What to Look for in a Prenatal Vitamin
The nutritional needs of mothers (and babies)
Whether you’re newly pregnant or breastfeeding, you know you require enough nutrients to sustain life for two humans… but there’s even more to it than that. During gestation, our bodies do things differently. They increase blood volume and oxygenate it, grow a placenta, produce various hormones, produce colostrum and breastmilk, and much more.
Once the baby is born, our bodies continue changing, affecting breasts, ribs, abs, skin, teeth, hair, feet, nervous system, sexual health… and more. Even our hearing and vision can change.
A lot of people don't think much about nutrition until they become pregnant. When pregnancy occurs, we become more aware of our nutrient needs. We may think more about where we are deficient, nutritionally. The need for proper nutrition is always there. Yet our nutritional needs change dramatically during pregnancy to support the miraculous changes mamas and babies are undergoing. Prenatal vitamins are important both to bolster up deficiencies and to provide extra nourishment for baby. Additionally the “dosing” or amount of nutrients matter quite a bit. It is possible not only to get too small an amount of some vitamins, but too much. So work with your doctor to ensure you’re getting the right amount.
Prenatal vitamins often contain these important ingredients
Vitamin A: Vitamin A affects a developing baby’s heart, eyes, skeleton, and immune system. Vitamin A is one of those vitamins where the dosing really matters for the fetus -- it is possible to consume too much.
Vitamin B Complex: B vitamins are important for so many reasons, even apart from pregnancy. During pregnancy and lactation, though, the Vitamin B complex helps in the following ways:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) assists with baby's brain development.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) affects eyes and skin.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) improves digestion and nutrient metabolism. Did you know B3 can ease morning sickness and nausea?
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) helps create specific hormones related to pregnancy. It also helps ease leg cramps that can occur during gestation.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) affects the baby's brain and nervous system. B6 breaks down protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin) supplementation is needed to maintain homeostasis, as the body often loses B7 during pregnancy.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) affects red blood cells, brain development and brain function for the baby. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products or in supplements, so vegetarian or vegans should be sure to check with their health care practitioners about this.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C affects tissue growth as well as bone and tooth development. Vitamin C helps with non-heme iron absorption.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E has antioxidant properties and helps protect cell membranes as well as skin, eyes, and immune system.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D affects bone health, healthy cell division, and immune function. It is also critical for moms, as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure have been associated with deficiency with Vitamin D.
Calcium: Calcium builds baby's teeth and bones and helps mom's skeletal health. It also affects heart and nerve development.
Iron: Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues. Iron deficiency, or anemia, creates fatigue -- feelings of being weak and tired -- during pregnancy. Low iron is also associated with premature births and postpartum depression. Iron is not included in Encarna because Iron actually competes with calcium absorption. It is better to take these separately, as well as take the amount of iron that is specific to your needs.
Iodine: Iodine is needed for healthy brain, nervous system, and thyroid development.
Selenium: Selenium may influence pregnancy and fetus outcomes, as well as thyroid function. The evidence is growing regarding its importance, but further research is needed.
Magnesium, Sodium & Potassium: Magnesium is responsible for more than 600 enzymatic reactions in our bodies. Deficiencies in potassium and sodium are associated with a variety of different health conditions.
Chelated Zinc: Zinc is important for protein synthesis, cellular division and nucleic acid metabolism. It also supports immunity during pregnancy and childbirth. Low levels of zinc may lead to poor birth outcomes.
Choline Bitartrate: The science is growing on the benefits of Choline for moms and babies. Research suggests that it can aid in fetal brain development during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Standard dosing recommendations
Each person is unique in the nutrients they need. Speak to your doctor to learn more about what is recommended for you.
It is best to take vitamins in their whole form because the body actually recognizes them better that way. Most people do not have nutrient dense diets, so prenatal supplements in a whole form close to nature can best help provide important nutrients.
What most Prenatal Vitamins Lack
Unfortunately, many prenatal vitamins are lacking critical ingredients or use poor sources. In particular, we advocate for a full range of B vitamins and natural folate (rather than folic acid) and we encourage mamas to check into prenatal vitamins that contain MTHFR.
What you may be missing
B vitamins. Some prenatal supplements only have limited or low amounts of B vitamins.
- Folate (vs. folic acid). Folate supports cell division, protein synthesis and homocysteine breakdown. It is needed for brain and spinal cord development as well as red blood cells and white blood cells. Adequate amounts of folate help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects. Folic acid is the synthetic, man-made form of folate. It is mostly used in prenatals because it was believed (and still is) to be more bioavailable than natural folate in foods. However, we know that folic acid can actually slow down and even block folate metabolism leading to folic acid build up. Encarna uses methylfolate because it is in the correct form, so that the body can properly metabolise and use it. For these reasons, we believe no one should be taking the folic acid form of folate.
- MTHFR. The MTHFR enzyme is required for folate to be transformed into an active and usable form, Methyl-folate. (The MTHFR gene mutation affects about 60% of the population.)
Whole foods that compliment prenatal vitamins
Anyone who is pregnant should absolutely seek out the whole foods that contain the highest levels of these vitamins and minerals, but getting these nutrients from food today is often not possible, due to soil depletion and the toxicity we face in our daily lives.
Ask your health care practitioner if Encarna is right for you as a prenatal supplement.