Prenatal vitamins are a special blend of vitamins and minerals developed specifically for women who are pregnant, to protect the health of the mother and child. These specially formulated vitamins are designed to make up for any nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet -and, who doesn’t have deficiencies?
The supplements usually contain numerous vitamins and minerals in a proprietary blend by the manufacturer but they always contain folic acid, iron and calcium. Folic acid is especially important to reduce the risk of developing a serious birth defect of the spinal cord and brain called a neural tube defect. The most common type of neural tube defect is spina bifida, which is when a baby is born and the spine has not fully closed. During the birth process the exposed nerves are damaged and the child is left with some degree of paralysis and sometimes mental retardation.
Neural tube defects usually develop in the first 28 days after the child has been conceived, which is also before many women even realize they are pregnant. And because half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the FDA now requires that all flour products manufactured and sold in the United States fortified with extra folic acid. These foods include breads, bagels and cereals. Natural sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and citrus fruits. (1)
During development the growing child requires extra minerals such as calcium and phosphorus for bone growth. Prenatal vitamins help to supply that extra minerals and vitamins for the infant so that the mother does not lose her own bone density to feed the needs of the child.
And the last most important criteria for prenatal vitamins is iron. Iron helps the body to develop enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to both the mother and the baby’s body. There is no substitute for a healthy diet but most women need additional supplementation to make sure that they get the appropriate levels of all vitamins and minerals to support both their body and the developing child.
Not all vitamins are created equally however. As with all products manufactured and sold, some producers develop products that meet the specific needs of different target audiences. For instance, vitamins targeted to the needs of women are higher in iron than those targeted for seniors or men. Prenatal vitamins are higher in calcium, iron and folic acid but some are designed for women whose diet is very deficient and other vitamins don’t meet the recommended daily allowances. It’s important that you read the bottle!
Some of the prenatal vitamins are only available by prescription from your physician while many of them are also available over the counter. Keep in mind that it is possible to jeopardize the health of the mother or the child by taking an inappropriate amount of synthetic vitamins. This means that although vitamins are a necessary part of the cell development, a person can actually overdose on specific types of vitamins. In the case of a grown adults the individual may experience some very unpleasant side effects but in the case of a growing child it can actually cause birth defects or even death. Be sure to speak with your primary care physician or obstetrician about any supplements you are taking while pregnant.
Most obstetricians recommends that a woman who is pregnant receives: (2)
4000 international units of vitamin A
800 mcg of folic acid
400 international units of vitamin D
1.6 mg of riboflavin
15 mg of zinc
2.2 mcg of vitamin B12
70 mg of vitamin C
30 mg of iron
Unfortunately, because many of these prenatal vitamins are high in vitamin content and iron they can cause nausea in a woman who is already nauseous. If your brand of vitamin causes you to be nauseous or sick consult with your primary care physician or obstetrician. They may have another prescription which will be better tolerated. Some women also find that taking their vitamins with a couple of crackers before going to bed will allow them to sleep through their nausea.
Before completely eliminating your prenatal vitamins from your daily regimen speak with your primary care physician. This should never be a decision that you make on your own because although you may be endangering your own health you could also be endangering the health of your unborn child. When a woman becomes pregnant the questions of her health and well-being no longer affect just one person.
Advanced medical technologies, which have allowed manufacturers to produce prenatal vitamins to aid in the health and well-being of unborn children, have made great strides in improving the overall health of our babies. Take advantage of the health care that’s available to decrease the risk of any side effects or birth effects to your child.
(1) Global Healing Center: 15 Foods High in Folic Acid
(2) American Pregnancy Association: Essential Nutrients and Vitamins for Pregnancy
Drugs.com: Prenatal Multivitamins
BabyCenter: Prenatal Vitamins: A Nutritional Insurance Policy