Prenatal Vitamins 101: What Do You Need To Use During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy and fertility can be such an exciting time, but also full of questions and unknowns. You’re doing your best now to educate yourself so that you can take care of your body, and your baby! Between learning about the stages of labor, ultrasounds, and whether or not you should hire a doula, your brain is bursting with new information. Well, we have a little more information to throw your way, that will hopefully help clear up any confusion you have around vitamins and supplements during pregnancy.
As soon as you get pregnant you probably have a slew of prenatal vitamins being recommended or people telling you what you absolutely need to take. How much of that is true? And what vitamins are actually essential during pregnancy?
While food is almost always the best source of essential nutrients, it can always give us everything we need, especially during pregnancy. We’ve rounded up the most common vitamins taken during pregnancy and broke down what you need and why.
Folate is a general term used to describe different types of vitamin B9. It is often used interchangeably with “folic acid”, which is a synthetic version of folate. Many foods are fortified with folic acid like bread and flour, but it’s also recommended to take a vitamin with folic acid during pregnancy to help prevent major birth defects in the baby’s spine and brain. It is recommended to have 0.6 ml of folic acid daily during pregnancy.
Omega 3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are three types of Omega 3s: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Commonly found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, these fatty acids are essential no matter where you’re at in life, but especially during pregnancy.
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an essential fat-building block that helps aid in fetal development and growth. It can be incredibly helpful for not only the baby but the pregnant person as well, possibly reducing the risk of preterm birth and helping prevent postpartum depression. DHA also helps to maintain a healthy birth weight for the baby as well as supports brain, eye, and nervous system development. It is recommended that people take 0.2 milliliters of DHA during pregnancy and in the months before getting pregnant.
The human body naturally creates vitamin D when in the sun, but that can make it hard to do during colder months or in a colder climate. This vitamin helps to support bone development in your baby and may help to prevent preeclampsia in the pregnant person. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing phosphorus and calcium. Some research has shown a connection between taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily in the prevention of preterm labor and infections.
You know Vitamin C as an essential tool in supporting your immune system. That’s not its only job, especially during pregnancy. It also helps with the development of your baby’s teeth and bones, and helps you with tissue repair and wound healing. Similar to vitamin D, low levels of vitamin C have been linked to preeclampsia, making it that much more important to make sure you’re meeting your daily needs for this vitamin. Many foods are full of vitamin C including citrus fruits, green bell peppers, kiwis, and broccoli, but you can also help meet your daily needs through a supplement.
Vitamin B12 is often known for its ability to help support brain health and cognition, but it’s also crucial during pregnancy. This vitamin is often supplemented with folic acid before pregnancy for their ability to work together to help prevent spinal and nervous system defects. During pregnancy, vitamin B12 also helps with improving your mood, energy, and stress levels, as well as helping to produce DNA synthesis and red blood cells. It is recommended to take 2.6 mcg of B12 daily during pregnancy to support the development of your baby’s nervous system and maintain your own health and wellbeing.
Also known as Thiamine, vitamin B1 helps with a baby’s brain development and placental health. It also helps you process carbohydrates so that you and your baby can get the energy you need. Proper thiamine intake can help prevent symptoms like nausea, weakness, and fatigue. Most people can meet their B1 needs through diet as it can be found in foods like whole grains and legumes.
Like most other vitamins, vitamin K is important during pregnancy as it helps with blood clotting and coagulation. You can meet your vitamin K needs through foods like leafy greens, but it’s not recommended to take vitamin K supplements during pregnancy as it may lead to jaundice and other problems with the baby.
Like other B vitamins, B6 is essential for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. It may help to prevent some issues in newborns like low birth weight and eczema. It helps you to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and may help relieve nausea and morning sickness. Vitamin B6 is fortified in many foods and often found in prenatal vitamins, so it’s important to not take over 100 mg a day as it may lead to nerve damage and other conditions.
An essential building block for life, vitamin E helps with immune function and gene expression in babies. Although it’s essential for pregnancy, supplementation is not recommended as it may increase the risk of premature rupture of the amniotic sack and abdominal pain.
B vitamins to the rescue again! Vitamin B5 helps to produce pregnancy hormones, releases stress-relieving hormones, and can even help prevent the painful leg cramps that can come with pregnancy. You can usually meet your vitamin B needs through food as it can be found in many foods like bananas, mushrooms, avocados, and whole grains.
Ask Your Provider
If you have any questions about getting proper nutrition or taking vitamins and supplements during pregnancy, it’s always important to bring these to your healthcare provider, whether that’s a midwife or OB/GYN. This is especially important if you are considered ‘high risk’ in your pregnancy or have had fertility problems in the past. It’s a good idea to start taking many of these vitamins even if you’re not pregnant yet, to help prepare your body for the big adventure ahead. It’s important to round out any supplements you take with a healthy, balanced diet full of protein, fresh produce, fats, and good sources of carbs.
Congratulations and keep listening to your body and your intuition!
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.