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Vitamins and health supplements for pregnant mothers

Introduction

Is it a requirement for pregnant mothers to take any vitamin or health supplement throughout their pregnancies? Are these becoming mothers still looking for the suitable vitamin or health supplement to be taken during pregnancy?

When pregnancy is confirmed, a mother-to-be would surely refer to and search for the best resource for the baby that will be born. One of the most frequent questions asked by a pregnant mother is regarding the requirement of vitamin or health supplements.

Taking balanced diet is the best way to get the nutrient needed by the mother as well as the unborn baby. Therefore, pregnant mothers are advised to eat meals from various sources to ensure the baby obtains sufficient vitamins and minerals that are required. It is also to ensure that the mother gets the energy needed throughout her pregnancy.

However, there are a few pregnant mothers that are unable to eat foods that contain certain nutrients due to allergic, nausea, severe vomiting and other reasons. Therefore, vitamin supplement intake is recommended to complement the nutrient requirement, not only for the mother’s health but for baby’s development as well. Vitamins and supplements intake during pregnancy is encouraged because it may reduce the risks of fetal defect, premature birth and low birth weight baby.

Which vitamins or health supplements that are important for pregnant mothers?

Generally, pregnant mothers are advised to take vitamins and supplements as according to her requirement or as recommended by doctors and pharmacists. These are a few examples of vitamins and supplements that are usually taken by pregnant mothers:

Folic Acid

Folic acid is the most important supplement especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. Acid folic intake may reduce the risk of the baby having defect of the spine (neural tube defect). Neutral tube defect or spina bifida occurs when the nerves in the spine are being exposed and damaged.

(Sources: American Medical Association 2011)

It is best if folic acid is taken when a woman plans to get pregnant. Folic acid with the dose of 400 mcg must be taken everyday until at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Pregnant mothers are also advised to eat more food that contains folate (the natural form of folic acid) such as green vegetables and nuts.

In certain cases, a higher dose of folic acid that is 5 mg may be suggested by the doctor. Examples are:

  • Pregnant mothers who have had a baby with neural tube defect in the last pregnancies.
  • Pregnant mothers who are taking any antiepileptic medicines.
  • Pregnant mothers who are having diabetes.

Iron

Pregnant mothers will usually undergo blood tests to determine whether the iron level in their bodies are adequate or not. If the iron level is low, iron supplement should be taken. This is because the amount of blood will increase to support the development of the baby. The mother will use the stored iron in her body if she did not gain enough from her diet. Subsequently, the iron storage in her body will deplete and may lead to anemia.

The risk of premature birth may also be reduced by taking iron. Besides, iron storage in the body is also important as a mother will lose a lot of blood during labour. The baby that will be born also has his own iron storage in his body. This iron comes from his mother’s blood through placenta and may last up until 4 months.

Usually, if the mother is taking more iron than the recommended dose which is 30 mg, it may cause disturbances in gastrointestinal tract such as constipation, nausea or diarrhea. Health supplements containing 30 mg of iron or less usually do not cause any related problems.

Pregnant mothers are encouraged to discuss with doctors regarding any discomfort that they are having. If the pregnant mothers do not have anemia, there are options to switch to other health supplements containing lower dose of iron. However, for pregnant mothers with anemia and there is no other supplements as an option, it is suggested to drink prune juice or to take more fruits to overcome the problem of constipation.

The best source of food containing iron are red meats, raisins, dates, nuts and vegetables.

Calcium

Pregnant mothers also need calcium for bone and teeth formation of the babies especially in third trimester. Calcium is also important throughout pregnancy to prevent mothers from having leg cramping. If the pregnant mother does not have enough calcium in her body, it may cause leg cramping and tooth decay to the mother herself.

Usually this supplement will be prescribed to pregnant women who are allergic to milk or those who cannot absorb enough calcium from their daily diet. Severe calcium deficiency may put the pregnant women at risk of preeclampsia that might cause death to both mother and the unborn baby.

The recommended dose of calcium for pregnant mothers are 1300 mg (mothers aged 14 -18 years old) and 1000 mg (mothers aged 19 – 50 years old).

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids such as omega-3, DHA and EPA are also important for early formation and developement of brain and nerves of the baby. Fish is the main source of DHA and EPA but mothers have to be careful not to eat too many fish which contains high level of mercury. Since omega-3 is very important for baby, it might be a good idea to discuss with the doctor whether the mother requires additional omega-3 supplement or not.

Vitamin D

Fat soluble vitamin such as vitamin D also helps in maintaining strong bone and teeth because vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining level of calcium and phosphorus in the body. Therefore, it is important for pregnant mothers to take additional vitamin D to ensure healthy bones and preparing the babies with adequate vitamin D for their first few months. The daily recommended dose of vitamin D is 200IU.

The best source of food containing vitamin D are sardine, mackerel, salmon, egg and meat.

Tips On Vitamin And Supplement Intake

    • Before buying any vitamin or supplement, read the label carefully to ensure the right dose and ingredient so that it is suitable with the mother’s need.
    • Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist on medicine usage and lifestyle to determine the best and safest vitamin and health supplement that should be taken.
    • Ensure that the pregnant mother does not take any vitamin or health supplement other than recommended by doctor or pharmacist.
    • To avoid nausea, try taking health supplement at night before bedtime. Pregnant women are also advised to take any vitamin or health supplement after meal to avoid stomach irritation.
    • Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist about multivitamins that are specific for pregnancy. It should consists of folic acid, iron, vitamin D and calcium. It is also recommended to get multivitamin containing vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B such as B6 and B12, potassium, zinc and vitamin E.
    • Multivitamin for pregnancy does not contain retinol, which is vitamin A from animal sources, because retinol can be toxic to the unborn baby if taken in large quantity. Pregnanct mothers should also avoid foods containing high level of vitamin A such as liver and liver-based products such as fish liver oil. However. Vitamin A can be taken in the form of provitamin A, which is beta-carotene that is obtained from plant sources and safe for babies.

References

    1. Vitamin, Supplements and You : for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women, and Babies and Young Children. National Health Service, United Kingdom. Retrieved at www.nhs.uk/
    2. Nutrients and Vitamins for Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved at www.americanpregnancy.org
    3. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Revised March 2013. Retrieved at www.ranzcog.edu.au
    4. Houghton L. Nutrition and Supplements during Pregnancy. Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand. Retrieved at www.bpac.org.nz
    5. The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. Government of Canada. Revised 2011. Retrieved at www.healthycanadians.ca/pregnancy
Last Reviewed : 30 June 2016
Translator : Hazlin bt. Othman
Accreditor : Munira bt. Muhammad
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