It is best practice to start taking prenatal nutrients once you start trying to fall pregnant. Alternatively, start taking it as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
From personal experience I found women’s eating patterns change during pregnancy – not necessarily for the good unfortunately. They develop dislikes towards some healthy foods and feel nauseated during early pregnancy which means they eat differently and that they might be missing out on some important nutrients.
In an ideal world, free from morning sickness or food aversions, a balanced diet would be all you’d ever need to meet your and your baby’s nutritional requirements. Even if you eat a super healthy diet, a prenatal vitamin-mineral supplement may be good insurance to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients. Remember it takes a lot of nutrients to grow a baby!
Folic acid: It’s recommended that you take 400 micrograms (µg) folic acid a day, especially for the first 12 weeks to prevent neural tube defects.
Pregnancy Multi-vitamin/mineral: You could take a special pregnancy multivitamin. When choosing a supplement, check that it contains folic acid, iron and calcium. Look for one that also contains vitamin C, vitamin D, B vitamins such as B6 and B12, potassium, zinc, iodine and vitamin E.
Omega-3- fatty acids are essential fatty acids and aren’t synthesized by the body. Omega-3 fats are required for brain and eye development. Consequently, fetal and infant development is associated with a high fatty acid requirement, the supply of which is dependent on the availability from the mother’s diet. Even with a well-balanced diet, pregnant and lactating women cannot guarantee they are consuming the relevant fatty acids in sufficient quantities for their own and their developing baby’s requirements.
Vitamin D: Many experts also recommend taking a vitamin D supplement throughout pregnancy. It plays an important role in a baby’s skeletal development as well as general growth and development. Vitamin D may give your baby protection against developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, immune-based disease e.g. arthritis, type 1 diabetes and some types of cancer. Studies showed that babies born to mothers with higher Vitamin D blood levels have a stronger grip and greater muscle mass. Vitamin D levels can be checked with a blood test. If the level is too low, you will be advised to take a vitamin D supplement. Your dietitian would be able to arrange the necessary blood test.
Sometimes prenatal vitamins can cause nausea – what now?
I always suggest to take it in the evening just before bed – to avoid nausea. Put your supplements next to your tooth brush (then you know you won’t forget to take it) and take it after brushing your teeth, just before bed.
How long must I take the vitamins and will the vitamins change throughout the pregnancy.
It should be taken for the whole of your pregnancy and during breastfeeding. Your body however, requires more essential fatty acids (omega-3) in your last trimester of pregnancy due to your baby laying down their own fat and omega-3 stores before they are born. Omega-3 fats are required for brain and eye development. Thus it is especially important during your last trimester.
Vitamin D is very important during breastfeeding and women who breastfeed for longer than 6 months no longer are able to meet in their baby’s vitamin D requirements and should therefore take a supplement or give their baby vitamin D drops.
Can I take an over the counter or organic vitamin – is there a difference?
Yes, but do check the composition of the supplement on the label at the back. Ensure it contains the most important nutrients – folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D (as mentioned previously).
However, Caution: Don’t take any supplements which contain retinol, the animal form of vitamin A. In large quantities,this can be toxic to unborn babies. Large doses of vitamin A are stored by the body in the liver and have been linked with birth defects. However, the plant-based carotene type of vitamin A is safe in pregnancy. Also don’t take megadoses of vitamins and minerals, as this could be harmful to your baby.
Are all prenatal vitamins the same?
No! They differ in composition, dosage amounts as well as in the form in which the vitamin or mineral are made available. E.g the form in which the iron is present in the supplement could have an impact on whether you may become constipated -which is a typical problem in pregnancy.
What is important to look out for?
Lastly, make sure you take the supplements recommended for pregnant women in the correct FORM, DOSAGE and at the RIGHT time. When in doubt, talk to Paarl Dietitians or your gynea.