When you are planning for pregnancy, or even once you find out you’re expecting, choosing a prenatal vitamin can be quite overwhelming. There are so many to choose from, and you’re probably wondering which prenatal vitamin is best? Should I take the same prenatal vitamin before, during, and after pregnancy? Do I need to take any other supplements? Your body’s nutrient needs change from the moment you are trying to conceive to post-pregnancy. In this article, we share which nutrients to look for during each stage of your pregnancy journey.
Prenatal Vitamins for Trying to Conceive and Early Pregnancy
Don’t wait until you are pregnant to start thinking about which prenatal to take. It is best to start supplementing your diet with a preconception prenatal vitamin while trying to conceive. Some nutrients may promote fertility, while others are crucial for your baby’s development, perhaps before you know you are pregnant.
Folate is a B vitamin found naturally in green vegetables, oranges, nuts, and beans. It is also added to cereals, bread, and other grains as folic acid, and can be found in nutritional supplements in the form of folic acid or methylated folate.
Folate is crucial to ensure the proper development of your baby’s brain and spinal column. Within four weeks of conception, your baby’s ‘neural tube,’ which later becomes the brain and spinal cord, will begin to form.. Getting enough folate before conception and during the early weeks of pregnancy is crucial for neural tube development.
Look for a supplement with at least 600 mcg (or if an updated label, at least 1000 mcg DFE). Dietary supplement companies are now required to comply with the updated Daily Values for supplement facts panels. Current labeling for folate is as “Dietary Folate Equivalents” or DFEs, which takes into account the higher bioavailability of folic acid and methylated folate compared to naturally occurring food folate.
Choline is an
essential nutrient that, even though less well known than folate, is critical
for healthy neural tube development. Your choline needs increase during
pregnancy, as it is required for the development
of the brain and spinal cord.
Despite its importance, few women get enough in
their diet, and most prenatal vitamins do not contain any choline. As a result, the American Medical Association
recently passed a resolution to support actions to boost
choline amounts in all prenatal vitamins.
Be sure to eat choline-rich foods such as egg yolks, fish, chicken, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, and look for a prenatal vitamin with choline.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin made in our skin in response to sun exposure. Low vitamin D blood levels are common, since most of us are not in the sun enough, and we generally don’t get enough vitamin D from food. Higher vitamin D levels (above 30 ng/mL) are linked to better fertility as well as a healthy pregnancy. Choose a prenatal with 2,000 to 4,000 IU (50 to 100 mcg) of vitamin D3 to promote a healthy vitamin D level.
Iodine is an essential mineral that promotes healthy thyroid function as well as nerve and brain development. Your iodine requirements are higher during pregnancy due to an increased demand for thyroid hormone. The first trimester is a critical time to ensure you get enough iodine, and not all prenatal vitamins contain it. Iodine intakes have decreased in the U.S., likely because we use less iodized salt, opting for various non-iodized sea salts instead. We also eat more processed food, which may be high in sodium, but most of the salt content is not iodized. Look for a prenatal with at least 150 mcg of iodine.
Vitamin B6 supports the healthy development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. An additional benefit of vitamin B6 is that it may help reduce nausea during pregnancy. Studies indicate that 30 to 75 mg a day, in divided doses, can be effective. If you are experiencing nausea, choose a prenatal with at least 30 mg.
Prenatal Vitamins for Mid to Late Pregnancy
Eating a healthy diet and continuing to take a prenatal vitamin helps both mother and baby throughout pregnancy. Requirements for certain nutrients increase as your pregnancy progresses. Read on to learn about the importance of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, choline, and vitamin D during the latter stages of your pregnancy.
Your iron needs increase during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume to supply oxygen to your growing baby. If you have low iron levels, you can feel weak, tired, or dizzy.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for your baby’s brain and eye development. DHA is most important during the second and third trimesters and has been shown to promote full-term delivery.
Fatty fish is the best source of DHA. It is especially important during pregnancy to eat fish that is low in mercury (salmon, trout, herring, anchovies are good examples) at least once a week. If you aren’t eating much fatty fish, be sure to take a prenatal vitamin with at least 300 mg of DHA, or a separate omega-3 fish oil supplement.
Choline continues to have benefits during the later stages of pregnancy and beyond. A 2018 Cornell study found cognitive benefits in the babies of women who consumed twice the current recommended level of choline during their third trimester. To reap the benefits of choline, eat choline-rich foods throughout your pregnancy, and take a prenatal vitamin with at least 250 mg.
Maintaining a healthy vitamin D level is important throughout pregnancy. Continue to take a prenatal with 2,000 to 4,000 IU (50 to 100 mcg). These doses have been shown to be safe during pregnancy and promote healthy pregnancy outcomes.
Although most women are advised to continue their prenatal vitamin, your nutrient needs are slightly different after you have your baby than during pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding, you generally need less iron and folate. Your iodine needs continue to be elevated, and your body requires slightly more vitamins A and C, and even more choline than you did during pregnancy. Choline needs are higher during lactation than at any other time during a woman’s life. Taking DHA and vitamin D continues to be important for your baby’s development. A 2015 study found that taking a daily dose of 6,400 IU of vitamin D supplies breastmilk with enough vitamin D to meet your infant’s requirement. This offers an alternative to infant vitamin D drops.
Growing a healthy baby is a huge job for your body, so it’s crucial for you to practice healthy eating and lifestyle habits for the journey ahead. Incorporating an appropriate prenatal is one component in ensuring you have the nutrient stores to support your baby’s healthy growth and development.For more information, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Theralogix! Don’t miss an article! Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll let you know when our next article comes out.