Prenatal supplements consist of a variety of vitamins and minerals that are essential to help your baby develop. During pregnancy, a woman’s daily intake requirements for certain nutrients like folic acid, calcium and iron will increase. These prenatal vitamins will help to supplement your diet to prevent any nutritional gaps.
Ideally, prenatal supplements should be started at least three months before you try to conceive. This is especially so for folic acid, which is essential to help prevent neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Neural tube development occurs in the first 28 days of conception, when many women are still unaware of their pregnancy. Preconception use of at least 400 micrograms of folic acid will help preventing omission of this critical vitamin during the initial crucial developmental period.
Folic acid, iron and calcium are some of the most important components of the prenatal supplements. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. Iron supports the baby’s growth and development. It is common for mothers to develop low blood counts in pregnancy as the blood volume increases in pregnancy. Iron supplementation will help to prevent this. Calcium helps with the baby’s bone development while maintaining the mother’s bone density in pregnancy.
There are many different formulations of prenatal supplements available, with differing concentrations of each nutrient. Not all prenatal preparations contain omega-3-acids, which might be useful to promote a baby’s brain and eye development. If your diet does not contain sufficient fish or foods high in omega-3-acids, you may want to consider this component in your choice of prenatal supplement. If you have any special conditions like epilepsy, you may require a higher dose of folic acid. Please consult your doctor for further details.
It is prudent to check with your doctor prior to buying over-the-counter prenatal supplements to be sure they are suited for your unique needs. Certain supplements may contain herbs, which may be a concern for your pregnancy. Some supplements may also contain too much for a certain nutrient, e.g. vitamin A, which may have adverse effect on your baby’s development.
If your usual prenatal supplements contain the recommended dose of the essential vitamins, there is usually no need to take anything extra. In general, the recommended doses of vitamins and minerals per day are as follows:
Combining supplements may be dangerous as you have a risk of overdosing on a particular nutrient unknowingly.
Women on strict vegetarian diets tend to pay attention to obtaining vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, zinc, iron and omega-3-acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These women can consider supplements with these vitamins from a vegetarian source, e.g. DHA from algae rather than from fish.
Try to take the supplement at night before bedtime so that you can sleep through the nausea. Alternatively, you can try an alternative kind of prenatal supplement. Seek further assessment from your doctor if you are unable to keep the supplement down.
Taking more than 100% of the daily recommended dose of any nutrient should be avoided during pregnancy unless it is under the supervision of your doctor. Supplements contain synthetic minerals and vitamins in a concentrated form, which can be dangerous if taken in inappropriate amounts. Always let your doctor know what prenatal supplements you are taking, and it is helpful to bring the packaging of your supplement with you on your first prenatal visit.
Be aware of the content of the prenatal supplements you choose over the counter. Most preparations are safe. However, certain brands may not be suited for pregnancy as they may contain too much of a certain nutrient, jeopardising your baby’s health.