What’s In Your Prenatal Supplements?

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Whilst perusing baby gear, you will hear it from any friend or relative who has been pregnant before you. . .

What?!? I never had this when I was pregnant. What’s it for? Do you really need this?”

My mother did it to me when I registered for two different types of car seats (infant and convertible) and I did it to my friends (“What?!? A Keurig for baby formula?”).

These questions are not limited to post-delivery products. They start from the get go, sometimes, even before the get has started to go. Case in point– pregnancy supplements. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat.

Prenatal health care has come a long way over the decades. For instance, it has been confirmed that smoking and drinking, even that glass of wine late in the third trimester to “relax” your nerves, are not recommended. So where are we with pregnancy supplements?

During pregnancy, your baby gets all the nutrients she needs from you (though it may sometimes feel like it, there is not, in fact, a college-sized refrigerator in there). Eating healthy food provides many of the necessary nutrients; but some, like folic acid, are harder to get than others.

Prenatal vitamins, whether prescribed or over the counter, contain more folic acid and iron than what is found in a standard adult multivitamin.

While all nutrients in a prenatal vitamin are important, folic acid, iron, calcium, Vitamin D, DHA and iodine are six key players in a baby’s growth and development during pregnancy. Why?

Folic acid has been documented to decrease the risk of brain and spinal defects called neural tube defects when taken before and during the first trimester. Other studies have suggested that it can also decrease the risk for congenital heart defects, cleft lip, and cleft palate. Foods that are often fortified or enriched with folic acid include bread, pasta, and rice.

Iron is used to make hemoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen around your body. During pregnancy, iron is needed to make more blood so it can carry oxygen to your baby. Foods rich in iron include lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

A baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium for proper development. Milk, cheese, yogurt, broccoli, and kale are common sources of calcium.

Think of vitamin D as calcium’s wingman. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so it too is essential in the growth and development of your baby’s bones and teeth. Fatty fish, like salmon, and milk provide sources of vitamin D.

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. Okay, so it’s unlikely you’ll remember what it stands for. In that case, think of it as omega-3 fatty acid, which helps with fetal brain and eye development. Good sources of DHA include herring, salmon, trout, anchovies, and halibut. In addition, orange juice, milk, and eggs often have DHA added to them (check the label).

Iodine is important for proper neurological development. Iodine can be found in fish, milk, cheese, and yogurt.

So now that you know who the key players are and why they’re included in prenatal vitamins, remember to talk to your doctor about:

  • The specific amounts of each key player you need, as this may depend on your lifestyle.
  • What prenatal vitamin is right for you. There are a lot of choices out there.
  • Any vitamins and supplements you take. Don’t take any without your provider’s approval.
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About Author

Shannon Wieloch

Shannon Wieloch is a licensed board-certified genetic counselor at CooperGenomics. Her primary responsibility is to provide genetic counseling to CooperGenomics patients. She is also the current co-chair of the National Society of Genetic Counselors Prenatal Special Interest Group. Prior to joining CooperGenomics, Shannon worked in cardiac research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and in prenatal genetic counseling at The Delaware Center for Maternal and Fetal Medicine. She received a dual B.S. in biology and psychology from The University of Pittsburgh and her M.S. in genetic counseling from Arcadia University. Her passion is to provide comprehensive genetic education to medical professionals, patients and the general public.

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