5 prenatal supplements for your pregnancy

Caleb Ihuarulam

Caleb Ihuarulam

Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy is the easiest way to supply your body with nutrients. However, ingested food may not supply your body with enough of these macro and micronutrients. With the increased need for micronutrients in pregnancy, here are some reasons to include prenatal supplements in your diet.

  1. Poor nutrition and nutrient deficiency are common, especially among women in low-income countries.
  2. Nausea and vomiting (hyperemesis gravidarum) cause nutrient loss and dehydration.
  3. Women with multiple pregnancies naturally require more nutrients for optimal nutrition.

This article will focus on five supplements pregnant women should take and their benefits.

Folic Acid

Folic acid, or folate, is an essential B vitamin (B9) required for DNA replication and fetal growth and development. Despite the importance of Folic Acid, it cannot be produced in the body. Hence, you need to get it from food or supplements. Folic acid deficiency affects you and your baby by causing:

  • Maternal anaemia
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Fetal malformations such as cleft lip, cleft palate, neural tube, and congenital heart defects

Folic acid supplements have several benefits, which include:

  • Reduces the risk of neural tube defects
  • Prevents issues with placental development in the early stages of pregnancy
  • Decrease the risk of miscarriage
  • Boosting red blood cell production and preventing maternal anaemia
  • Reduces incidences of preterm birth and neonatal death

The recommended daily dosage of folic acid is at least 600 mcg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily for women of childbearing age.

You can boost your folic acid intake by adding dark green leafy vegetables like pumpkin leaves and broccoli to your meals. Bananas and oranges are also excellent sources of folic acid. Keep your diet balanced for a healthy dose of folic acid.

Read More: Fruits and Vegetables to eat during pregnancy

Iron

Iron deficiency is a common complication in pregnancy. It is the most common cause of anaemia before 24 weeks. During pregnancy, you need more amounts of iron than usual. Iron supplements are beneficial in the following ways:

  • Boosting maternal red blood cell production and preventing fetal anaemia
  • Increasing blood volume and supply to the growing fetus and placenta
  • Aiding haemoglobin production and transporting oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body

If you do not get enough iron during pregnancy, you are more likely to experience:

  • Infections
  • Anaemia
  • Fatigue
  • Preterm birth
  • Depression

Anaemia in pregnancy has been linked to:

While your body requires approximately 1,000 mg of iron and the recommended dosage for iron supplements is 27 mg per day. Doctors advise that pregnant women should avoid iron supplements before the second trimester. If you don’t have iron deficiency, you should not take more than the recommended intake of iron to avoid side effects. These include constipation, vomiting, and abnormally high haemoglobin levels.

Eat foods like beans, meat, and fish to increase iron levels. Dark leafy greens like spinach and broccoli are also great sources of iron. A balanced diet is key to meeting your body’s iron requirements during pregnancy.

Calcium

Calcium is one of the key minerals needed during pregnancy. It is responsible for processes affecting you and your growing baby, including

  • Bone and nerve development
  • Teeth formation
  • Muscle contraction
  • Enzyme and hormone functioning

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a dietary intake of 1500–2000 mg daily from 20 weeks until the end of pregnancy. Calcium sourced from dairy foods and green leafy vegetables may not be enough to sustain your daily nutrient requirement. Inadequate consumption of calcium has adverse effects on the health of mother and foetus in any of the following ways:

  • Weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis)
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia
  • Hypoparathyroidism characterised by paraesthesia
  • Muscle and leg cramps
  • Postpartum haemorrhage (PPH)
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Preterm birth
  • Delayed fetal growth and growth restriction
  • Low birth weight
  • Poor fetal mineralisation

Calcium can be sourced from dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt. Other food options with calcium include cereal, bread, orange juice, and soy drinks. The risk of over-ingestion of calcium with food is significantly low. However, excessive intake often happens with supplements. It can lead to:

  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones
  • Difficulty in absorbing other minerals (e.g., iron and zinc)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low calcium in the baby’s body (hypocalcemia)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in:

  • Cell growth and division
  • Bone and teeth development
  • Proper functioning of the nerves and muscles
  • Skin and eyesight development
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Regulation and modulation of the immune system
  • Absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus

You need 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily during pregnancy. While your body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, you cannot get this amount solely from it. Foods like salmon, mackerel, eggs, and meat, alongside your prenatal vitamins, can supply the required amount of vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine recommends 20 ng/ml in pregnancy. In comparison, The Endocrine Society recommends 30 ng/ml or more.

A poor vitamin D status during pregnancy can damage how your body utilizes calcium. Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy leads to an increased risk of complications such as:

  • Caesarean delivery
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Preterm birth
  • Insulin resistance, which leads to gestational diabetes
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss
  • Postpartum depression

Speak to your doctor regarding screening for vitamin D deficiency and proper supplementation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). These are essential fatty acids (FAs) in fish and other seafood. The most biologically active forms of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

They both have several benefits during pregnancy, including

  • Fetal brain and central nervous system (CNS) development
  • Development of the retina
  • Cell membrane function
  • Regulation of inflammation and cell proliferation

The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, they must be taken through the diet or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids are mostly found in seafood, e.g., salmon, sardines, and oysters. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts and avocados. Insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy causes:

  • Visual and behavioural deficits in the infant that cannot be resolved with postnatal supplementation
  • Risk of preterm delivery (before 37 weeks)
  • Risk of babies born at a low birth weight
  • Risk of maternal depression

You can find omega-3 supplements in liquids, soft chews, and soft gels. The dietary recommendation for pregnant women is at least 200 mg of DHA per day.

Conclusion

While supplements ensure you get the nutrients you need in the right amounts, a balanced diet is vital during pregnancy. As with every health-related decision, consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your prenatal medication.

Read More: Medications to avoid during pregnancy

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Caleb Ihuarulam

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