Supplements and Pregnancy: What’s Safe?
As challenging as it can be to get and stay fit, it can be even more challenging during pregnancy.
A woman’s body undergoes so many major changes during pregnancy and what’s safe for a non-pregnant woman may not be safe for a pregnant woman. There are the widely-known no-no’s: alcohol, smoking, seafood with high mercury levels, drugs, very hot showers or baths. But on the subject of supplements and pregnancy, it’s always best to be safe than sorry.
What is needed and what is considered safe during pregnancy?
Reasons for Supplementing
Pregnancy places very high demands on the body. This, in turn, increases the need for nutrients. Eating for two is not just a phrase, it’s a reality. A pregnant woman’s need for macronutrients increases significantly. Macronutrients, as we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The need for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) increases even more in pregnancy. It’s recommended that pregnant women increase their daily caloric intake by 300 calories.
In fetal growth, micronutrients are needed for cell growth and cell signaling. While most women are able to meet these nutrient needs through diet, some are not. Reasons for needing supplementation include:
Nutrient Deficiencies in Mom
Sometimes blood work will show a deficiency in crucial things such as folate or B vitamins. Deficiencies like this can result in birth defects.
Mom’s a Smoker
If you continue to smoke while pregnant you’re increasing your need for specific nutrients like vitamin C and folate.
If carrying a fetus increases your need for nutrients, carrying more than one increases that increase! You’re needing to keep both yourself and your babies healthy and this very well may require supplementation.
A diet deficient in nutrients leads to fetal problems, quite possibly birth defects, as well as problems with the mom’s body. If you have a poor diet or if you undereat and are pregnant then you’ll need to supplement with vitamins and minerals.
What Vitamins and Minerals Are Needed in Pregnancy?
If you take vitamins while pregnant it is crucial that you know what you’re taking. Read the bottle carefully, do your research, consult with your doctor. Pregnancy is not a good time to experiment or to try something new on your own without medical guidance. Again, what may be safe (or at least not harmful) when you’re not pregnant may not be safe when you are. It’s always better to get your vitamins and minerals from your diet.
Some of the needed vitamins and minerals include:
Folic acid plays an important part in:
- DNA formation
- Red blood cell formation
- Production of chemical signals in the nervous system
- Prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida
It’s recommended you take 400 micrograms a day PRIOR to becoming pregnant and that you increase that to 600 micrograms daily from all sources during pregnancy.
Good dietary sources of folic acid include:
- Cooked green leafy vegetables
- Cooked beef liver
- Fortified cereals
*Note: Folic acid can sometimes be difficult for the body to metabolize. Food-based prenatal vitamins often contain folate instead of folic acid. Folate is more easily absorbed by the body than folic acid. (See Prenatal Vitamins below.)
A prenatal vitamin is an excellent way to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need for both yours and the baby’s health. Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal, though. Pros and cons of taking generic brands of prenatal vitamins are bounced around from expert to expert. To be safe, just keep in mind the vitamins you take need to offer high-quality ingredients that include the basic essential nutrients and that have high bioavailability.
A good choice is a food-based prenatal vitamin such as MegaFood or Garden of Life. Food-based vitamins contain folate. Synthetic forms usually offer folic acid, a synthetic counterpart of folate. Folic acid is more difficult for the body to metabolize.
Keep in mind too that if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin chances are very good you are getting the vitamins and minerals, in the correct daily dosage, you and your baby need. Any extra supplementation could result in your intake being more than the daily recommended allowance. This overdose can lead to problems such as toxicity, something that is very dangerous to both your baby and you.
DHA & Omega 3
Your baby’s brain undergoes increased growth in the last 8 weeks of gestation. This is not the time to take chances with your diet and/or supplements intake. Extensive research has found even mild malnutrition during these last weeks can negatively impact the growth of your baby’s brain. Research has also found high-quality fish oil (omega 3) can help with this growth spurt of your baby’s brain. DHA supplementation has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, attention span, IQ levels, and motor skills.
A safe source of omega is cod liver oil.
Calcium helps with bone and teeth formation, helps prevent blood clots and assists in the development of muscles and nerve functions. The recommended daily dosage of calcium for a pregnant woman is 200-300mg.
Good sources of calcium include:
- Cheddar cheese
- Soy milk
- Calcium-fortified breads and cereals
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Canned fish with bones
There are various types of B vitamins:
- B1 – thiamin
- B2 – riboflavin
- B3 – niacin
- B6 (Pyridoxine)
These B vitamins play roles in fetal growth and development such as:
- Nervous system regulation
- Healthy skin
- Health eyes
- Digestive system
- Red blood cell formation
- DNA synthesis
- Prevention of neural tube defects
Good sources of B vitamins include:
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
- Dairy products
Iron helps with producing hemoglobin, prevents anemia and decreases risks of premature delivery and low birth weight. The recommended dosage of iron during pregnancy is 17 mg daily.
Good sources of iron include:
- Dried beans
- Dried fruits
- Wheat germ
What Should You Avoid?
Most doctors advise that fat-soluble vitamins be avoided during pregnancy. Levels of these vitamins are stored in the body, as opposed to being excreted from the body as with water-soluble vitamins. This build-up can cause toxicity which can lead to birth defects. It’s recommended that pregnant women get these vitamins from food sources only.
Some fat-soluble vitamins that can reach toxic levels in the body are vitamins A, E, D, and K.
This is not an exhaustive list of what is ok to take during pregnancy and what is not. This subject should be discussed with your healthcare provider. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll look further at what vitamin and minerals are needed in pregnancy, what is not needed, and we’ll talk about if herbs are safe, or needed, during pregnancy.
For a comprehensive chart showing vitamins and minerals, recommended dosages in pregnancy, what they do, and good food sources see: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/nutrients-vitamins-pregnancy/
*As always, Splitfit advises that you consult with your healthcare provider BEFORE making any additions or changes to your diet, especially if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
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