Should I Take Prenatal Supplements?

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by: Kristen Alford, WHNP, MSN, & Kristin Sorce, PA-C

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Kristen Alford and Kristin Sorce are integrated providers at Vanderbilt Center for Women’s
Health Lebanon working in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The female body undergoes a number of changes throughout life, especially while carrying a child. During pregnancy, women may experience nutrient deficiency or imbalanced hormones while the body is trying to support both the mother and child. To support these changes, health care providers recommend prenatal supplements. Prenatal supplements are over-the-counter multivitamins that are specially formulated to meet the body’s increased demand for micronutrients during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins and additional multivitamins can also help when trying to conceive by providing key nutrients.

Prenatal supplements not only replenish nutrients but protect and improve the health of both the mother and child. For babies, prenatal supplementation can help lower the risk of premature birth, neural tube defects and congenital disabilities. In mothers, they help to prevent gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.

Ideally, women should begin taking prenatal vitamins before conception because the baby’s
neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, begins developing within the first month of pregnancy—potentially before a woman knows that she is pregnant. Two critical nutrients to look for in a multivitamin are folic acid and iron. Folic acid decreases the risk of neural tube defects which can lead to serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. It is recommended to begin folic acid supplementation at least three months before becoming pregnant. Iron contributes to the development of the fetus and placenta by helping the body increase blood production to supply more oxygen to the fetus. Additionally, iron supplementation helps to prevent anemia, or a low number of red blood cells.

While folic acid and iron are the primary supplements recommended for pregnant women,
additional key nutrients to look for when selecting prenatal vitamins include Vitamin D which aids in forming the baby’s teeth and bones. Selecting the right supplements and dosage may be driven by identified deficiencies, preexisting conditions, family history and more. In some cases, additional supplements may be beneficial and recommended by your provider including Vitamins A, B, C, E, zinc and iodine to address individual deficiencies that are common if the recommended daily value is not being met. While supplementation can be extremely beneficial, taking doses that are in excess of your daily requirements can actually be harmful for your baby.

When taking the proper dosage, there are minimal side effects associated with taking prenatals, with the most prevalent being constipation from the folic acid as well as nausea and diarrhea.

These side effects can be mitigated by drinking plenty of fluids, including more fiber in your diet, incorporating stool softener and staying active if approved by your doctor.

There are a number of options when selecting prenatal supplements. Every female body is
different, and it is important to speak with your health care provider to help curate a prenatal supplement regimen that is designed to meet your body’s needs.

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