Navigating the various prenatal vitamins and supplements, such as gummy chews and fish oil capsules, can be daunting. Understanding what a good prenatal supplement should contain will help you make the best choice for you and your unborn child’s health.
If you are newly pregnant (or, ideally, attempting to conceive), it is time to pay close attention to your diet. For the majority, this means taking a multivitamin daily. How can one choose from the numerous over-the-counter and prescription options, however? The following is a guide to choosing an effective prenatal pill.
What Qualities Should a Prenatal Vitamin Contain?
Prenatal vitamins often feature a mile-long ingredient list that includes what appears to be the entire alphabet of vitamins, but you should seek the correct levels of a few critical elements, such as:
Folic acid, a vitamin that can help prevent birth malformations of the brain and spine, is perhaps the most crucial component of a prenatal vitamin (called neural tube defects, with the most commonly known as spina bifida). The March of Dimes suggests that women of reproductive age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day; while pregnant, this amount should be increased to 600 micrograms per day. Julie Levitt, M.D., an OB-GYN at Women’s Group of Northwestern in Chicago, believes it’s OK that many prenatal vitamins include more. Folic acid in supplements is more readily absorbed by the body than folate, which occurs naturally.
Both the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have released statements recommending the consumption of folic acid when attempting to conceive. Although many vitamins contain methylfolate on the belief that it may be more easily absorbed by some individuals, it has not been proven that it prevents neural tube abnormalities.
Iron-containing prenatal vitamins should be a high priority. Now when you’re pregnant, you’ll need twice as much of this mineral to produce more blood for your baby. Each day, pregnant women should consume 27 mg of iron.
This mineral is essential for the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves; therefore, pregnant women should consume 1,000 milligrams every day. Calcium intake should be a top focus since inadequate intake could raise the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Scott Sullivan, M.D., director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, explains, “What the fetus doesn’t acquire through the diet, the fetus will take from the parent’s bones.” “A supplement prevents the mother from serving as a calcium reserve.”
This vitamin aids calcium absorption and is essential for the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, eyes, and skin. Due to widespread deficiency, the March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women consume 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day, although many physicians urge even more—800 or 1,000 IU—per day. Current research examines whether increased Vitamin D levels may reduce the risk of preeclampsia.
Vitamin C, found in fresh fruits and vegetables, aids in the development of cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin in infants. Shoot for 85 mg per day.
According to March of Dimes, you need 220 micrograms of iodine daily throughout pregnancy to aid your baby’s brain and nervous system. Dr. Sullivan suggests that your prenatal tablet contain at least 150 micrograms of iodine (items such as fish and dairy can provide the remainder) and that the source should be potassium iodide, as iodine from kelp can degrade before you can take it.
How Many Supplements Are Necessary?
A prenatal vitamin typically contains 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for folic acid and 100 percent or more of the RDA for iron. However, it may only contain about 250 mg of calcium, so if you don’t get enough from your diet (for example, if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant), you may want to consider taking an additional supplement. Dr. Levitt advises that you take it at a separate time of day than your prenatal vitamin, as large quantities of calcium cannot be absorbed with the iron in your prenatal vitamin. You could take your calcium supplement at night and your iron supplement in the morning.
What About Adverse Reactions?
While taking prenatal vitamins is essential, it can be difficult for some women, especially those suffering from morning sickness. To combat nausea, use them with smooth-textured foods, such as applesauce, smoothies, or ice cream. According to the National Institutes of Health, you can also halve your prenatal vitamin dose (NIH). Take half in the morning and a half in the evening. Also, some brands may be simpler to consume than others.
While there is a low danger of over-supplementation, vitamin A overdose can cause birth abnormalities. Dr. Levitt advises avoiding products that contain more than 100 percent of the recommended daily dosage of vitamin A.
When unsure, see your physician regarding your prenatal vitamin and any other supplements you may be taking. You’ll need a vitamin that you’re comfortable with, as you shouldn’t drop the pill after delivery. Most physicians recommend taking a prenatal vitamin for as long as you’re breastfeeding or even longer if you’re planning to have another child in the near future—a recommendation that makes choosing a vitamin seem simple! In terms of quality, there is no clear winner between over-the-counter and prescription medications, so the decision is ultimately up to you.
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