Prenatal vitamins are useful for filling nutrient gaps in your diet. However, not all women want or need to take them.
“Have you started taking prenatal vitamins?” That’s often one of the first questions asked when contacting a healthcare provider about a new pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are highly recommended during pregnancy to cover any nutritional gaps in your diet.
In a basic prenatal you’ll find a number of essential vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, iodine, and folic acid which are specifically important for a healthy pregnancy.
While the benefits of prenatal vitamins are boasted by most health professionals, a small percentage of women continue to go without these supplements during pregnancy. One study showed that 78 percent of pregnant women reported multivitamin use, according to Public Health Reports.
Do you really need prenatal vitamins if you eat a well-balanced diet? For most women, the answer is yes. Does not taking prenatals necessarily mean that your baby will be born unhealthy?
Not at all.
Prenatal vitamins are not a magic pill that guarantees a healthy child. However, they can reduce the risk of birth defects and other medical conditions by providing expecting moms with the nutrients necessary for optimal health.
What the Experts Say
However, some health professionals do not agree.
“If you eat a balanced diet and are not iron deficient, it is not clear that prenatal vitamins result in any health benefits during pregnancy,” says Charles Lockwood, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Here’s what other experts have to say about taking prenatals.
“Prenatal vitamins help ensure you’re getting enough folic acid, calcium and iron – essential nutrients during pregnancy. It’s best to start taking prenatal vitamins three months before conception.”
Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
“A sensible diet can generally provide adequate levels of all vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy with the exception of iron, folic acid (folate), and possibly calcium. Just to be on the safe side, most doctors also recommend that pregnant women take a daily prenatal vitamin supplement during both pregnancy and the months when she is trying to conceive.”
K. Carlson, S. Eisenstat, T. Ziporyn, The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health
“There’s no doubt that a pregnant woman needs more folic acid, iron, zinc, and calcium than she’s likely to eat in a normal diet. If you eat a well-rounded diet, with five to seven servings of organic fruits and vegetables daily as well as whole grains, adequate sources of iron, zinc, calcium, folic acid, and protein, then you probably don’t need to take any supplements.”
Joel M. Evans, Robin Aronson, The Whole Pregnancy Handbook
“It’s best to take prenatal vitamins while you’re trying to conceive. Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically to contain the doses of various vitamins that pregnant women need, including folic acid, calcium, vitamin A, and iron.”
Autumn 2009, Conceive Magazine
“If they make you feel more energetic, by all means take the vitamins. But during the first trimester, when nausea abounds, take comfort in knowing that you are not doing your baby harm by not taking prenatal vitamins, as long as you eat right.”
Hope Ricciotti, Vincent Connelly, The Pregnancy Cookbook
Nutrients for a Healthy Pregnancy
During pregnancy, it’s more important than ever to maintain optimal nutrition. Sufficient vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients not only support a healthy pregnancy, they’re also essential for a developing embryo and fetus.
Failure to take prenatal vitamins may result in deficiencies, including:
- Folic Acid Deficiency – Folic acid is a form of vitamin B and is commonly found in leafy green veggies. Taking folic acid for a minimum of one month prior to conception reduces the risk of neural-tube defects like spina bifida, according to Jill Stovsky, exercise physiologist and dietician at Baby Center. During pregnancy, you should up your dose to 600 to 800 mcg, or 0.6 to 0.8 mg.
- Calcium Deficiency – Calcium is essential for developing baby’s muscles and bones. Without it, there is a greater risk of developing preeclampsia, a condition that can be fatal to both mom and baby. A lack of calcium can also contribute to other conditions during pregnancy, such as hypertension. Women who are pregnant or nursing require between 1,200 and 1,400 milligrams of calcium per day, according to Parents Magazine.
- Iron Deficiency – Failure to take a prenatal vitamin can also lead to iron deficiency. The risk of low iron levels includes premature labor, low birth rate, and complications during delivery that may require blood transfusions. You need at least 27 milligrams of iron daily during pregnancy, according to WebMD.
- Vitamin A Deficiency – While uncommon, vitamin A deficiencies can result in certain birth defects or malformations of the eyes, lungs, skull, or heart. You should opt for 770 micrograms RAE per day of vitamin A during pregnancy, according to Baby Center.
While most pregnant women can benefit from prenatal vitamins, they’re not right for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider about why you are choosing to not take prenatals and what you can do to maintain optimal health before, during, and after pregnancy.