Because various vitamin deficiencies have been shown to increase pregnancy complications as well as birth defects and our diets are often not adequate in the amount of nutrients we need, pregnant women and those trying to conceive are often encouraged to take prenatal vitamins.
Vitamin deficiency is not something you want to mess around with during pregnancy.
A diet that lacks in proper nutrition can have short-term and long-term effects on both the mother and the baby.
With that said, if you’re in favor of taking prenatal vitamins in pregnancy, don’t fall for these 4 prenatal vitamin myths!
— 4 PRENATAL VITAMIN MYTHS —
#1 Prenatal vitamins improve the health of mothers and their babies.
It almost seems intuitively obvious to take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. Anything to help protect the baby, right?
The truth is…
Even though prenatal vitamins are marketed to pregnant women as a means of giving their babies a better head start, the approach is market driven rather than science driven.
There is no scientific consensus that routine prenatal vitamin supplementation in developed countries can improve the health of mothers and their babies – with a few exceptions.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend daily supplementation with folic acid and iron in pregnancy unless women suffer from severe vitamin deficiencies and need more nutrients, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only calls for folic acid. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) advises to supplement with folic acid and vitamin D in pregnancy.
— FOLATE/FOLIC ACID
Also known as vitamin B9, this nutrient plays an important role in fetal development by helping prevent neural tube defects. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re far from alike.
FOLATE is the NATURAL form of vitamin B9. It can be found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, artichokes, broccoli, legumes, papayas, orange juice and nuts, just to name a few.
FOLIC ACID is a SYNTHETIC form of folate. It can do more harm than good in some pregnant women and has the potential to lead to a folate deficiency which it’s supposed to prevent.
— VITAMIN D
The addition of vitamin D to prenatal vitamins is in place because the majority of the first world population is deficient in it. (If you or your doctor suspect that you have low levels of vitamin D, a simple test can be done to check the level in your blood.)
Vitamin D is essential for human health and necessary for a healthy bone development. Without vitamin D (and vitamin K), our bodies can’t effectively absorb calcium and store it in the right places.
Many studies are finding a connection between low vitamin D levels and negative health outcomes. Some have even pointed out that vitamin D supplementation appears to decrease the risk of preeclampsia in pregnancy in the patient population that’s at risk for vitamin D deficiency. In all fairness, some research shows NO link between vitamin D and preeclampsia.
The research surrounding vitamin D is relatively new, and it’s interesting and a little confusing. One thing is certain though – synthetic vitamin D is proving to be a tricky little thing that we seem to have very little understanding of.
Some prenatal vitamins contain iron and some don’t.
Not only is iron important for the delivery of oxygen to the baby, being iron deficient can cause maternal anemia and can make you feel exhausted and just crappy overall. (Iron deficiency anemia can be detected early on through a standard blood test.)
That said, pregnant women only really need extra iron AFTER the first few months of pregnancy – not right away – unless they’re deficient in iron. The blood volume rises progressively during pregnancy (in fact, about 4 pounds of pregnancy weight gain can be attributed just to the extra blood in the body), and the need for iron rises accordingly.
According to available studies, taking iron supplements as a precaution in pregnant women with normal iron levels doesn’t appear to have any noticeable health benefits.
Iron is known to be associated with constipation and may exacerbate the nausea and vomiting common in early pregnancy. This is why many pregnant women find relief when they take a temporary break from prenatal vitamins.
#2 Poor nutrition in pregnancy can be fixed by taking prenatal vitamins.
Do you think you can skimp on healthy foods and take prenatal vitamins instead???
There is no substitute for REAL FOOD.
Even if you take prenatal vitamins in pregnancy, you’ll still need to do your very best in eating healthy.
If your dietary nutritional intake is low, taking prenatal vitamins in pregnancy may help get the extra amounts of vitamins and minerals you need. It shouldn’t be a replacement for a nutrient-rich real food diet though.
CALCIUM is a good example of this.
Calcium helps with healthy development of bones, muscles, nerves, and teeth. It’s a crucial nutrient, and you absolutely need extra calcium in your diet during pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins may contain anywhere around 150 – 300 milligrams of calcium, but pregnant women need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily.
The good news is, calcium is plentiful in foods. It can be found in dairy products as well as broccoli, kale, collard greens, arugula, watercress, basil, marjoram, dill, thyme, almonds, sesame and chia seeds, sardines (one of the lowest mercury-containing fish), and white beans for example.
#3 All prenatal vitamins are alike – just grab a box!
You may have noticed that the vitamins available in drug stores tend to be different from the ones that health food stores promote and sell. If you haven’t noticed, I urge you to go take a look, or do some research online.
The majority of all multivitamins (including prenatal vitamins) on the market are synthetic. They might even be what your doctor recommends. After all, they DO contain the spectrum of vitamins and minerals they’re supposed to contain, right?
But synthetic isn’t necessarily equal.
SYNTHETIC VITAMINS are created in a lab with isolates separated from their natural compounds.
They are nutritionally inferior to natural vitamins, and your body may have a hard time utilizing them.
FOOD-BASED VITAMINS, on the other hand, are derived from real foods.
They’re still heavily processed, but they aren’t separated from their natural co-factors and are much more absorbable than their synthetic counterparts.
3 more reasons to be picky when it comes to choosing prenatal vitamins:
- Regardless of synthetic vs. natural, there is little to no quality control when it comes to the market of supplements. That means you may get A LOT MORE or A LOT LESS of what you had bargained for.
- Prenatal vitamins can contain questionable ingredients and unnecessary additives and fillers. That includes synthetic dyes which offer zero benefits and pose a number of risks.
- There are no specific standards for prenatal vitamins. The content of nutrients and their amounts may vary significantly from one product to another.
#4 Prescription prenatal vitamins are better than OTC prenatal vitamins.
For a second there you may believe that prescription prenatal vitamins are superior. They’re likely a lot more expensive than what you can buy at the store, and expensive automatically tends to equate to better. Plus your doctor obviously approves, right?
I’m almost willing to bet that most (if not all?) fancy schmancy prenatal vitamins that require a script are strictly synthetic and may contain a slew of fishy ingredients. Don’t take my word for it though – it’s just my assumption.
Prenatal vitamins prescribed by your doctor may contain more folic acid than OTC prenatal vitamins (and perhaps more iron). There is no scientific evidence that pregnant women need these extra amounts though. (Plus folic acid may be useless and potentially harmful for some pregnant women. Be careful with taking folic acid if you don’t know your MTHFR status.)
Unless you have specific health issues or nutritional deficiencies, you don’t need your doctor to prescribe specific prenatal vitamins or supplements for you.
The only benefit I can see in taking prescription prenatal vitamins is that your insurance company may pick up the cost. Maybe. But if they contain synthetic ingredients and unhealthy additives, it might just not be worth it anyway.