Why they matter, how to choose.
Preconception preparation can begin from one year to one month prior before conception. This prep can include cleaning up the diet, preconceptual exercises and ensuring a healthy mindset. Unfortunately, the quality of the food we ingest these days does not provide sufficient amounts of nutrients for mom and baby as they do increase during this time. The developing baby will take whatever nutrients it can from mom, whether mom has enough to share or not. This is why it's vital that your body is prepared as best as possible for a baby’s needs and to also maintain yourself, healthy and energized during all the developing stages, before, during and after pregnancy.
What are they?
During pregnancy Folic Acid (Folate) and Calcium are the only vitamins/ minerals whose requirements double during so you’ll find most prenatal vitamins specifically formulated with higher amounts of both folic acid and calcium which are vital to a baby's brain and spine development. They also provide some other critical nutrients while leaving out other ingredients which should not be taken during pregnancy (certain herbs - see below) as we will explore in further depth.
When to start and stop taking
You can start taking prenatals from one month before conception to even up to a year prior. Keep taking them for at least 6 months after giving birth but ideally, you'll want to take them the whole time while breastfeeding so you and baby are still receiving the same nutrients in the next stage of baby's development. Remember what is yours, is also theirs during these stages!
What to avoid and look for
Avoid prenatals that have ingredients such as soybean oil, cornstarch and maltodextrin as these are generally GMO products. You'll also want to avoid any that have synthetic dyes such FD&C Red No. 3 and also artificial sweeteners such as sucralose which has been linked to some cancers. Look instead for natural sweeteners such as stevia.
Vitamin A: Supports eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, bones, circulatory and central nervous system development.
You'll want a prenatal that contains a vitamin profile similar to this:
Thiamin (Vitamin B1): Supports the nervous system, supports the baby's brain growth.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2):
Supports healthy eyes and skin, nerve and muscle development while it provides your body support to produce energy.
Niacin (Vitamin B3):
may prevent certain birth defects and miscarriages. Supports baby's digestive, integumentary, and nervous system.
Pantothenic (Vitamin B5):
Helps to create hormones and may ease leg cramps.
Helps form red blood cells, supports healthy production of serotonin and norepinephrine, may help you with morning sickness.
Biotin (Vitamin B7):
Works with other B vitamins to help release energy from the food you consume while also aiding in embryonic growth and development.
Folate/ Folic Acid (Vitamin B9): helps prevent some major birth defects in babies' brains such as (anencephaly) and spine defects (Spina Bifida).
Vitamin B12: Promotes healthy red cell production in babies as well as supporting brain development.
Vitamin C: Helps your body absorb iron and may prevent you from suffering iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy.
Vitamin D: Helps strengthen bones and teeth, plus helps your body utilize calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin E: Promotes metabolism, may increase fetal growth positively.
Vitamin K: Supports healthy bone formation, blood clotting, and healing
Calcium: Supports bone and teeth development in babies, can help prevent preeclampsia which can pose a significant risk for preterm delivery.
Copper: Plays a role in iron metabolism and supports blood health
Iron: Helps the blood carry oxygen
Iodine: Supports healthy thyroid function, metabolism, fetal growth, and hearing
Magnesium: Supports healthy blood pressure and healthy birth weight
Zinc: Supports immune, nerve, and muscle function
DHA: Studies have confirmed the importance of DHA for healthy brain and eye development and subsequent neurodevelopment. Supplementing DHA during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can lead to higher birth weight and also better motor and visual development. Your body cannot make DHA in significant amounts therefore dietary sources and supplemental DHA is often recommended during pregnancy. Aside from a good DHA supplement, look to incorporate organic, wild salmon, tilapia, freshwater trout and other fish ranked low in heavy metals such as mercury. Not all prenatals will contain DHA so be sure to substitute with an external DHA supplement.
Probiotics: these are optional but recommended as probiotics have been linked to benefits like reduced risk of eczema in babies and may prevent common infections in pregnancy such as bladder/cystitis.
Some women might experience nausea or constipation from external supplementation, if so look for prenatals that are only to be taken once per day and look for food based NON-GMO vitamins as they are generally more easy to absorb due to the enzymes, phytonutrients, and other cofactors that they contain which allow the vitamin more absorbability similar to consuming whole foods.
Herbs are natural but that doesn’t mean that they are always safe during pregnancy as
some herbs can lead to uterine contractions, might cause stomach upset, cramping, disruption in hormones or even miscarriage. As a rule of thumb, it is good to always check with your doctor prior if you are considering taking a particular herb on its own.
SAFE HERBS / RECOMMENDED
You’ll notice that some if not most food-based prenatals do have herbs within the ingredients, rest assured that those carefully selected herbs are perfectly safe during pregnancy unless you have a particular allergy to a plant/herb. Always check the labels.
Red Raspberry Leaf - drinking red raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy can prepare the uterine muscles for labor, increases the flow of milk, and is said to restore the reproductive system following childbirth. It is also rich in iron, and vitamins C and E. It is recommended to start drinking this tea 32 weeks into gestation. Drinking 1-3 cups per day is adequate if desired.
Taking a prenatal vitamin is a vital step for mom and baby, it sets the nutritional foundation for healthy development so take the extra time and expense to take care of yourself during these important stages, it will pay off with better health for you and your growing family. Sit back and enjoy this special time in your life!