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What To Look For In a Prenatal

There are a lot of opinions out there about prenatal vitamins and pregnancy. These are the bare facts so you can feel more confident about your pregnancy and health.
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Pregnancy is a big change in your life and there's a lot of opinions presented as facts out there. When choosing a prenatal or even trying to decide if you need one, it's hard to know where to start. Hopefully we can narrow down the field so you know what to discuss with your doctor and feel more confident in your choice.

What Prenatals Are For

There's a common misconception that you need a prenatal if you're pregnant - like it's some prerequisite to having a healthy baby that comes with the conception. The simple truth is that prenatal supplements are just that - supplements. They won't prevent health issues or protect your child from something more serious.

Taking a prenatal helps when you're not getting everything you need from your already (hopefully) balanced diet. Because having a child throws off your biology and the way your body processes nutrients (because growing an entire new human inside you will do that), it might be a good idea to take a pill that throws extra grams of iron your way to help you out.

That said, if you're prepared to take the new addition into account, providing the extra nutrition through your diet is completely doable and a supplement might not be needed. Or perhaps not a full prenatal but other supplements. 

So Why Are Prenatals So Popular

The ingredients offered in prenatals set them apart from other multivitamins. First, they're designed for a woman's biology. The proportions of the nutrients are more focused on specific recommended doses for women than the general dose of other multivitamins. This helps narrow down the supplements containing too much or too little of something. You should still look at the amounts when choosing but they'll be more around what you're looking for.

Second, a prenatal is focused on baby health and the development of the fetus. Certain nutrients like folic acid and iron are extremely important to the growth of a fetus. Other supplement combinations may leave out or not have enough for proper development.

Prenatals can be as unique as the women taking them. Be sure to check the label for what you need!

What's Important

So now you're wondering what you need from a prenatal. Well, there are a couple nutrients you should be monitoring to make sure your baby grows up nice and strong. Others you might be lacking due to a change of diet. Here's what you need:

Folic Acid - Not only does folic acid help in the brain but it helps with spinal cord development too. Getting too little of it can increase the risk of birth defects but keeping up the recommended amount helps make sure you and your baby are healthy.

Recommended Daily Amount: 600 mg

Iron - Your blood carries oxygen through your body using iron. Your baby needs oxygen and blood so there's a bigger demand for iron. Twice that of a non-pregnant woman, actually. And with the risk of foodborne illnesses you may be cutting out food rich in iron like fish or even meat. 

Recommended Daily Amount: 27 mg

Vitamin D - While the amount of Vitamin D you need doesn't change when you get pregnant, maintaining the amount may be harder. This study suggest it could reduce risks of pre-eclampsia, low birth weight and premature birth. Depending on the season and what your hormones are letting you eat, a supplement may be needed to keep up your Vitamin D levels.

Recommended Daily Amount: 600 IU

Calcium - Like Vitamin D, Calcium intake is the same as pre-pregnancy but you may find your sources of calcium diminished depending on your changing taste buds and avoidance of certain foods like soft cheese. While some studies state the benefits of calcium supplements reduce risk of birth issues, there are many that warn of the risks of too much calcium. Regardless of you current condition, too much calcium can hinder the absorption of nutrients like iron or zinc so getting the right amount and not too much is key.

Recommended Daily Amount: 1,000 mg

The Extras

You might be wondering why there's only four things on the list when prenatals can have a LOT more involved with them. That's because these are the key nutrients to watch for that are different when you're pregnant (and really, only two of them are different). 

Other things you might find in prenatals are:

  • DHA - An essential fatty acid, DHA is thought to help a baby's brain development. But there are other reasons you might think to take it. The essential fatty acid has been studied for preventing postpartum depression.

  • EPA - Just like DHA, EPA is an essential fatty acid you're probably not getting once you cut fish from your diet. It's great for baby's brain and tissue development.

  • Probiotics - You may be surprised to see probiotic blends or enzymes in your prenatal vitamin but this is to help with a mother's digestion. Constipation is a big problem during pregnancy as well as irregularity so some prenatals are beginning to add probiotics right into the mix.

  • Picking the prenatal right for you means figuring out what you want. Some may like combing a probiotic right into their prenatal but others might prefer to take them separately at different times to prevent stomach upset. Prenatals like this one contain all the nutrients you need with the added DHA so you get a full multivitamin  with bioactive ingredients without the need of taking more than one supplement. It's all in what you prefer.

    When to Start Taking a Prenatal

    The term prenatal means "during pregnancy" or "before birth", but for those trying to get pregnant you may want to start taking one now. Increasing your folic acid before conception can help your body fight for a healthier 9-month living space.

    You can keep taking a prenatal after giving birth as well. This helps keep up the nutrients in milk if you're breast feeding and can help fight off postpartum mood swings. Of course post-pregnancy lives differ so be sure to talk to your doctor to adjust what is needed.

    Common Myths and Easy Answers

    Should I take a prenatal if I'm not pregnant?

    No. Unless you're planning on becoming pregnant, you shouldn't take one. If you're hoping for the great hair, skin and nails associated with prenatal vitamins, stick with the folic acid/biotin combinations out there. The iron found in prenatals can be harmful.


    Will prenatals help me get pregnant?

    Nope. They only boost your nutrient levels so you're ready to become pregnant, they won't actually affect your fertility.


    Do prenatals affect my hormones?

    Unless there's a specific hormone ingredients like estrogen in the prenatal you're taking, your hormones won't change. You may feel an increase of energy from certain nutrients but any mood-changes will be from placebo effect or being pregnant.


    I'm healthy if I'm taking one.

    Supplements aren't for substituting good nutrition. It's more for filling in the holes in your diet, especially when you're adjusting to a new lifestyle that comes with pregnancy. They also won't take the place of professional check-ups so always keep up with your doctor.

    As with all supplements, speak to a healthcare professional before starting a prenatal, whether you're pregnant or not. They'll be able to answer your questions better than I can. This guide is simple to help you understand the world of prenatals.

    Are you hoping for a new addition to your family soon? Tell us what you think about prenatals on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages! Tune in next week for more fact-checking and remember to live healthy!

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