Prenatal Vitamins: The why, when and how important!
The Importance of Taking Prenatal Vitamins Before, During and After Pregnancy While Breastfeeding
This post was sponsored by Avion Pharmaceuticals. All opinions are my own.
I recently shared on instagram that I’m so grateful for my two healthy pregnancies and access to the essential, nutritional options I needed while pregnant.
But not every mom/baby is as fortunate.
I believe it’s important to speak up to protect the health of moms & babies. What’s more, I’m working to raise awareness around the importance of prenatal vitamins. Incidentally, I am really concerned about a potential new policy change that could impact women’s access to and choice around these products. If you share my concern, please join me in voicing your concern here.
The potential new policy decision by First Databank, a private company, could code all prescription prenatal vitamins as over- the-counter. This could greatly impact patients on Medicaid in particular. Medicaid pays for prescription but not over-the-counter prenatal vitamins. Therefore, the concern is that some women might not be able to afford that option.
Prenatal vitamins are important for both moms and babies–not just during pregnancy, but also before AND after (while breastfeeding).
Prenatal Vitamins BEFORE Pregnancy – “Trimester Zero”
Most women know about prenatal vitamins and understand that they should take them during pregnancy. But what many moms fail to understand is the importance of taking prenatal vitamins prior to pregnancy.
Supplementing with prenatal vitamins prior to pregnancy provides your body (and baby) the vital nutrients needed during the first few weeks of conception.
Taking prenatal vitamins before pregnancy is helpful for women trying to conceive. It gives their bodies time to build up their stores of folic acid, iron, calcium, and other vital minerals and vitamins. Likewise, these prepare their bodies when they need to support a growing baby.
Most moms typically begin taking prenatal vitamins when they meet with their doctor for the first time. Of course, this is only after finding out they’re pregnant, generally between weeks 4-8 post-conception.
But are you giving your baby what he or she needs in the first 4-8 weeks?
Delaying prenatal vitamin supplementation is dangerous, as the baby’s neural tube development occurs during weeks 2-8 post-conception.
Incidentally, the neural tube is a hollow tube from which the brain and spinal cord form. Defects in its development can cause congenital abnormalities.
Prenatal Vitamins DURING Pregnancy
Many important health benefits come from prenatal vitamins, both for moms and babies. Certainly, most women do not get all the nutrients they need from diet alone.
Two crucial prenatal ingredients that most women do not get enough of during pregnancy from food alone include:
- Folate is one of the most important nutrients women can take to protect the health of the baby, including lessening the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. According to the NIH, folic acid supplementation increases the likelihood of full-term births and lowers the risk of preterm birth.1 Therefore, it is critical that prenatal vitamins offer a form of folate that allows women to absorb it, especially those who may have a genetic predisposition which impairs proper metabolism.
- In order to effectively raise folate levels to help protect from birth defects, folic acid should be taken at least 4 weeks prior to conception. The neural tube closes 28 days after conception and taking folate prior to pregnancy can help prevent about 70% of neural tube defects.2
- The form of iron in prenatal vitamins is important. It can impact the absorption and tolerability in women. However, many pregnant women do not obtain sufficient iron from their diet to meet their body’s increased need during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, and this iron deficiency can lead to anemia.3,4,5,6,7
- Preventing iron-deficiency anemia can cut your risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and infant mortality.3,4,5,6,7
In addition, prenatal vitamins contain other important vitamins and minerals that help to support the nutritional needs of the baby and the mother, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Positive effects on cognitive/retinal development, motor skills, sleep patterns, and immune development. 8,9
- Calcium. Helps to promote strong bones, healthy heart, nerves, and muscles.10
- Vitamin D. Helps to maintain levels of calcium in the body.10
- Vitamin C. Supports the immune system and helps to heal and repair tissues and cells.10
- Vitamin B6: May help ease common morning sickness.11
- Riboflavin. Helps with bone, nerve, and muscle development.10
- Zinc. Supports a healthy immune system and helps with the rapid cell growth.10
All of these vitamins and minerals must be taken in proper amounts. Too much or too little of any of them is not safe for the baby. By taking a prenatal vitamin that has the recommended amounts of all of them, you can be sure you’re getting the amounts that are just right for both mom and baby. Therefore, talk to your doctor about prescription prenatal vitamins, so you can find a vitamin with a formula that meets your specific needs.
Prenatal Vitamins AFTER Pregnancy
Just like many women remain unaware of the importance of taking prenatal vitamins before pregnancy, many women are also unaware of the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins after pregnancy while breastfeeding.
After giving birth, a mom’s body needs additional vitamins and minerals to help in restoring tissues and cells. Furthermore, these essential vitamins and minerals support the weakened immune system and help with blood loss. In addition, prenatal vitamins taken after pregnancy help with breastfeeding by providing enough calcium and iron.12
Personally I am a big believer of breastfeeding, if at all possible. Consequently, I breastfed my sons, Jackson and Warren, until they were past their first birthdays.
Many nursing moms find it can be difficult, but to me it’s worth it.
When possible, breastfeeding is a wonderful way of providing a baby with essential vitamins and nutrients. Additionally, breast milk helps protect babies against infection.13
However, most experts agree that even when eating a well-balanced diet, many breastfeeding mothers don’t get enough of the nutrients needed to maintain optimal health. As a result, breastfeeding women are encouraged to continue to take a prenatal vitamin to help supplement their diets for the duration of their breastfeeding.
P.S. Women’s Access to Prenatal Vitamin Options Must Be Protected
Furthermore, we MUST speak up to protect the health of moms and babies! First Databank may potentially be changing the policy to code all prescription prenatal vitamins into a class historically associated with over-the-counter products. This could immediately and devastatingly decrease women’s access to and choice about their prenatal vitamins – products that are universally regarded as a crucial component of prenatal care.
By clicking here and sending a quick email or tweet (it takes less than one minute!), you’ll be able to take a stand and help keep prescription prenatal vitamins covered by insurance.
This post was sponsored by Avion Pharmaceuticals. My personal story and opinions are my own. I am not a medical professional and am not qualified to give medical advice. Finally, please talk with your doctor about your individual medical situation.
- Millman, N. Review Article: Oral Iron Prophylaxis in Pregnancy: Not Too Little and Not Too Much! Journal of Pregnancy. Volume 2012. Article ID 514345 doi:10.1155/2012/514345
- Greenberg JA, Bell SJ. 2011. Multivitamin supplementation during pregnancy: emphasis on folic acid and L-methylfolate. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 4:126-127.
- Bentley S, Hermes A, Phillips D, Daoud YA, Hanna S. 2011. Comparative effectiveness of a prenatal medical food to prenatal vitamin on hemoglobin levels and adverse outcomes: a retrospective analysis. Clinical Therapeutics 33:204-210.
- Raman TR, Devgan A, Sood S, Gupta A, Racvichander B. Low Birth Weight Babies : Incidence and risk factors. Medical Journal, Armed Forces India. 1998;54(3):191-195. doi:10.1016/S0377-1237(17)30539-7.
- Radlowski EC, Johnson RW. Perinatal iron deficiency and neurocognitive development. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013;7:585. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00585. Scholl TO. Maternal Iron Status: Relation to fetal growth, length of gestation and the neonate’s endowment. Nutrition reviews. 2011;69(Suppl 1):S23-S29. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00429.x
- McGregor JA, French JI. Optimizing perinatal and maternal nutrition: omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid. Female Patient. 2008; (suppl):19-23.
- Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Van Ausdal W. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008; 1(4)(suppl):162-16
- ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) Practice Bulletin: nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2004;103:803-14.
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