Which Supplements Are Good for Pregnancy?

Which Supplements Are Good for Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also comes with many changes for a woman's body. Eating a balanced diet is essential, but pregnancy increases the need for certain vitamins and minerals. Many healthcare providers recommend prenatal supplements, but with so many options available, it can get confusing on which ones are best. This article explores what nutrition is important during pregnancy, which supplements are recommended, safety considerations, and answers some frequently asked questions.

Indian female gynecologist doctor consulting young married couple patients in fertility clinic about IVF or IUI. Planning pregnancy concept. stock photo


Why Nutrition Matters During Pregnancy

Pregnancy increases demands on the body for energy and nutrients. Getting adequate nutrition ensures both mom and baby stay healthy, preventing nutrient deficiencies. Many vitamins and minerals play crucial roles in fetal development in the womb. For example, folic acid helps prevent birth defects in the baby's brain and spine. Not getting enough iron could lead to anemia for the mother.

In an ideal scenario, nutrition needs could be met through foods alone. However, many pregnant women still fall short in key areas, even with a well-balanced diet. Nausea and food aversions during pregnancy also make it difficult for some women to take in optimal nutrition. That’s why supplements can act as an insurance policy. When combined with a healthy diet, they help provide sufficient quantities of nutrients for the increased demands of pregnancy.

Recommended Prenatal Vitamins and Supplements

Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend women take prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy. This recommendation stands whether a pregnancy was planned or unplanned. Supplement needs increase rapidly after conception occurs.

Prenatal Multivitamins

Prenatal multivitamins are specially formulated with appropriate doses of key vitamins and minerals for pregnancy. They contain essentials like folic acid, calcium, iron, and vitamin D in quantities that meet increased pregnancy demands. Many also have omega-3s and extra vitamin C for absorption and immune support. It is important to choose a high-quality supplement made specifically for the needs of pregnant women rather than just a standard adult multivitamin.

Folic Acid

Folic acid deserves special attention because adequate levels before and in early pregnancy helps prevent major birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects. It also supports the placenta and development of red blood cells for both mother and fetus.

The CDC recommends women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid daily before pregnancy. Once pregnant, the recommendation increases to 600 mcg for optimum fetal health. While prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, women are advised to begin folic acid supplements prior to conception in addition to a multivitamin. This ensures protective levels are already built up during the first weeks of pregnancy until starting prenatal multis later.

Iron

Iron needs practically double during pregnancy to support increased blood volume and the baby’s growth. On average, pregnant women require 27 mg of iron per day, which is extremely difficult to achieve from foods alone. Insufficient iron leads to anemia and low energy levels which impact both mom and developing baby.

However, too much supplemental iron can also cause problems. For these reasons, the ideal source is prenatal vitamins with iron levels tailored specifically to the enhanced needs of pregnancy. Always check with a doctor before taking separate iron supplements in addition to a prenatal.

Calcium

Calcium plays a vital role in fetal bone development. If dietary calcium sources prove inadequate, the growing baby will draw what it needs from the mother’s stores. This loss puts the mother at higher risk for osteoporosis later on.

Most prenatal vitamins provide some calcium but typically not 100% of what is recommended during pregnancy. Pregnant women aged 19 or under require the highest daily dose at 1,300 mg. Women aged 20-50 still need 1,000 mg calcium daily. Your doctor can advise if additional calcium supplements may be appropriate for your individual needs.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body utilize calcium more effectively and plays many other roles related to immunity, hormone regulation, and brain development. Some research shows over 40% of pregnant women have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D. Deficiency poses various risks including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and infection.

Exposure to sunlight helps the body produce its own vitamin D. However, time outdoors is limited during some seasons based on weather and latitude. Numerous factors can affect how much vitamin D a woman produces from sunlight. Prenatal vitamins provide the recommended 600 IU, but higher dosage vitamin D supplements may be warranted in some cases. Testing vitamin D blood levels provides the best assessment for your personal needs.

Omega-3s DHA/EPA

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA support fetal brain, nerve, and eye development. Experts recommend at least 300 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many prenatals provide omega-3s from fish oil or algal sources. Those that do not can be supplemented with DHA or DHA+EPA capsules. Vegetarian options get omega-3s from algae. Always choose quality products screened for contaminants like mercury that can accumulate in some fish.

Probiotics

Probiotics promote healthy gut bacteria levels, support digestion and nutrient absorption, and help enhance immune function. Some research shows probiotic supplementation during pregnancy may lower chances of complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and poor fetal growth. More studies are still needed, but they show excellent safety for use in pregnancy. Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and fermented vegetables. High-CFU probiotic capsules are another option that provides more guaranteed potency.

Are Supplements Safe During Pregnancy?

In healthy women with low risks for complications, supplements as described above are considered very safe under care of your OB provider. They give pregnancy enhanced levels of nutrients to optimize mom and baby outcomes. However, high amounts of any vitamin or mineral could potentially cause problems. Some examples include too much folic acid masking B12 deficiency symptoms or excessive vitamin A increasing birth defect risks. High iron intake can also aggravate nausea and constipation during pregnancy.

For these reasons, it is always recommended pregnant women talk to their healthcare provider about supplements they are taking. Discuss all current supplements at that first prenatal visit for assessment of personal needs and any appropriate adjustments. After approval, standardized prenatal multis, omega-3s, vitamin D, calcium, probiotics, and folic acid present very low risks. But personalized guidance is still best practice.

What Trimester to Begin Supplements?

Folic acid should be started prior to pregnancy when trying to conceive or at least as soon as pregnancy is possible. Protective effects of folic acid against birth defects start in the early weeks following conception as neural tubes develop. Plus it can take some time to build up adequate blood levels from supplements. These crucial first weeks happen before pregnancy is even confirmed. Folic acid started only after pregnancy confirmation misses this critical protective window.

Prenatal multivitamins with iron, calcium, and vitamin D should begin once pregnancy is confirmed. Starting them right away helps provide optimal levels of these nutrients through all trimesters as demands on maternal stores increase exponentially.

Probiotics and omega-3s may be started at any point. Earlier supplementation allows more time for guts to repopulate with healthy bacteria. Omega-3s started earlier promote fetal brain support throughout development during pregnancy.

No matter what trimester, discussing all supplement plans with your OB care team is strongly advised. Blood tests help assess underlying deficiency risks upon getting pregnant as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which supplements are good for pregnancy?

Prenatal multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, iron, folic acid, omega-3s DHA/EPA, and probiotics taken under medical guidance are considered safe and beneficial. Testing determines if more individualized supplementation is needed.

What supplements should I take to get pregnant?

Minimum recommendations are a prenatal multivitamin, 600 mcg folic acid, 2000 IU vitamin D for deficiency prevention, and 250-300 mg DHA omega-3s daily for enhanced fertility and fetal support in the early weeks after conception. Optimize diet and lifestyle factors too.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

Begin taking specially formulated prenatal multivitamins and omega-3s with DHA as soon as pregnancy is confirmed. Higher folic acid levels (600-800 mcg) should start prior to conception ideally.

Should women take supplements while pregnant?

Yes, it is strongly recommended by OB/GYNs that pregnant women take prenatal multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, iron, omega-3s, and probiotics under provider guidance. These provide optimized nutrition both mom and developing baby require for a healthy pregnancy.

What week of pregnancy should you stop taking supplements?

Never stop supplements without first consulting your healthcare provider. Recommendations are to continue prenatal multis, vitamin D, omega-3s, probiotics, calcium, and iron supplementation throughout pregnancy and extending into postpartum especially while breastfeeding.

The Bottom Line

Adequate nutrition including a balanced whole food diet and supplements as needed provides the building blocks for a healthy pregnancy. Key supplements shown to optimize outcomes for both moms and babies include quality prenatal multivitamins, folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3s DHA/EPA, and probiotics under medical guidance. Always talk to your doctor first before taking any new supplements when pregnant. But when used appropriately, these essential nutrients help nourish your body and baby’s development, helping set the foundation for the months ahead.

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