During pregnancy, there is an innate need to do everything you possibly can to ensure the health of your baby. Whether it’s exercising in the right way, eating the right food, or simply making sure that you get enough sleep. There are a number of steps that you can take every single day to make this happen. Which is exactly where the benefits of prenatal vitamins enter the discussion.
What are prenatal vitamins?
So, what are prenatal vitamins?
To keep it as simple as possible, prenatal vitamins are a unique type of supplement that provides you with a potent daily dose of all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to completely support you through pregnancy (Dougan, 2015).
What should a good prenatal vitamin contain?
Now, you might be wondering what a good quality prenatal vitamin needs to contain – and for me, it comes down to three key compounds, folic acid, iron, and iodine (Duerbeck, 2014).
- Folic acid is a type of B group vitamin that is required for DNA replication and can reduce your unborn child’s risk of neural tube defects by up to 70%.
- Iron is a key mineral that acts as one of the key building blocks for your baby’s cells, and as a result, you need it more than ever during pregnancy.
- Iodine is an important mineral that helps ensure the normal development of your child’s brain and thyroid gland.
Now, it is important to note that there are thousands of different prenatal vitamins out there, many of which contain several additional ingredients in conjunction with the three that I have outlined here.
While there is certainly merit in taking different vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, these are simply the three that most would deem essential.
How important are prenatal vitamins during pregnancy?
The role that prenatal vitamins play in pregnancy should be quite apparent (Marangoni, 2016; Danielewicz, 2017).
First and foremost, they ensure that you maintain your health throughout the duration of the pregnancy period. Within this, research suggests that taking an appropriate prenatal vitamin can reduce your risk of developing diseases such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
It can also reduce your risk of developing anemia during pregnancy, and may even assist in the mitigation of gestational weight gain.
Additionally, these same key vitamins can help you function on a daily basis, staving off fatigue and nausea, while also keeping energy levels high.
Which is all pretty damn important if you ask me!
But even more importantly, a prenatal vitamin can also help promote the normal growth and development of your unborn child.
This can obviously reduce the risk of them developing any potential birth defects, while also helping contribute to the maintenance of normal birth weight. All of this has been suggested to ensure their normal growth and development into infancy.
Related Article: Maternal Nutritional Requirements for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Should you take prenatal vitamins while trying to get pregnant?
Interestingly, the importance of prenatal vitamins isn’t strictly limited to the prenatal period.
In fact, you should ideally be taking these important supplements for at least the entire month leading up to conception – which ultimately comes down to the unbelievably important interaction of folic acid (Toivonen, 2018).
As I have already discussed in brief, folic acid is a vitamin required for DNA replication. Within this, it also aids in the synthesis of amino acids and additional vitamins.
It really does it all.
Taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid in the lead up to conception has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing neural tube defects. Neural tube defects describe abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord that occur during early development.
There are three common types of neural tube defects that we need to be aware of, being Spina bifida, Encephalocele, and Anencephaly.
- Spina bifida occurs when the lower parts of the neural tube don’t close properly during development. This results in a portion of the spinal cord being exposed and easily damaged. In severe cases, the skin, muscle, and bone protecting the spinal cord might even be completely missing.
- Encephalocele occurs when the skull doesn’t form completely to protect the brain. In this scenario, part of the brain may even bulge out.
- Anencephaly is a serious neural tube defect that occurs when an entire part of the brain doesn’t develop.
As I am sure you could imagine, neural tube defects can result in severely impaired motor, intellectual, and cognitive abilities, as well as contribute to the onset and development of various mental disorders.
How long should you take your prenatal vitamin after giving birth?
So, we know that taking a prenatal vitamin both before and during pregnancy is important – but what are the benefits of prenatal vitamins after giving birth?
Well, I am sure that you could have guessed, but they do hold some rather significant importance (Kominiarek, 2016).
Which almost completely comes down to breastfeeding.
You see, your intake of certain vitamins and minerals (with specific emphasis on vitamin C, vitamin D, the B group vitamins, and iodine) are very much reflected in the nutritional content of your breast milk, which can have two key implications.
Firstly, if you are deficient in these nutrients, then your child will be too. This can have a negative impact on their health, as well as their ability to maintain a normal rate of growth and development.
Secondly, you are ‘giving away’ a lot of your vitamin and mineral intake to your child. This means that you are going to be at a greater risk of becoming deficient in those same vitamins and minerals. This can have an impact on your own health.
All of which suggests that prenatal vitamins are just as important after pregnancy as they are during.
So, if you find yourself asking ‘should you take prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding’, the answer is a resounding yes.
How long should you take a prenatal vitamin if breastfeeding?
If you have chosen to give breastfeeding a try, there is definite merit in continuing to take your prenatal vitamin right up until the point where you stop breastfeeding.
Whether this is when your child is three months old, six months old, or nine months old – it really doesn’t matter – the key is to keep taking them throughout the entire duration.
How long should you take a prenatal vitamin if you’re not breastfeeding?
Now, if you are not opting (or unable) to go the traditional breastfeeding route, then it might seem logical to stop your prenatal vitamin immediately after giving birth?
Well, not necessarily.
You see, it is common for new mothers to experience pretty significant changes in digestive health (and by extension, in diet) after giving birth. This can lead to the onset of potential nutrient shortages.
However, a very simple way to manage this risk is by taking a prenatal vitamin for the 6-8 weeks that come immediately after giving birth. This will ensure that you have everything you need to get your body back in tip-top shape throughout the immediate post-pregnancy period.
What should you look for in a prenatal vitamin?
I have already touched on the three key nutrients that must be in every prenatal vitamin (being folic acid, iron, and iodine).
However, there are a couple of other things that I believe you should look for.
- Good quality compounds derived from all-natural ingredients
- Scientific evidence to support their included compounds
Moreover, you want to choose a product from a company that truly endeavors to provide great quality products to new moms, with the sole intent of helping them throughout their entire pregnancy process.
With this in mind, if you are after a great quality prenatal vitamin that ticks all of these boxes, then look no further than this great supplement by Forever Fit Mama.
Related Article: Hormonal Changes After Pregnancy
Take Home Message
Prenatal vitamins play an incredibly important role in ensuring both your health and the health of your baby, throughout the entire pregnancy period. Within this, they also offer some serious benefit when taking them before conception, and to support your postnatal needs.
The key is to make sure that you choose a good quality option, and then reap the rewards!
Dougan, Marcelle Maaza, Walter C. Willett, and Karin B. Michels. “Prenatal vitamin intake during pregnancy and offspring obesity.” International Journal of Obesity 39.1 (2015).
Duerbeck, Norman B., David D. Dowling, and Jillinda M. Duerbeck. “Prenatal vitamins: what is in the bottle?.” Obstetrical & gynecological survey 69.12 (2014): 777-788.
Marangoni, Franca, et al. “Maternal diet and nutrient requirements in pregnancy and breastfeeding. An Italian consensus document.” Nutrients 8.10 (2016): 629.
Danielewicz, H., et al. “Diet in pregnancy—more than food.” European journal of pediatrics 176.12 (2017): 1573-1579.
Toivonen, K. I., et al. “Folic acid supplementation during the preconception period: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Preventive medicine (2018).
Kominiarek, Michelle A., and Priya Rajan. “Nutrition recommendations in pregnancy and lactation.” Medical Clinics 100.6 (2016): 1199-1215.