But I am a sucker for a good massage.

 

What Superkin piece would you choose first or give to your BFF?

Do I really have to choose one?  I love an amazing pair of leggings, so that would be my first choice.  Close second is the Gabrielle Dress... such a classic.

 

If you have any nutrition questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Rachel on Instagram, her website https://nutritioninbloom.com, or email Rachel@nutritioninbloom.com.

 

 

Sources:

https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/prenatal-vitamins/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235217/

https://www.webmd.com/baby/folic-acid-and-pregnancy#1

https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945

Miriam Williams
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