When you find out that you are expecting, one of the first tasks on your list will be selecting a prenatal vitamin. In this blog post, we discuss what prenatal vitamins are and the most important nutrients during pregnancy.
What are Prenatal Vitamins?
Many patients ask, “Why are prenatal vitamins important?” Just like your own body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly, a fetus needs certain vitamins and minerals to grow properly. A fetus can only get these nutrients through its mother, and its mother can get the nutrients she needs through her diet and supplemental vitamins.
Prenatal vitamins are multivitamins designed with the developing fetus in mind; they help bridge the gap if your diet lacks some of the vitamins and minerals required for development. They are typically bought over-the-counter and taken by mouth daily during pregnancy.
Most Important Nutrients During Pregnancy
While having a balanced diet that provides as many vitamins and minerals as possible is important, certain nutrients are more critical during pregnancy. Those are folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3, iodine, and zinc. Here, we explore them in detail to better understand the role they play in pregnancy and some of the risks associated with deficiency.
Folic acid is important in pregnancy because it supports healthy fetal development. This B vitamin is necessary for neural tube formation in the early stages of pregnancy, which eventually becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord. A folic acid deficiency during the first trimester can cause neural tube defects like spina bifida, a serious genetic condition characterized by a wide range of physical and neurological issues.
Additionally, folic acid aids in DNA and red blood cell production.
Iron, which is responsible for making hemoglobin and transporting oxygen throughout the body, is vital during pregnancy. When you become pregnant, your blood volume will increase and more iron will be required to make more blood and supply your baby with oxygen.
Not getting enough iron through diet and supplements can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which can cause fatigue, breathing problems, fainting, sleep issues, and palpitations for the mother. Anemia also has a negative impact on the baby, increasing the risk of fetal death.
Calcium is an important nutrient for both mother and baby. Both need calcium for blood clotting, muscle function, and nerve transmission, while the baby also needs adequate calcium to develop strong bones and a functioning nervous system. If the mother’s diet lacks calcium, the mother’s body will draw calcium from her bones to supply it for the baby, leading to maternal bone density loss.
To help increase the likelihood that the baby will have enough calcium, the mother’s digestive system increases absorption of calcium during pregnancy. That means you will absorb more calcium from the foods and supplements that enter your body when you are pregnant than you will from those you eat or take when you are not pregnant. Taking calcium supplements during pregnancy can also help prevent preeclampsia and preterm birth.
Vitamin D is important during pregnancy because it aids in calcium absorption, supports the immune system, regulates cell growth, prevents pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and improves maternal mood and mental health. While you can get some vitamin D from sunlight and foods like fortified cereal and milk, most expectant mothers need to take prenatal vitamins to get enough vitamin D in the diet during pregnancy.
Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy can impair fetal bone development, reduce maternal bone density, put both mom and baby at higher risk of infection, and increase your risk of preterm birth, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.
Two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) play a pivotal role in fetal development and maternal and fetal health. These fatty acids are needed for fetal brain and eye development and the mother’s heart health and can reduce the risk of preterm birth. Omega-3 deficiency can lead to reduced behavioral and neurological function for the baby, impaired eye and brain development, and increased risk of preterm birth along with potential mood disorders in the mother.
You can get omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by eating fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel but many women also need a supplemental prenatal vitamin.
Iodine is important in pregnancy for a multitude of reasons: it supports the mother’s thyroid hormone production, is essential for fetal brain development, and supports the mother’s overall health and well-being, which is crucial for a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Most prenatal vitamins contain iodine, but it is still a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to ensure you are getting as much iodine as recommended. Dietary sources of iodine like iodized salt, seafood, and dairy products, can also contribute to daily requirements. Please note, that too much iodine can have adverse effects.
Zinc aids in maternal health, wound healing, enzyme function, and immune support. Perhaps most importantly, zinc is critical for the formation of DNA and RNA, cell division, and tissue repair which can prevent birth defects like cleft lip, cleft palate, and neural tube defects. You can find zinc in prenatal vitamins and lean meats, seafood, poultry, nuts, legumes, and dairy products.
Schedule an Appointment
To learn more about prenatal vitamins or work through the difficult decisions that follow an unexpected pregnancy – with compassionate and empathetic support, schedule an appointment at Willow Womens Center today. We offer STI screening, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, free parenting classes, free diapers, and more. We can also answer questions about your options following an unexpected pregnancy – adoption, abortion, and parenting – and point you toward other agencies and resources who can help.