Getting the right nutrition and vitamins is important for your overall health at every stage of life—but especially for pregnant women.
So, how can you ensure you’re getting the important vitamins and nutrients you and your future little one need? Prenatal vitamins may help.
If you’re newly pregnant (or are planning to get pregnant), discussing with your health care provider what vitamins your body may need during pregnancy is an important and easy step to take, for your health and the health of your baby.
Here are five things you need to know about vitamins and supplements before, during and after pregnancy.
1. Talk to your health care provider before starting prenatal vitamins
If you’re standing in the supplements aisle of your pharmacy or health food store, you may be overwhelmed with your options.
There are various prenatal vitamins to choose from, “but it’s important to review your prenatal supplement choices with your health care provider to ensure there isn’t too much or too little of something your body may or may not need,” said Christina Valentine, MD, medical director of the perinatal nutrition program and neonatologist with Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.
Your provider will review your health history, diet or bloodwork to determine what additional vitamins or minerals to supplement with. It’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet to make sure you’re getting all the good stuff your body and baby need.
“Women who are vegetarians should also consult with a registered dietitian to ensure complete protein, folic acid, iron, B12 and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are adequate,” Dr. Valentine noted.
2. Start taking prenatal vitamins before conception (if you can!)
While not all pregnancies are planned, if you hope to get pregnant in the near future, it's a good idea to start taking prenatal vitamins now. It’s important to build up your stores of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, choline, iron, folic acid and other vital minerals and vitamins to prepare your body for when it’ll need to support a growing baby.
“From conception to delivery, your baby requires extra energy for growth, brain and immune development. So, getting adequate amounts of protein, choline, folic acid, vitamin D, DHA, fiber-rich foods and iron through diet and supplemental intake is important,” Dr. Valentine said. “Not getting enough of these key nutrients can put a baby at risk for developmental complications to the brain and spine called neural tube defects, like spina bifida, which often occur in the first month of pregnancy when the neural tube is growing.”
3. DHA is not only good for baby—those good fats are good for you too!
Dr. Valentine and colleagues just completed a 5-year National Institutes of Health study that examined the potential benefits of a higher daily dose of DHA (1,000mg) during pregnancy compared to the standard recommendation of DHA (200mg). The results indicate that this higher dose can significantly reduce the risk for premature or early preterm birth.
“While several factors can contribute to preterm birth, getting a sufficient amount of DHA may be the single most important way to prevent it, especially considering many healthy American women average only about 50mg per day of dietary DHA,” Dr. Valentine said.
The study also showed that women’s blood volume increased, and their bodies acquired new tissues to support the pregnancy, like the placenta. “This shows how important adequate calories, protein, iron and folic acid rich foods or supplements are during pregnancy,” she said.
4. Vitamins are important postpartum as well
While there are clear benefits for taking a prenatal vitamin before and during pregnancy, there is also significant evidence that prenatal or postnatal vitamins may help even after delivery with things like improving the nutritional needs of breastfeeding mothers, preventing anemia and calcium deficiencies and enhanced energy and better mood regulation.
Some women, such as those with a vegetarian or vegan diet, may not get adequate nutrients through diet alone and may be at greater risk for deficiencies.
“Most health care providers recommend taking a prenatal vitamin as long as you are breastfeeding to ensure your baby continues to get sufficient nutrients like A,D and B vitamins, DHA and iodine,” Dr. Valentine said. "If not breastfeeding, then the general recommendation is to continue taking them a minimum of 6-8 weeks postpartum while your body is healing.”
Talk to your health care provider about whether you’d benefit from taking prenatal or postnatal vitamins after delivery.
5. Herbs may be “natural” but that doesn’t always mean they're safe.
“Herbs aren’t regulated in the U.S. and can have contaminants that can be harmful in pregnancy as well as enhance bleeding,” Dr. Valentine said. “Before taking any herbal pills, teas or supplements, you should first discuss potential side effects with your health care provider.
Schedule an appointment
Following a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins before, after and during pregnancy can help with a healthy pregnancy and baby’s growth. There are a variety of prenatal vitamins out there – both prescription and over-the-counter – so talk to your health care provider about what works best for your body.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.