Which prenatal vitamins should I take?
There are so many pre-packaged vitamin pills out there to supplement prenatal care, but the truth is that you can get almost everything you need to ensure a healthy pregnancy from a good, balanced diet. If this were not the case, humans would have died out long before health food stores came along! Many women are beginning to reject supplements in favour of a more natural approach, and all it takes is a little bit of research to find out which vitamins and minerals are best for you and your baby and which foods contain the highest amounts. And fortunately, we’ve done all the hard work for you! Here we look at what prenatal vitamins do, why they’re important, and what the best healthy food for pregnancy is to make sure you’re getting enough of each one.
How do prenatal vitamins work, and what prenatal vitamins are best?
How prenatal vitamins work is the baby uses them as building blocks as they develop, so it’s essential that they have everything they need. Pregnancy food and pregnancy nutrition are both really important to the development of a healthy baby, but being pregnant takes a toll on you, too. It’s important to know what to eat when pregnant to keep you healthy throughout. So which prenatal vitamins are best? All of the vitamins and minerals that humans need are important when you’re expecting, but some play a particularly key role. We’ve collected a few here to examine them in a little bit more detail so that you can get started and see which prenatal vitamins are best.
What to eat during pregnancy to get the best prenatal vitamins
Vitamin A helps with the development of the baby’s eyes, lungs and immune system. You may have heard about vitamin A excess danger – too much is bad for the baby, and can lead to birth defects so this is one vitamins excess to avoid. Liver contains a lot of vitamin A in its retinol form, and while it also has a lot of iron you should limit it while you’re pregnant. (Pâté should definitely be avoided, as it can contain listeria.) There are other ways to make sure you’re getting enough iron, as we’ll get to below.
The best foods to eat for vitamin A are fruits and vegetables high in beta carotene, as according to the Linus Paul Institute, this type of vitamin A has not been linked to any birth defects. Try eating carrots, sweet potato, kale, and spinach, and avoid or limit the meat-based sources.
B Vitamins and Folic Acid
Folic acid is a B vitamin – B9. It’s only called folic acid when it’s in pill form; when it’s found in food, it’s known as folate. Vitamin B, or pyridoxine, is essential for building your baby’s brain and nervous system. The most important forms for pregnancy in addition to folate are B6 and B12 which both do similar things, and work together with B9 to make DNA and new cells. B6 has been used since the 1940s to aid with morning sickness, as well! Not getting enough B vitamins while pregnant has been linked to preeclampsia, low birth weight, and an increased risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida.
There are lots of folic acid foods for pregnancy – broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, mushrooms, lettuce, parsnips, sweetcorn, courgettes, avocado, oranges, chickpeas, red kidney beans, eggs, nuts, juices, coconut water, red meat and poultry, and that’s not even a full list!
Folate is easily destroyed by cooking so these are best eaten raw or very lightly cooked – apart from the meat obviously. Steaming is the best way to cook veggies to preserve the folate. Also, if you’re a vegan, you may have to resort to supplements for B12 as it is only found in animal products.
This is a tough one since it’s hard to get enough from food alone. As far as vitamin D foods for pregnant women go, fatty fish is a good way to get it. If you’re a vegan you will probably need to supplement. Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium and the development of the baby’s bones, and not getting enough can lead to preeclampsia and low birth weight. You don’t need more of it than usual while you’re pregnant, but because it’s so tough to get in food form a lot of people don’t have enough.
One good way to increase the amount of vitamin D is to get out in the sunshine. You don’t need to be out in it for hours and risk sunburn – you can make plenty in half the time it takes to go crispy. Different people make different amounts of vitamin D, and if you have dark skin you won’t make it as quickly as someone with light skin.
You need to make sure that you’re getting enough iron while you’re pregnant to produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to the baby. You need more of it, too – experts recommend 27mg per day while pregnant, compared with 18mg per day the rest of the time. The baby needs it for development of all of their organs and tissues, and you need it to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Anaemia isn’t great for anyone, but in pregnant women it can increase the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and infant mortality. Luckily, iron is much easier to get from your diet than vitamin D!
Some great iron rich foods for pregnancy are red meat, pork, chicken and lamb, broccoli, leafy greens like spinach and kale, sprouts, eggs, dried fruit, and oatmeal. The body absorbs iron better when it comes in animal form, but the plant-based versions work just as well. Try to make sure you get a lot of vitamin C too, as this helps the body absorb iron more easily.
Calcium is important in the later stages of pregnancy, to help prevent pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia. It is a structural component of bones and teeth, and is also important for proper nerve transmission and muscle contraction. You don’t need more of it during pregnancy, but most people tend to be deficient in it. Luckily it’s really easy to get plenty – milk, sardines, and green leafy vegetables contain more than enough.
How to choose prenatal vitamins pills?
There are cases where you might have to take supplements, so which ones are best? Vitamins B12 and D are difficult to get through diet if you’re a vegan, so those are two you might want to consider. Make sure that any you take don’t contain vitamin A, especially in retinol form.
What not to eat
There are definitely some foods that should be avoided while pregnant to reduce risks to both you and your baby. Liver, as we saw, is one, due to to risk of vitamin A excess. Any raw meat or fish is also off the table, so no rare steaks or sushi. This is because the risk of salmonella or other types of bacterial infection is much higher with uncooked meat. Salmonella is horrible for anyone, but it’s especially dangerous while you’re pregnant because of the risk to the baby.
Alcohol and coffee are also best avoided – there is no known safe limit for alcohol, and in the worst cases drinking a lot while you’re pregnant can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. Coffee is less dangerous, but consider limiting your intake to one or two cups a day to avoid increased risk of miscarriage or low birth weight.
Nutrition is important to everyone, but especially when you’re pregnant. It’s a good idea to speak to a qualified nutritionist about your pregnancy diet to make sure you’re getting all the right nutrients, especially if you don’t like the idea of supplements. They can look at your current diet and any special circumstances, and help you tailor your diet so you’re getting the right amount of the right things throughout your pregnancy.