Prenatal Vitamins and their benefits

Prenatal Vitamins and their benefits

Oral supplements are considered an essential part of nutrition for expecting women. Generally, pregnant women increase their food intake to meet the nutritional demands of their developing body and their growing baby. However, there is no such proof that simply increasing your food intake helps in fulfilling all the requirement of all the nutrients required by your body during pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy is a combination of: a healthy pregnancy diet and vitamin supplements.

How are prenatal vitamins different from regular vitamins?

During their pregnancy, women require more energy and more appropriate vitamins and minerals to prevent the foetus from any possible disorders and to have an overall safe and healthy pregnancy. Regular vitamins consist of all the minerals and vitamins in a quantity required to run a normal everyday life. On the other hand, in prenatal vitamins, the quantity of such vitamins and minerals is comparatively higher than that in regular vitamins. Their composition differs from each other.

A couple of examples of such difference in requirements are:

  • Requirement of Folic Acid: folic acid required in non-pregnant women is around 200 micrograms whereas by pregnant women, the requirement is up to 400 micrograms.
  • Requirement of Calcium: Calcium requirement is 1100 micrograms by pregnant women as opposed to 800 micrograms in non-pregnant women.


Top essential prenatal nutrients

The most essential and beneficial multivitamins to be used during pregnancy are folate (folic acid), iron and calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins.

Folate (Folic acid) – folic acid rich foods are green vegetables, citrus fruits and vegetables. It is a key nutrient for pregnancy which prevents the foetus from developing the neural tube defects. This means the lack of folic acid leads to abnormal formation of brain. It is seen more often in the women with previous pregnancy of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. An increased dose of folic acid is required in women with multiple pregnancy and/or previous pregnancy with neural tube defects. Read more on the benefits of folic acid during pregnancy here.

Iron- Red blood cells contain haemoglobin which is made up of iron and protein portion. Iron helps in carrying the oxygen by the red blood cells. Low levels of iron cause fatigue, poor concentration and weak immune system i.e. easily prone to infections. Women are normally iron deficient because of monthly loss of blood due to periods. So multivitamins do help them retain a healthy life. Iron requirement doubles during pregnancy as production of blood increases and by the last trimester foetus starts making its own blood cells and storage of 6 months to utilize after birth.

Calcium- Calcium is a daily requirement for women to get their bones and joints stronger. During pregnancy, an expecting mother needs stronger and flexible bones to prevent mother from any complications during or after pregnancy. Pregnant women need strength to bear the labour pains. Calcium requirements also increase because of more absorption during pregnancy.

Recommended daily intake during pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman needs to maintain the daily intake of all the essential minerals and vitamins. A perfect prenatal supplement should contain following elements in the quantity equivalent to recommended daily intake (RDI):

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Prenatal Vitamins
Nutrient RDI Unit of RDI
Vitamin E 7.0   milligrams
Vitamin B6 1.0-1.5   milligrams
Vitamin C 60   milligrams
Vitamin B12 3.0   micrograms
Thiamine 1.0   milligrams
Niacin 14-15   milligrams
Total folate 400   micrograms
Calcium 1100   milligrams
Iron 32-36   milligrams
Selenium 80   micrograms
Sodium 920-2300   milligrams
Potassium 1950-5460   milligrams
Magnesium 300   micrograms
Phosphorus 1200   micrograms
Iodine 150   micrograms
Niacin 14-16   milligrams
Zinc 16   milligrams
Riboflavin 1.5   milligrams
Protein 51   grams

Should I have a balanced pregnancy diet and skip prenatal supplements?

A healthy balanced diet may meet the requirements of the majority of the nutrients required during pregnancy, however it is most likely that the diet may lack in a few key nutrients. It is therefore best advised to take prenatal vitamins along with a well balanced diet.

Generally, a pregnant woman following a healthy diet plan, doesn’t feel the need to take vitamin supplements other than Folate (folic acid). Folate (folic acid) is a must for all pregnant women even if you are following a healthy pregnancy diet. Folic acid is required by pregnant women to prevent the possibilities of neural tube defects in the foetus.

A healthy pregnancy diet that is rich in iron, calcium, folate (folic acid) protein and vitamin C foods should be highly followed by a pregnant woman. On the other hand, it is always a good idea to consult your doctor whether or not to use prenatal vitamins supplements.

When is the best time to start taking prenatal vitamins?

To be specific, it is recommended to start using prenatal supplements 2 months prior to conception. The organ development of the foetus, especially the development of the foetus’ brain, starts to occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is therefore essential for the pregnant woman to start taking prenatal supplements and folic acid for the better growth of the foetus, during that period.

How long should you take prenatal vitamins for?

As aforementioned, it is best to take supplements 2 months before conception. However, as some pregnancies are unplanned, you don’t get tested for pregnancy till you are two months over pregnancy, you already lose half of the first trimester of pregnancy. It would however be safe if you start taking vitamins as soon as you get to know about your pregnancy and continue it throughout pregnancy.

Vitamin that you may not find in the regular prenatal vitamin supplements

There are some vitamins that are not as widely used as the ones mentioned so far (calcium, iron, folic acid etc.) by pregnant women. Your doctor may sometimes prescribe these vitamins in addition to the regular prenatal vitamins only if the doctor feels the need to. One of these vitamins is Omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that is generally consumed by diet. It’s active components are Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These vitamins are normally found in sea food and algae. Omega-3 fatty acids are present good quantities in fish fat, fish oil, nuts, and beans. Omega-3 fatty acids help in supporting the cardiovascular system, brain function and retina. It has been researched that women who do not intake enough seafood in their diet have higher chances of being exposed to perinatal depression. Although highly argues, but there is no current evidence of their positive action in reducing the risk of preterm birth and gestational prolongation.

Marine food contains neurotoxins called as methyl-mercury, which may harm the foetus’ brain. Therefore, ingestion of marine food has been restricted to 340 g per week. But the capsule or tablet forms of fish oil or omega-3 are free of these toxins. Again, it is always a better idea to discuss with your doctor before you take any over the counter omega-3 supplements during your pregnancy. Read more on the benefits of fish oil and pregnancy here.

Possible side effects of prenatal supplements

With all the positives mentioned so far about the usage of prenatal supplements, there is a possibility of some side effects as well. In some pregnant women, the (excessive) usage of prenatal supplements may cause the following side effects:

  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Yellowish tint of the skin

It is therefore, always a good idea to consult your doctor before the usage of any supplements before, during and after pregnancy; just to avoid such side effects.

Cost of Prenatal supplements

Prenatal supplements usually start costing from AUD 25-30. Doctor prescribed vitamins may vary from brand to brand and may affect cost of the supplements.