Prenatal Vitamins: Everything You Need to Know

By CNY Fertility Published on

When you are pregnant and breastfeeding, your body requires heightened levels of specific nutrients.  Most of these nutrients can be found in foods, but it is extremely difficult to ensure appropriate levels through diet alone.  Prenatal vitamins can help to support a healthy diet and provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to support a healthy pregnancy and developing baby.  In this article, we will discuss the most important nutrients during pregnancy, when to start taking them, the supplements we recommend at CNY Fertility, and more.  

Fast Facts About Prenatal Vitamins

  • Prenatal vitamins are only recommended for reproductive-aged women who are trying to get pregnant, are already pregnant, or are breastfeeding.  High levels of certain nutrients over a long period of time can actually be more harmful to the body than helpful.
  • You should talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.  Some supplements can cause side effects, or interact with other prescribed medications or supplements you’re already taking.
  • Prenatal vitamins support both maternal and fetal health during pregnancy.
  • Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies are extremely prevalent in pregnant women.  In a study of 1165 women, researchers found that only 4% of women had no deficiencies, and approximately 20% of women had 2, 3, or 4 deficiencies .  
  • Over the past few years, prenatal vitamins have become more popular and widely available as more doctors are recommending them to their patients.  As a result, there are many prenatal vitamins on the market, so it is important to shop around and find science-backed and independently tested products that are made with premium ingredients.  

When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Fertility specialists recommend that reproductive-aged women begin taking prenatal vitamins before conception.  When you are trying to get pregnant, it is especially important that you ensure your body is getting adequate levels of folic acid.  A lack of folic acid can cause birth defects to form before women even realize they are pregnant.  Folic acid helps to form the neural tube during early development in the first month of pregnancy .  The neural tube later becomes the brain and spinal cord.  To combat the risk of birth defects in the brain and spinal cord, reproductive-aged women should take a prenatal vitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid daily.  

In addition to the role prenatal supplements play during pregnancy, many of the vitamins and minerals they contain can also help to improve your chances of achieving pregnancy.  Preconception vitamins contain many of the same ingredients found in prenatal vitamins, plus a few extras to support egg development and combat common causes of infertility.  Eggs take around 90 days to develop, so doctors recommend taking supplements to support your fertility at least 3 months before trying to conceive. Taking fertility supplements and vitamins is just one of the many ways to naturally improve your fertility.  

When to Stop Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Once you are pregnant, your body’s nutrient demands increase dramatically.  The increased needs of the mother and fetus can cause deficiencies of micronutrients like vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, iodine, folate, and more.  Micronutrient deficiencies during pregnancy can harm both the mother and the developing baby.  Taking a prenatal vitamin throughout your pregnancy can help to combat these deficiencies and ensure adequate levels of different vitamins and minerals. 

Now you may assume that you should stop taking prenatal vitamins after your delivery, but you and your baby are still at risk for nutrient deficiencies.  Remember, while you are breastfeeding your baby is relying on you for all of the nutrients it needs to grow and develop properly.  Breastfeeding can drain the mother’s nutrient supplies and energy levels in a process known as maternal depletion.  As such, you should continue taking prenatal vitamins for the entire time you are breastfeeding.  

What to Look For in Prenatal Vitamins 

The popularity of prenatal vitamins has increased significantly over the past few years as new studies have emerged showing how common the instance of nutrient deficiency is in pregnant women.  Fertility specialists and doctors are recommending that patients take prenatal vitamins, but they do not always specify which brand to take.  As the demand for prenatal vitamins has increased, so has the number of available offerings.  When researching prenatal vitamins, it is important to ensure you find the best products to support your health and the health of your baby.  Make sure the supplement you choose is backed by science, recommended by doctors, is independently tested, and contains the premium ingredients listed below:

Folate

As previously mentioned, folic acid or folate is essential to the early development of your baby.  Folate is a type of B vitamin that helps to combat neural birth defects.  Research on how nutrients affect development has shown that folate is essential to fetal growth and organ development .  Studies have also shown that women with high levels of folate experience higher live birth rates compared to women with lower folate levels

In addition to supporting your health throughout pregnancy, folate can also increase your chances of getting pregnant.  In fact, research has shown that supplementing folate can improve pregnancy chances for women attempting to get pregnant naturally and for women undergoing fertility treatment.  Folate has been shown to improve oocyte counts and embryo quality .  Folate is one of the many fertility supplements that can help to improve your chances of conceiving.  

Iron

It is important to ensure adequate iron levels whether you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or if you are just trying to stay healthy.  Iron is required for hemoglobin and myoglobin production.  Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.  Myoglobin is another protein and it is responsible for carrying and storing oxygen in the muscle cells.  During pregnancy, the amount of blood in a woman’s body increases by 30-50%.  When a woman is pregnant, she requires more iron to support the extra blood volume and to supply adequate levels of oxygen to the developing fetus.  If the fetus does not receive adequate amounts of iron during pregnancy, it may be at a higher risk of being born undersized or prematurely.  Supplementing iron during pregnancy can help to prevent anemia, a condition in which the blood has a low number of healthy red blood cells.  

Choline

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only 1 in 10 people get enough choline.  Research has shown that an even smaller percentage of women in the United States achieve adequate levels of choline during pregnancy.  Choline is essential to support cell growth, metabolism, liver, and muscle function. When a woman is pregnant, the amount of choline she requires is high because of its many uses.  Research has shown that choline plays several critical roles in the prenatal period including tissue expansion, brain-development, and neurotransmission .  The support that supplementing choline provides to fetal brain development can help to decrease the risk of subsequent mental illness .  Research has shown that supplementing mother’s diets with additional choline also improves pregnancy outcomes and protects against metabolic impairments .  

Iodine

Iodine is another mineral that many pregnant women in the U.S. lack appropriate levels of.  Iodine deficiency is associated with congenital anomalies, decreased intelligence, and maternal and fetal hypothyroidism .  Iodine is an essential element of thyroid hormones and it helps to control cell growth, repair damaged cells, and regulate a healthy metabolism.  During pregnancy, iodine requirements are higher because of increased thyroid hormone production, increased renal iodine excretion, and fetal iodine requirements.  During the early developmental stage, the fetus is dependent on the mother’s thyroid hormones for normal brain development.  If thyroid production is affected by low iodine levels, then fetal brain development can be affected.  Research has shown that taking iodine supplements can help to combat iodine deficiency in pregnant women

Vitamin D

Similar to Iodine and Choline, vitamin D deficiency is also fairly common in pregnant women.  Vitamin D deficiency can be especially harmful to developing fetuses because babies receive vitamin D and calcium from their mothers during pregnancy.  Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and calcium strengthens baby’s bones and boosts their muscle, heart, and nerve development.  If the mother is vitamin D deficient, her baby is at a higher risk of developing childhood rickets and other long-term health problems like type 1 diabetes

The body naturally produces vitamin D in response to exposure to the sun.  Vitamin D can also be found in foods like red meat, fish, and egg yolks.  Achieving appropriate levels of vitamin D can be difficult through diet and sun exposure alone, especially during the winter months.  Studies have shown that most pregnant women require vitamin D supplementation to ensure adequate maternal vitamin D levels .

As mentioned above, if the mother is nutrient deficient during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, there is a higher risk of complications or the possible development of birth defects.  The figure below demonstrates the recommended daily allowances of essential vitamins and minerals for reproductive-aged women, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding.   Be sure to consult with your physician before taking any vitamins or supplements your doctor may recommend higher or lower values based on your diet and bloodwork results.  If you are diagnosed as deficient for any of the below nutrients, your doctor may recommend you take additional amounts.  Women should start taking prenatal vitamins and ensuring adequate nutrient levels when they are trying to get pregnant.  Certain nutrients, like folate, are essential for early fetal development. 

Vitamin/MineralRecommended Daily Allowance (RDA)RDA While PregnantRDA While Breastfeeding

Folate

400 micrograms (mcg)400 – 800 mcg500 mcg
Iron18 milligrams (mg)27 mg9 mg
Choline425mg450 mg550 mg
Iodine150 mcg220-250 mcg250-290 mcg
Vitamin D15 mcg15 mcg15 mcg

Another Supplement to Consider During Pregnancy- Fish Oil

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential during pregnancy and they can only be achieved through diet alone.  Most pregnant women do not consume enough omega 3s because they are primarily found in seafood.  Women are advised to limit their seafood intake to 2 servings per week during pregnancy due to the high levels of mercury found in fish. Taking fish oil supplements is a great way to ensure adequate levels of omega 3s while eliminating the risk of fetal exposure to mercury and other harmful contaminants.  The figure below displays the recommended daily allowances of omega 3s for reproductive-aged women, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding.

RDA for a Reproductive-Aged WomanRDA while PregnantRDA While Breastfeeding
250-500 mg300-600 mg300-600 mg

Omega 3s are critical during pregnancy because they are the building blocks of the fetal brain and retina .  In addition to the roles omega-3 fatty acids play in fetal neurodevelopment, they also impact the timing of gestation and birth weight An Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study displayed that higher levels of omega 3s can also increase the probability of pregnancy and live birth in women undergoing fertility treatments .  

The Bottom Line

As you can see, nutrient deficiencies of many types are common in pregnant women.  In an ideal world, women would be able to get all of the nutrients they need from their diet alone, but as we’ve discussed, that can be very challenging.  At CNY Fertility, we recommend that all of our patients take prenatal vitamins.  We recommend that our patients who are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant take Female Essential + and OMEGA Rich Fish Oil supplements from Molecular Fertility.  These supplements are packed with all of the essential nutrients discussed in this article, and more.  Molecular Fertility’s products are independently tested to ensure quality, purity, and potency.  Their formulas are backed by peer-reviewed journals and clinical fertility care experience.  

 

Article Sources