Updated: Mar 28
One of the first steps you can take to prepare yourself for pregnancy is to start taking a prenatal vitamin. This will be one of the first recommendations your doctor or Ob/Gyn makes to help prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and healthy growing baby. Along with eating a balanced and nutrient dense diet, a high quality prenatal can help you boost your ovarian health and fertility to improve chances of conception.
You may be asking, "I already eat healthy, do I need a prenatal vitamin?" And "how do I know I'm getting a good quality one?" Even if you already eat a balanced and nutrient full diet, you can still benefit greatly from including a prenatal vitamin into your morning routine. There are several prenatals on the market, making it very hard to know which one is best for you and your unique needs. Well, let's dive in to help you answer those questions.
What Does a Prenatal Vitamin Do?
In an ideal world, you would be getting all necessary nutrients from your food. However, between modern agriculture, poor diet quality and chronic stress, many vital nutrients are lacking from most American diets. In the U.S., women are commonly low on nutrients including magnesium, zinc, calcium, omega3 fats, iron, iodine, vitamin D and many B vitamins.
Prenatal vitamins are designed to include most if not all of the nutrients that are so important for women’s bodies during pregnancy. Similar to a multivitamin, they help individuals get the vitamins needed to thrive. Prenatals are formulated for the unique and specific demands on your body during pregnancy.
Why Should You Take Prenatal Vitamins?
Pregnancy brings about a very intense phase of change and growth of your baby and also your body. Your need for many nutrients increases significantly. A prenatal vitamin helps you bridge those nutrient gaps to ensure your continued health through a pregnancy as well as the healthy growth of your baby.
Taking a prenatal vitamin is a simple step to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and growing baby. If nutrient and nutritional insufficiencies continue throughout a pregnancy, it can have lasting effects on the development of your baby. Poor nutrient status can contribute to increased risk of miscarriages and preeclampsia for the mother. It can also pose an increased risk of poor cognitive and mental development for your baby.
When Should You Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?
As soon as you are ready to start your preconception journey, switch to a prenatal vitamin. Knowing that it takes approximately 90-100 days for a follicle in the ovary to grow and be released as a mature egg during ovulation, you would ideally start taking your prenatal vitamins at least 3 months before conceiving. This also gives your body a chance to make up any nutrient insufficiencies and improve your egg quality for improved fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
Although a majority of pregnancies are unplanned, taking a high quality multivitamin can give you some support in the case of a surprise. Once pregnant, it is important to switch to a high quality prenatal vitamin as soon as you can. Since the first 12 weeks are crucial to your baby's growth and neural development, a high quality prenatal vitamin will offer better support for fetal development.
How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamins?
Your Ob/Gyn may want to prescribe you a prenatal vitamin, however there are a few other options that offer better nutritional support. Many prescription prenatals are insufficient in several vital nutrients for pregnancy. They also tend to lack proper formulation of nutrients for optimal absorption. So, if you're going to spend your dollars, make sure you get some bang for your buck. It is worth it to invest a little extra time into your prenatal vitamin selection. When researching prenatal vitamins, look for ones formulated with the following vital nutrients.
Critical Nutrients for Prenatal Vitamins:
Folate is a B vitamin that plays a critical role in the development of your baby's DNA, brain and nervous system. Folate is also important to improve the quality of your egg before conception and to help prevent miscarriage. However, many standard off the shelf prenatals include folic acid, which is the synthetic form of the vitamin and very inefficiently absorbed. When looking for a prenatal vitamin, ensure the methylated form of folate is included. The label will often reach "methyl-folate" or "methyl-THF." This will help to ensure the best possible absorption of the vitamin.
This vitamin is important to support healthy progesterone levels. Progesterone is needed to create a healthy uterine lining for implantation of the fertilized egg. Low B6 and thin uterine lining will make conception more challenging. Once pregnant, maternal low levels of B6 can exacerbate morning sickness and nausea. To ensure optimal absorption, look for a prenatal vitamin that includes the active formulation of B6 as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (p5p) on the label.
Choline is absolutely essential for your baby's brain and neurological development. This includes cognitive function, mood, memory and attention. Research also indicates that improved choline intake can improve egg quality and fertility. Not all prenatals include this important nutrient, so be sure to inspect the label of your vitamin bottle.
Within the realm of functional medicine and functional nutrition, it is thought that recommended intake of iodine is far below optimal. Iodine is important for your baby's healthy development of thyroid, bran, and nervous system. Insufficient iodine can negatively affect thyroid health and fertility. Check the label to ensure your prenatal vitamin includes iodine in the formulation of potassium iodide with a dose of 200-250 mcg.
Iron status affects both mother and baby. Growth during pregnancy puts mothers at risk of anemia and low iron status. This can have negative consequences for your growing baby. Inadequate iron can increase risk of pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, hypothyroidism and premature delivery. Low iron intake can also stunt your baby's growth and impair fetal brain development. During pregnancy, your body's need for iron nearly doubles from 18 mg per day to 27 mg per day. Be sure your prenatal vitamin includes this mineral in the form of iron glycinate or ferrous bisglycinate.
For vegetarians especially, zinc and iron are critical as their main sources of food include animal sources. Zinc plays an important role in ovulation, hormone health and fertility. Zinc deficiency can increase risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and placental inflammation. Be sure your prenatal vitamin includes at least 15 mg of zinc picolinate or zinc citrate.
Beneficial Nutrients for Pregnancy:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Two essential omega3 fatty acids include EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are critical to the development of your baby’s brain and eyes and to providing antiinflammatory protection. In the last trimester of pregnancy, these nutrients are especially important as they will provide the building blocks that support the growth and development of your baby for the first 2 years of their life. If your prenatal does not include any omega3 EPA/DHA, you may consider adding a fish oil to your supplement routine that includes at least 500 mg of EPA and at least 300 mg of DHA.
The majority of people are low or deficient in vitamin D levels. Low maternal vitamin D status is correlated with increased risk of childhood asthma, language impairment, and type 1 diabetes. While recommended daily intake of vitamin D is around 600 IU per day, depending on mother’s vitamin D status, additional supplementation may be required. Additional vitamin D of 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU can be safely taken daily. Be sure you have the active formulation of vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.
Magnesium insufficiency is very common due to poor soil quality and agricultural practices, chronic stress and poor diet. In pregnancy, low magnesium status can contribute to risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. In some women, low magnesium intake can contribute to morning sickness and nausea. Adding magnesium also offers gentle support for constipation. To support constipation relief, look for magnesium citrate 100 mg to 300 mg. Otherwise, magnesium glycinate can provide the same benefits without the GI effects.
To learn more about nutrition that can prepare you for a successful and healthy pregnancy, contact Aida Sadeghi, MS, CNS owner of FeelGoodEats Nutrition. Schedule a free consultation call with FeelGoodEats Nutrition. Together we will create a nutrition plan that works for you and your unique lifestyle while providing everything you and your baby will need over the next several months.