By Petra Colindres, MA, RDN/LD, IBCLC, CPT
You just found out you’re pregnant, about 2 or 3 weeks along. Your pediatrician will mention what to expect during the first trimester, how much weight you’ll expect to put on... and don’t forget those prenatal vitamins! But, are prenatal vitamins as beneficial as we think they are?
Many studies have linked prenatal vitamin usage to decreasing birth abnormalities and supporting normal infant growth and development in the womb. Though these claims are true, prenatal vitamins are not the miracle pills or cure-all that many believe. In fact, a recent journal review of the evidence shows that taking prenatal vitamins does NOT decrease rates for conditions such as preeclampsia, preterm birth, or stillbirth for those who take prenatal vitamins. Also, it is important to note that overconsumption of certain vitamins, such as Vitamin A, can become toxic for you and baby.
Various needs of vitamins and minerals increase during pregnancy, and many of these vitamins and minerals do not appear in the typical American diet. Folate, for example, is a B soluble vitamin that’s vital during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. Food sources that contain a high amount of folate include dark, leafy greens, liver, and other fruits and vegetables. These food sources are not found in your favorite drive-through or in most processed, pre-packaged foods. The United States Preventive Services Task Force and American Academy of Family Physicians both recommend the need to take in between 0.4-0.8 milligrams of folic acid during the first 6 to 12 weeks during pregnancy. However, beyond that, evidence lacks on the continued need and added benefit of prenatal vitamin use during the full 40 weeks of pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins are also called "supplements." The term supplement in and of itself means that it is to be taken in addition to getting needed vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet. Obviously, in terms of nutrition, this means eating meals that are varied, adequate to meet pregnancy needs, and balanced with nutritional needs.
Another caveat to prenatal vitamin usage is that most vitamin and mineral absorption is typically not as well digested from pills as it is from a natural food sources. This is of course not true for all micronutrients, but most have a higher digestion and usage rate through eating actual foods vs. taking a supplement. By eating healthy and nutritious food, your body is able to better absorb and use the micronutrients that it is so desperately craving.
So what’s the bottom line? Folic acid and Vitamin D supplementation are both still seen as vital necessities for a healthy pregnancy or for those hoping to become pregnant in the near future. Other purported benefits from the other vitamins and minerals in a prenatal vitamin have not been proven. Your best bet is a well-balanced diet!
Stay tuned to learn how to consume -- through food -- the vitamins and minerals you need, even when dealing with morning sickness!
Petra Colindres is a Family Dietitian and Lactation Consultant with a passion for infant nutrition and prenatal education, valuing the importance of the first thousand days of an infant’s life (from conception to 2 years) to be the standard for future successful health outcomes. Petra owns Nutrition by Petra, a pregnancy and early childhood nutrition consultation practice that provides at-home lactation assistance and pediatric nutrition support. Petra’s hobbies are running/working out, teaching cooking classes around the state, and playing with her first child Bodie. Follow Petra on Twitter @PetraNutrition, on Facebook or on instagram @nutritionbypetra to see some of her favorite baby meals. You can also email her firstname.lastname@example.org.