On Your Health

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The Basics of Prenatal Vitamins

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins contain vital nutrients to promote the healthy growth and development of your baby. Among these are folic acid, iron, iodine and calcium, all of which are particularly important in early pregnancy as your baby’s brain, spinal cord and nervous system begin to develop.

“I recommend every woman of childbearing age take a prenatal vitamin, because 50 percent of pregnancies are unintended, so we need those vitamins on board just in case a pregnancy occurs,” says Katherine Shepherd, D.O., an OB/GYN specializing in women’s health at INTEGRIS Women’s Health Edmond.

Why should I take prenatal vitamins?

During pregnancy, your body is working overtime to create the perfect environment for your baby to thrive. This means the nutrients that typically are used to support you are now being funneled to your baby. Although most vitamins and minerals in prenatal supplements can be found in healthy foods, a healthy diet alone will not provide consistent and sufficient amounts of the nutrients necessary to support both you and your baby throughout pregnancy.

Some of the most important components of prenatal vitamins include:

Folic acid – This B vitamin is crucial in early pregnancy because it lowers the risk of neural tube defects, which typically develop within the first 28 days of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Neural tube defects occur when the neural tube — which eventually forms the brain and spinal cord — does not close properly and can cause severe developmental defects in the spine and brain.

Iron – During pregnancy, your body actually produces 50 percent more blood than usual. Because of this, your body needs more iron in order to create extra hemoglobin to pass blood and oxygen along to your baby. Iron also helps prevent anemia during pregnancy, which is associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight.

strong>Iodine – Iodine helps regulate the thyroid during pregnancy, aiding in the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Iodine deficiencies during pregnancy have been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery and stillbirth.

Calcium – Your growing baby needs calcium to develop strong bones and teeth, as well as a healthy heart, muscles and nervous system. Without a sufficient amount of daily calcium, your baby will draw calcium from your bones which can lead to bone density problems later in life.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

If you are thinking about getting pregnant, Dr. Shepherd recommends you start taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid at least one month before attempting to conceive. There are a variety of over-the-counter prenatal vitamins, many of which claim special ingredients and benefits. However, during early pregnancy, it is most important that you are taking a sufficient amount of folic acid.

If you do have special restrictions or concerns, talk to your doctor about a prescription prenatal vitamin. These are typically recommended for women who have experienced problems or defects in previous pregnancies.

Helpful Tips:

  • Some women experience nausea while taking prenatal vitamins. If this happens, try taking your prenatal vitamin at night before bed.
  • Be careful not to take too much of certain vitamins like A, D and E. It is possible to overdose, which can cause headaches, irritability, liver disease, and may complicate your pregnancy. Consult your doctor if you have questions about your daily vitamin intake.
  • In addition to helping you through your pregnancy, prenatal vitamins have also been associated with hair, skin and nail health.

Most prenatal vitamins will provide sufficient nutrients to ensure your body is prepared to carry a healthy baby to full term. However, if you have questions or concerns about your daily vitamin intake, consult a gynecologist or obstetrician.

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