When you are planning for pregnancy or reveling in the exciting news that 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 you take the same prenatal vitamin before, during, and after pregnancy? Do you need to take any other supplements? Your body’s nutrient needs are different in each phase: trying to conceive, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. This article discusses 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 vitamin to take. It is best to start supplementing your diet with a preconception prenatal vitamin while trying to conceive. Some nutrients may support healthy fertility, while others are crucial for your baby’s development, perhaps before you even 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. Your baby’s ‘neural tube,’ which later becomes the brain and spinal cord, will begin to form within four weeks of conception. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect.
Look for a supplement with at least 1000 mcg dietary folate equivalents (DFE). DFE takes into account the higher bioavailability of folic acid and methylated folate compared to naturally occurring food folate.
Like folate, choline is an essential nutrient critical for healthy brain and neural tube development. Your choline needs increase during pregnancy to 450 mg per day. 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 high-quality prenatal vitamin with choline.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and some fortified foods. It’s also made in your skin in response to sun exposure. Many people limit their direct sun exposure and struggle to include plenty of vitamin D-rich foods in their diet, so it can be difficult for some to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Higher vitamin D levels (above 30 ng/mL) have been shown to support fertility and 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. 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 the risk of upset stomach during pregnancy.
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 later stages of your pregnancy.
Your iron needs increase during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy to support an increase in blood volume to supply oxygen to your growing baby.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid 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. During pregnancy, it is especially important 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 look for a prenatal vitamin with at least 250 mg of choline.
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 vitamins, your nutrient needs are slightly different after having 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. Adequate amounts of DHA and vitamin D continue 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 breast milk 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.