Switch from your normal vitamins to a prenatal when pregnant
There are crucial prenatal vitamins that all mothers should take to ensure a constant supply of energy, as our bodies are undergoing additional strain on their organs and muscles during pregnancy. We need to change our vitamins intake to support our different needs. And the additional nutrient requirements of a developing fetus.
Are prenatal vitamins really necessary, or a ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to get you to buy more products? From what evidence we can find, the inclusion of specific nutrients in a gestating mother’s diet to prevent a variety of birth defects, is the main reason to use prenatal vitamins.
You should start taking prenatal vitamins at least three months before you begin trying to get pregnant. "The egg starts maturing about three months before it's released, and it's critical that the proper nutrients are present during the earliest stages," says OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist Robert Greene, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., a fertility specialist at CNY Fertility Center in Syracuse, N.Y.
If you are totally surprised by your recently discovered fecundity, starting prenatal vitamins immediately is a wise choice. A handful of doctors believe that vitamins are a waste of time, and there are arguments to support that claim, but there is far more evidence to suggest that deficiencies in certain key nutrients can lead to congenital birth defects like spina bifida , cleft palate, and abnormal neural tube development.
Common birth defects caused by vitamin deficiency
We look at some common birth defects linked to known vitamin deficiencies. Prenatal vitamins typically contain more folic acid and iron than do standard adult multivitamins.
- Folic acid - the lack of which can cause defects that can be serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Sufficient levels in the first 6-12 weeks of pregnancy help prevent neural tube defects.
- Iron helps prevent anemia, a condition in which blood has too few healthy red blood cells. Iron also supports the baby's growth and development.
- Vitamin D - an essential “hormone“ masquerading as a vitamin, linked to the healthy functioning of your immune system, and that of your developing baby.
- Vitamin B12 - Some birth defects are linked to low Vitamin B12. Study shows B12 deficiency may raise the risk of Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects.
“Women who don't get enough vitamin B12 may have a higher risk of giving birth to a baby with a potentially disabling or fatal birth defect.
A new study shows that women with vitamin B12 deficiency in early pregnancy were up to five times more likely to have a child with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, compared to women with high levels of vitamin B12.”
Yet another study claims that:
"Vitamin B12 is essential for the functioning of the nervous system and for the production of red blood cells," says Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the study. "The results of this study suggest that women with low levels of B12 may not only risk health problems of their own, but also may increase the chance that their children may be born with a serious birth defect."
In addition, some research suggests that prenatal vitamins decrease the risk of having a baby who is small for his or her gestational age.
Normal vs prenatal vitamins
So what is the difference between normal vitamins and prenatal vitamins? Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated with a growing fetus in mind. At the various stages of pregnancy, your body has different, specific needs in terms of increased needs for minerals and vitamins.
The most important difference between prenatal vitamins and regular multivitamins is that prenatal vitamins contain larger amounts of folic acid and iron.
“A prenatal formula is designed with the specific needs of a gestating mother in mind, bumping up the folate, vitamin D, DHA, and iron,”according to The Mayo Clinic. They appear in far different levels than they do in your basic multivitamins, making them very necessary.
Micronutrients for a developing fetus
Prenatal vitamins are intended to support the health of the mother during pregnancy. Of particular importance are nutrients such as iron, folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, and iodine.Other common micronutrients required in larger amounts include vitamin A, E, B12, B6, and minerals copper and selenium.
If your Ob-Gyn has not recommended a prenatal supplement, any pharmacist can help you choose one, or look through the stock at your local drug-store. Generally, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, iodine and copper. Some obstetricians recommend very low, or no, vitamin A.
Remember, prenatal vitamins are a support to a healthy diet — not a substitute for good nutrition or an insurance policy for a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins won't necessarily meet all of your vitamin and mineral needs.
The amounts of certain fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E are different for a pregnant woman, as are the levels of folic acid, which may not be health on a prolonged basis for a non-pregnant woman or one not planning to carry a child.
Ordinary multivitamins and “Woman” supplements are designed to support the everyday needs of an average female of average health. If you have any conditions that affect your health you may already be on a special vitamin and mineral regimen. Pregnancy is no different. It is a time of vastly changed requirements by your body to produce extra blood, tissue, hormones, glandular secretions and increased organ functioning. Your body needs all the help it can get.
This should include switching to a healthier diet (C’mon, you know you can do better!), mild exercise, reduction of stress, and getting plenty of sleep.
Pregnancy shouldn’t be that scary. After all, women have been doing this for how long? But we are discovering new facts about pregnancy and the unborn child, every day, and effects of lifestyle, environment and maternal health on your baby and the gestating mother. Always be on the side of caution, and you will make a healthy baby.