We all know that eating well is key to a baby’s development. But as many expecting mum’s will discover, simply eating well is not enough to ensure your baby gets all the essential vitamins it needs for optimal foetal growth. This is where prenatal vitamins come in, and where the confusion for many mums-to-be begins.
Whilst it may seem confusing to start, the science behind prenatal vitamins is quite simple (simple enough to fit in one blog post!). So here it is - everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.
Why experts recommend prenatal vitamins
For many, the idea of taking additional supplements or prenatal vitamins doesn't make sense (or appears to be a money grab). Simply put, whilst women can grow and support a healthy bub without vitamins, they are highly recommended as there are some deficiencies in a modern day diet that our ancestors did not have. For example, despite those mums-to-be with the most fantastic diets in the world, our soil is not as nutrient rich anymore, resulting in less nutrient-dense crops. Another example of modern-day factors impacting a woman’s nutrition is medication like the contraceptive pill, which; whilst is completely safe, can deplete folate, a key nutrient needed to prevent birth defects. Babies do have the ability to extract nutrients from their mums when its not directly being fed to them, but those mechanisms will only make mumma further nutritionally depleted post pregnancy. Therefore, for both your sake and your babies, prenatal vitamins are a must!
How prenatal vitamins support you and your baby
So, you now understand why experts recommend prenatal vitamins. But what vitamins are necessary to ensure both you and your baby are getting the nutrients they need?
According to Sydney’s Leading Women's Health & Fertility Nutritionist Stefanie Valakas, there are 8 keys vitamins and minerals that best support your growing bub - some of which will require you to ingest via a supplement or prenatal vitamin, and others that can be ingested through smarter food choices. These key prenatal vitamins are:
Folate / folic acid: is essential for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. Whilst this can be found in foods like bread and cereals, its best to ingest this via a prenatal vitamin that contains activated folate (labelled as L-methylfolateor follinic acid).
Iodine: is responsible for preventing cretinism in your baby and can be found naturally in seafood and iodised salt. Due to the importance of this mineral, its best to ingest at least 150 micrograms of this in a prenatal vitamin taken daily.
Salmon, eaten in moderation, is a fantastic natural source of iodine.
Vitamin D / D3: encourages good bone health in you and your baby in addition to aiding calcium absorption. There are also links between poor vitamin D status in mums and an increased risk of preterm labour, so if you aren’t catching enough rays you may want to consider an Vitamin D vitamin on top of your prenatal vitamins.
Omega-3 DHA: DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid which not only is essential during pregnancy but will help in conception too! Studies show women with high omega-3 levels are TEN TIMES less likely to go into early labour. DHA specifically helps a baby’s brain, eye and nervous system development and as it resides naturally in seafood, will be critical to supplement if you're vegan or vegetarian. Australian obstetricians recommend 115mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily either via a prenatal vitamin or its own supplement.
Vitamin B12: assists with the metabolism of folate in the body, the formation of DNA and helps with brain and nervous system function. Best practice is to choose a prenatal vitamins which include activated B12 (methylcobalamin).
Iron: iron levels have a tendency to dip during pregnancy in your second and third trimester as your blood volume increases to support bubs. You may not need to supplement your iron levels, but its best to have this checked out both before and during your pregnancy to see whether your levels are low and will need to be increased through supplements.
Choline: whilst not traditionally found in prenatal vitamins, choline is responsible for a baby’s neural tube development and is very important in your early stages of pregnancy. Be sure to check if this is found in your prenatal vitamin of choice and if not, consider switching to one that contains this essential nutrient!
Vitamin B3 / Niacin: has been shown to reduce the risk of miscarriages and is a critical nutrient in your first trimester. You will need about 18 mcg of niacin (nicotinic acid) daily, which can be found either through your prenatal supplements or by eating chia seeds, tuna, turkey and beans.
Possible side effects of prenatal vitamins
It is important to note that with any vitamins, supplements or medications, there can be side-effects. The most common side effect is nausea, which can be minimise by taking your prenatal vitamin with food. In addition to this, many women who are put on iron supplements during pregnancy often suffer from constipation, stomach pain or vomiting, It’s recommended to take your iron supplement at a different time to your prenatal supplement to help.
Babybee are not medical experts and you should always talk to your doctor before starting any dietary supplements.