What Should Be In A Prenatal Vitamin?
A prenatal vitamin (PNV) is a multivitamin and iron supplement meant to be taken during pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant. Some doctors recommend that all women of child-bearing age should take a prenatal vitamin to help prevent deficiencies or birth defects that may occur during the very first stages of pregnancy. During pregnancy, the need for vitamins and minerals is increased; as babies are developing and growing they take all the nutrients they need - calories, vitamins, and minerals - from their mother.
When looking for the right prenatal vitamin, you should look for one that has:
400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid
400 IU of vitamin D
200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium
17 mg of iron
150 micrograms of iodine
Prenatal vitamins come in many forms: pill, chewable, and liquid. Some prenatal vitamins can cause side effects such as nausea or constipation. If this happens, make sure to speak with your health care provider as they may be able to prescribe a different kind of prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins should also include other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin E, and zinc. Not all vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy are in a prenatal vitamin and may need to be supplemented separately. Speak with your health care provider to see if you require other supplements in addition to a prenatal vitamin.
Folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, can prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the fetal brain and spinal cord. During the early stages of pregnancy, often before many know they are pregnant, neural tube defects may occur due to lack of folic acid. Some studies have also shown that taking folic acid may help prevent heart defects and birth defects in your baby’s mouth (called cleft lip and palate).
Foods that have folic acid:
Green leafy vegetables
Breakfast cereals (fortified with folic acid)
Calcium is important during pregnancy as it can help prevent bone loss. Without enough calcium during pregnancy, your body takes it from your bones and gives it to your baby. This can cause health conditions, such as osteoporosis, which causes your bones to become thin and break easily. Calcium is a mineral that helps your baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves develop. Too much calcium can block your body from absorbing iron, so it is important to make sure you are taking the right amount.
Good sources of calcium include:
Milk, cheese, and yogurt
Broccoli and kale
Orange juice that has been fortified with calcium
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and helps your baby’s bones and teeth grow. It has also shown to help prevent infections through helping support your immune system.
Good sources of vitamin D include:
Fatty fish, like salmon
Milk and cereals that are fortified with vitamin D
When you are pregnant, your blood volume increases. Iron is key in making red blood cells; twice as much iron is needed during pregnancy to produce enough blood cells to transport the needed oxygen to all your organs and the baby.
Good sources of iron include:
Lean meat, poultry, and seafood
Cereal, bread, and pasta that has iron added to it
Leafy green vegetables
It is common for iron to cause constipation. If this occurs, it can help to drink plenty of water, include more fiber in your diet, and do light physical activity. Stool softeners can be prescribed by your doctor if needed.
Vitamin C is important in pregnancy, as it helps the body absorb iron.
Foods high in vitamin C:
Cranberries and cranberry juice
Iodine is a mineral needed to make thyroid hormones, which help your body use and store energy from food. It is needed during pregnancy to help your baby’s nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) develop. Iodine deficiency can cause miscarriage. Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine.
Good sources of iodine include:
Milk, cheese, and yogurt
Enriched or fortified cereal and bread
Iodized salt (salt with iodine added to it)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One common supplement that is paired with prenatal vitamins during pregnancy is Omega-3 fatty acids, which contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk of preterm birth and are important for baby’s brain and eye development. Commonly found in fish, it is recommended to consume 8-12 ounces of seafood low in mercury each week during pregnancy to get the recommended Omega-3 fatty acid.
Some foods that Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in include:
Fatty fish (such as herring, salmon, trout, anchovies, halibut, catfish, shrimp, and tilapia)
Orange juice that has been fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids
Milk and eggs are commonly fortified with DHA
Unless otherwise specified by your healthcare provider, you should take a prenatal vitamin that includes a variety of the recommended nutrients in one dose as directed. Avoid taking additional supplements because you run the risk of overdosing on a particular nutrient. Any type of supplements – synthetic vitamins and minerals – contain higher doses in concentrated form, which can be dangerous if taken in improper amounts. As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet, you do not need to fear overdosing on nutrients found naturally in foods. A well-balanced diet consists of unprocessed foods, a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lentils, and plenty of water.
Taking a prenatal vitamin, eating a well balanced diet, and working with your health care provider to see if you need any other additional supplements will help you ensure you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy.
It is important to discuss any diet or health concerns with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian.
Written by Leah Bendig, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
1. American Pregnancy Association
2. March of Dimes
3. Mayo Clinic
4. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists