Prenatal vitamins are dietary supplements specially formulated for the unique needs of women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant. During pregnancy, a woman’s daily requirements for certain nutrients increase in order to meet the needs of the developing baby. Prenatal vitamins contain the specific vitamins and minerals necessary to conceive, grow a healthy baby, and sustain a woman’s health throughout the nine months of pregnancy.

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The Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins

The nourishment of a baby completely depends on the nutritional status of its mother. Poor nutrition during the prenatal period may have profound effects on child growth, in utero and beyond. Nutrient deficiencies can negatively impact the short- and long-term development of a fetus. The consequences can include stunted growth and skeletal malformations. In addition to providing crucial support for a child’s growth and development, compelling. Research has determined that prenatal vitamins also help:

  • Promote fertility.
  • Prevent congenital abnormalities.
  • Minimize symptoms of morning sickness.
  • Reduce the risk of preterm birth.

Ideally, a woman should begin taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception. Survey data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that a significant percentage of women ages 18 to 35 do not meet their body’s nutrient needs. For this reason, some medical providers advocate that all women of reproductive age take prenatal vitamins regularly.

It is never too early to start taking care of an unborn child, and there is no better time to do so than before a baby is conceived. It is highly recommended that prenatal vitamins be taken daily throughout the entire pregnancy. Obstetricians may also counsel mothers to continue to take prenatal vitamins after childbirth to aid postpartum recovery. If a woman is breastfeeding, postnatal or lactation dietary supplements are advised.

If a woman is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the use of prenatal vitamins can act as dietary insurance, and fill in any nutritional gaps that may exist. No one eats a nutritionally perfect diet every day. This is especially true in early pregnancy, when food aversions, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to tastes and smells may suppress appetite. However, prenatal vitamins are intended to complement a healthy diet, not a substitute for good nutrition. Prenatal vitamins do not replace a well-balanced eating pattern and nutritious food choices. It is still vital to eat a nutrient-rich diet throughout pregnancy.

Remember, more isn’t inherently better when it comes to prenatal vitamins. Do not exceed the prescribed dosage. And discuss the need for any other supplements with a doctor. Be sure that your health care provider is informed about the use of any and all supplements, including those taken prior to pregnancy.

What Prenatal Vitamin Should You Take?

Keep in mind that dietary supplements, including prenatal vitamins, are not all created equally. There are several key criteria to look for when evaluating prenatal vitamins. Choose a prenatal vitamin with:

1. Third-party certification

Since 1994, the dietary supplement industry has been unregulated. There is currently no governing body that oversees the safety, content, efficacy, purity, or dosage of over-the-counter nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, there are frequently differences between the claims on dietary supplement labels and the actual composition of the supplement itself.

Manufacturers of dietary supplements may choose to submit one or more products for third-party certification. Third-party certification refers to an independent verification process by a non-biased, third-party organization. Supplements under extensive testing and analyses according to rigorous criteria. Third-party certification is a voluntary, not required, step for supplement manufacturers. At this time, third-party certification is considered to be the ld standard in ensuring that a supplement is free of harmful substances (pesticides, anabolic steroids, toxic metals) and contains the types and amounts of ingredients listed on the label.

Consumers should look for an independent seal of approval on the packaging and/or container of a supplement to verify third-party certification. The most well-recognized third-party certifiers are:

  • NSF (National Science Foundation)
  • USP (United States Pharmacopeia)
  • BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group)
  • GMP (od Manufacturing Practice)
  • Consumer Lab

2. Minimum of 600 mcg folate

  • Folate is essential for the prevention of neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. The neural tube develops in the first month of pregnancy, so defects often occur before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

3. Minimum of 150 mcg iodine

  • This is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), secondary to scientific findings that many American women do not eat adequate amounts of iodine.
  • Iodine is extremely important for fetal brain and thyroid development, particularly if a woman eats a primarily plant-based diet.

4. Minimum of 18 to 27 mg iron

  • A woman of childbearing age has the highest iron needs of any group. A supplement with 18 mg of iron is recommended for women who could become pregnant or who are trying to conceive.
  • After conception, a dietary supplement with 27 mg of iron is advised. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases up to 50 percent.  Increased iron is necessary to manufacture enough blood for both a mother and a baby.
  • Iron plays an important role in the transport of oxygen and vital nutrients (for a pregnant woman as well as a growing baby).
  • Iron forms the building blocks of a baby’s blood cells. It is critical for fetal growth and development.
  • Sufficient iron intake decreases the likelihood of iron-deficiency anemia. This is a medical condition characterized by too few red blood cells in the body. Untreated iron-deficiency anemia can cause premature birth and/or low birth weight.

5. Minimum of 600 IU (or 15 mcg) vitamin D

  • This is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
  • Vitamin D deficiency is a very common issue, including during pregnancy.
  • Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D (in combination with calcium) is required to maintain bone health and promote proper development of the fetal skeleton.
  • Studies also indicate that adequate vitamin D intake can help to prevent preeclampsia.

6. Minimum of 220 to 300 mg DHA

Very few women consume adequate amounts of this essential fatty acid, which is particularly supportive of neonatal cognitive and visual functioning.

Essential fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation have been positively connected with the length of gestation and reduced risks of preterm birth, preeclampsia, low birth weight, childhood allergies, and perinatal depression. They are also associated with improvements in a myriad of long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. These include psychomotor skills, verbal intelligence, visual recognition memory, problem-solving skills, brain plasticity, and overall intelligence scores.

Women who are pregnant and/or anticipating a future pregnancy should select a prenatal vitamin that meets all of the standards outlined above. Most women take a prenatal multivitamin along with a separate DHA supplement. While DHA has been added to numerous prenatal vitamin formulations, it is often present in insufficient amounts.

As of late 2018, the only over-the-counter prenatal supplement available to the mainstream market that meets ALL of the listed criteria in one pill is:

  • Theranatal One Prenatal `27 mg iron`

Third-party certified prenatal multivitamins that contain adequate amounts of folate, iodine, iron, and vitamin D include:

  • NatureMade Prenatal `27 mg iron` – NOTE: NatureMade Prenatal + DHA is NOT third-party certified
  • Theranatal Complete Prenatal `27 mg iron`
  • Theranatal Ovavite Preconception `18 mg iron`
  • Theranatal Core Preconception `18 mg iron`
  • New Chapter Perfect Prenatal `18 mg iron`
  • Megafood Food Baby & Me `18 mg iron`

Recommendations for third-party certified prenatal DHA supplements are as follows:

  • Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA (the official omega-3 supplement of the American Pregnancy Association)
  • Viva Naturals Prenatal DHA
  • New Chapter Wholemega Prenatal

Also Worth Noting ….

  • Some women report nausea or queasiness upon taking prenatal vitamins. Taking the supplement(s) with a snack or meal, or before ing to bed at night, can help to manage these adverse effects.
    • Research has shown that women who take a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 10 mg of vitamin B6 (before conception and/or during the first few weeks of pregnancy) experience less nausea during the first trimester.
  • If you have trouble swallowing a prenatal vitamin, look for a pill with a slicker coating. You may also consider selecting a supplement without calcium. Calcium tends to add a lot of bulk to pills. In such cases, talk to your prenatal practitioner about other ways to meet your calcium needs.
  • The extra iron found in prenatal vitamins can contribute to constipation, diarrhea, and/or gas. The following strategies can help to alleviate gastrointestinal distress.
    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • Include more fiber in your diet (found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes).
    • Incorporate consistent physical activity in your daily routine (as long as you have your health care provider’s permission to do so).
    • Take a stool softener.
  • If lifestyle changes do not help to manage your symptoms, talk to your physician about switching to a slow-release iron supplement or a separate iron preparation that dissolves in the intestines rather than the stomach.

Talk to your provider to see what prenatal vitamin is right for you.

About UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Pinnacle includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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