Whilst a prenatal supplement isn’t a substitute for a healthy, well-balanced diet, some vitamins and minerals are near impossible to obtain from food alone. Whether you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, a prenatal vitamin is essential to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby due to the increased nutritional demands. But, have you seen the mind-blowing array of products on the pharmacy shelves? How do you know which one is right for you?
How to choose the right prenatal supplement for you
One of the most important things to consider is where you are in your pregnancy journey, as your body requires different support at pre-conception and the first trimester than it needs in months five and nine.
If you’re trying to conceive or in your first trimester
Your body can take a little time to absorb nutrients for both you and your baby, therefore it’s recommended you start taking a supplement that’s suitable for this stage at least 3 months prior to conception.
Ensure that the prenatal includes:
- Folic acid: Most women should limit the amount of folic acid they take to 1,000 micrograms a day, unless otherwise directed by your health provider. Read here about why it’s important to take it prior to conception.
- Iron: Look for one that includes a low constipation iron. Read here about this important mineral during pregnancy.
- Iodine: Your iodine requirement increases significantly during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester.
- Calcium: Only absorbed from food as part of a healthy diet, some women find it difficult to increase their calcium intake.
In addition to these nutrients, you may be one of the many women who experiences morning sickness during the first trimester, so you might like to choose a supplement that offers morning sickness relief in the form of added ginger and increased levels of vitamin B6.
If you’re in your second or third trimester
After the first trimester, your baby starts growing more rapidly. By the 13th week your placenta is fully developed and ready to take over feeding your foetus. As your baby grows, the amount of blood in your system grows, your baby’s bones are developing more, its brain and spinal cord are more developed, hopefully your morning sickness has passed, and your increase in hormones can be causing fatigue.
All of these changes (and many more!) mean your nutritional requirements alter dramatically in your second and third trimester. Ensure that your prenatal supplement contains:
- Folic acid: The elevated levels of folic acid that you required prior to conception and during the first trimester are no longer required. However, continued supplementation of 400 micrograms can maintain your necessary folate status.
- Iron: After your first trimester, your iron requirements rise steadily—they can quadruple in the second trimester, and increase again by 50 per cent in the third trimester. Look for a product that contains high levels of a low constipation iron. Your iron levels will be tested, so your health provider will recommend how much you need.
- Calcium: To meet the high foetal demand for calcium during this stage, a daily consumption of 1000 mg is recommended. Calcium supplementation in pregnancy has been associated with a reduced risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, and protection against pre-eclampsia.
- Vitamin D: In healthy women, Vitamin D can be supplemented daily in the second and third trimesters without fear of toxicity. No safety data is available for the first trimester.
- DHA: Otherwise known as docosahexaenoic acid, it is an omega 3 fatty acid that assists in your growing baby’s brain development. The third trimester is when DHA absorption is at its greatest, so if you don’t eat much oily fish, you may choose a supplement that contains DHA.
Other considerations when choosing a prenatal supplement
Now that you know which vitamins and minerals your prenatal supplement should ideally contain at the different stages of pregnancy, there are a few other things to consider when deciding which one to choose.
- If you can’t take tablets: If you’re like many other people, you could have difficulty or inability to swallow tablets, so you might prefer a soluble solution.
- If you’re vegan or vegetarian: Your doctor will advise whether you need to take a B12 supplement. Also, you will need to check the ingredients to ensure they don’t include animal products.
- Any added ingredients: Look for a product that contains no added colours, flavours, preservatives, or refined sugars.
Note: Before taking any supplements, you must check with your doctor or midwife, as high doses of some vitamins can do more harm than good.