The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins

The Importance of Prenatal VitaminsPrenatal vitamins are an essential part of the health routine for women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant or are breastfeeding.  Even for those who consume an incredibly well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy and whole wheat, prenatal vitamins ensure women are getting specific nutrients necessary during these critical child-bearing years.

While prenatal vitamins are terrific all-around multi-vitamins, they should also contain certain vitamins and minerals that are required to sustain the health of a developing baby. These nutrients include folic acid, calcium, iron and iodine.  DHA omega fatty acids are also important components of prenatal vitamins.

Here’s a breakdown of why each of these nutrients are so important:

Folic Acid:  This pregnancy essential is a B complex vital required for neural development.  A folic acid deficiency in the first trimester and especially first 28 days of pregnancy can cause neural and heart birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida that affect the brain and spine.  Folic acid also reduces the risk of preeclampsia that leads to preterm births.  It is naturally found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, fruits and fortified grains but 400 mcg should be included in pre-natal vitamins as well.

Calcium:  Babies leach calcium from their mother’s bones during pregnancy.  Therefore, women must replenish their own calcium supply by consuming additional dairy products and ensuring calcium is part of their pre-natal supplements.  Some pre-natal vitamins do not have adequate calcium so an additional calcium supplement may be required.  This will ensure babies have the calcium they need for healthy bone development and mothers’ do not end up with osteoporosis or weakened bones.

Iron:  Iron is an important mineral that strengthens blood that circulates oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and to the baby.  When mothers become iron defiant, they can develop anemia that causes preterm delivery and low birth weight.  Pregnant women need 17 mg of iron in their pre-natal vitamins.

Iodine:  This nutrient is responsible for a healthy thyroid and ensures the baby’s physical and mental growth.  Not consuming the recommended 150 mg of iodine can lead to mental defects, deafness, stillbirth and miscarriage.

DHA Omega-3 Fatty Acids:  This specific essential fatty acid is stellar for a baby’s brain, heart, eye and nervous system development during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.  Adding this nutrient to your diet and prenatal vitamin can improve your baby’s motor skills, attention span and coordination as well as offering mom a range of health benefits too.

Most prenatal vitamins will also contain a range of additional vitamins and minerals including zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and the spectrum of B Vitamins.

Women should begin taking pre-natal vitamins as they are trying to conceive.  Since nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, beginning pre-natal vitamins when you are in your child-bearing years is a good idea since some nutrients are necessary for embryos before women even realize they are pregnant.  Prenatal vitamins should remain part of a woman’s health routine throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.  Newborns and infants are still very much growing and developing and need the same nutrients from their mother’s milk as they did while in the womb.

Most prenatal vitamins will have all of the essential nutrients required of new moms however you may want to bring yours to your next OB appointment to be sure.  If you have certain allergies, food restrictions, health conditions or deficiencies, your doctor may give you a prescription for a specific pre-natal vitamin.  Also, your doctor can recommend different forms of vitamins depending on your tolerance of pills.  Most prenatal vitamins are available in chewables, gummies and liquid forms as well.  Remember, anyone with any diet can benefit from prenatal vitamins.  But women who miss out on entire food groups, such as those who are vegetarians, vegans or lactose intolerant, should be extra vigilant about taking pre-natals.  Also, some nutrients are better absorbed through a vitamin than food.

So take those prenatal vitamins to ensure a healthy pregnancy and beyond!