Pregnant woman about to take supplements. Text overlay - Prenatal vitamin myths you need to stop believing.
PREGNANCY

7 Prenatal Vitamin Myths You Should Stop Believing

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, chances are you’re taking prenatal vitamins or have at least considered taking them. Many women do. Giving your body a bit of a nutritional boost around the time you get pregnant isn’t exactly a bad idea, right? Taking prenatal vitamins can be beneficial both before and during pregnancy, but don’t fall for these common prenatal vitamin myths!

7 Common prenatal vitamin myths

#1 Poor eating habits in pregnancy can be fixed by taking prenatal vitamins.

While it’s true that women that don’t obtain enough nutrients from their diets alone will likely benefit from taking prenatal vitamins preconceptually and during pregnancy, there is no substitute for REAL nutrition from REAL food.

Even if you take prenatal vitamins, you’ll still need to try and do your very best in eating a healthy and varied diet when you are pregnant to give your baby the best nutrition you can. That’s right, time to put more greens on your plate!

#2 All pregnant and TTC women should be taking folic acid.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 which is a nutrient that plays an important role in fetal development by helping prevent major birth abnormalities such as neural tube defects. Another form of vitamin B9 besides synthetically produced folic acid is folate which naturally occurs in many foods. The terms folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably.

While many pregnant and TTC women can benefit from taking folic acid, this synthetic form of vitamin B9 can actually lead to a folate deficiency in some women (which it is ironically supposed to prevent…). In reality, natural folate is the most reliable way to boost folate levels, so whether your prenatal multivitamin contains folic acid or folate, focus on eating more folate-rich foods prior to and during pregnancy for a sure way of optimizing your folate levels!

#3 Pregnant women need prenatal vitamins with iron.

Research shows that supplemental iron can be helpful in pregnancy for women diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia (which is detected early on in pregnancy through a standard blood test). Routine iron supplementation in pregnant women with normal iron levels, on the other hand, remains a rather controversial topic.

Even though the general consensus in the United States is to start taking prenatal vitamins containing iron ASAP after discovering pregnancy, there is no need for pregnant women to increase iron intake right away UNLESS they’re deficient in iron. There is little to no need for extra iron in the first trimester, and because iron is notorious for contributing to pregnancy nausea (as well as constipation), some pregnant women may fare better taking prenatal vitamins that don’t contain iron in the first trimester.

#4 All prenatal vitamins are alike – just grab a box!

“It doesn’t matter which prenatal vitamins you choose” – have you heard that before? (Healthcare providers in particular are notorious for saying this.)

Reality check – prenatal vitamins are far from alike!

— Synthetic vs. natural vitamins

The majority of prenatal vitamins on the market are synthetic. Synthetic USP vitamins are created in a lab with isolates separated from their naturally occurring compounds. Even though synthetic vitamins may be chemically identical to natural vitamin isolates, your body might have a hard time utilizing them because nothing beats the complexity (co-factors) of the real deal. Natural vitamins are also easier on the stomach – something many pregnant women will appreciate, especially in the first trimester.

— Varying nutritional content

Because there are no standards regarding the composition of a prenatal multivitamin (not that it’s a bad thing though!), the content of nutrients and their amounts can vary significantly from one prenatal vitamin brand/type to another.

Some prenatal vitamins contain extra nutrients while some are targeted for women that have a higher need for iron, folic acid/folate, calcium, or other nutrients. Always read labels and choose the right prenatal multivitamin according to YOUR specific nutritional needs to get the most benefit (here are a few tips on how to choose the best prenatal vitamins according to YOUR needs).

— Other ingredients

Some prenatal vitamins are made with questionable ingredients and unnecessary fillers and additives such as synthetic dyes and artificial flavors. There is NO benefit to consuming synthetic flavor enhancements and dyes, especially when you are pregnant.

#5 Taking prenatal vitamins improves fertility.

I can’t believe this prenatal vitamin myth is still in circulation. But it is, so: taking prenatal vitamins in the months leading up to conception does not improve the odds of getting pregnant.

#6 Prescription prenatal vitamins are better than over-the-counter prenatal vitamins.

For a second there you may believe that prescription prenatal vitamins are superior. They have to be prescribed, they’re doctor-approved, they may contain more folic acid or other nutrients. They’re probably safer and better…?

(The truth? They’re probably not.)

Unless you have specific health issues or nutritional deficiencies, you don’t need your doctor to prescribe any specific prenatal vitamins or other supplements for you. There are plenty of great prenatal vitamins on the market to choose from (you’ll find several in this article). I’m even willing to bet that most (if not all?) prenatal vitamins that require a script are strictly synthetic and contain a slew of questionable ingredients you’re better off staying away from in pregnancy.

The only benefit I can see in taking prescription prenatal vitamins is that your insurance company may pick up the cost. But if they contain synthetic ingredients and unhealthy additives, is it really worth it?

#7 Prenatal vitamins may reduce the risk of autism.

Since several observational studies (1,2,3,4,5) indicated that babies of mothers that took folic acid or a prenatal multivitamin containing folic acid before and during pregnancy were less likely to be diagnosed with autism later on, physicians and various magazines for expectant women might be more likely to recommend pregnant and TTC women to take prenatal vitamins.

Even though the findings were related to the nutrient folic acid and not a prenatal multivitamin as a whole. Even though these were observational studies that simply recorded a behavior from the past. A behavior that may or may not have happened. And, even though these studies didn’t take into account other factors such as that women that take supplements during pregnancy may perhaps be health-conscious in other ways which could also possibly reduce the chances of having a child with autism. Furthermore, the outcomes of taking folic acid vs folate weren’t recorded and compared in these studies.

Also, another research (6) has shown that moms with very high levels of folic acid in their blood were ALSO more likely to have their children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. High levels of folic acid in the blood correlate with reduced ability to convert folic acid into folate (as discussed above in prenatal vitamin myth #2 All pregnant and TTC women should be taking folic acid).

Final words

Whether you decide to take prenatal vitamins or not during the time you are pregnant or TTC, don’t fall for these prenatal vitamin myths. They are quite common but provide a fall sense of security. Here are a few helpful tips for choosing the best prenatal vitamins with your individual needs in mind if you do decide to take them, and… smooth sailing whether you are already pregnant or trying to conceive!


References:

  1. Antenatal nutritional supplementation and autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm youth cohort: population based cohort study; BMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4273 (Published 04 October 2017).
  2. Association Between Maternal Use of Folic Acid Supplements and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children; JAMA. 2013;309(6):570-577. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.155925.
  3. Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study; Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul;96(1):80-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004416. Epub 2012 May 30.
  4. Are autistic-behaviors in children related to prenatal vitamin use and maternal whole blood folate concentrations?; J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Oct; 44(10): 2602–2607, doi:  [10.1007/s10803-014-2114-x].
  5. Association of Maternal Use of Folic Acid and Multivitamin Supplements in the Periods Before and During Pregnancy With the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Offspring; JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Feb 1;75(2):176-184. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.4050.
  6. Maternal Plasma Folate, Vitamin B12 Levels and Multivitamin Supplement during Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Boston Birth Cohort; International Society for Autism Research. 2016 May; 22533.
Pregnant woman taking prenatal multivitamins. Text overlay - 7 myths about prenatal vitamins pregnant women still believe.

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