Whether you have already been taking a prenatal supplement in preparation of becoming pregnant, or you just found out you are pregnant and haven’t picked one up yet, don’t stress! So much is happening in your mind and body right now and choosing a prenatal supplement does not need to be a source of stress during an already life-changing time. Here we will help you understand the significance of taking a prenatal supplement as soon as you are pregnant (if not sooner) and what to focus on when choosing a prenatal supplement!

Why are Prenatal Supplements Important?

Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, and a prenatal supplement is recommended to help promote a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal supplements contain nutrients that are critical in supporting the health and growth of your little one, and in supporting the health and energy of you too, Mama. It is important to remember, that prenatal supplements do not replace a balanced diet – they supplement it – and therefore, should not be replacing any meals or snacks, but rather taken alongside them.

Prenatal supplements are different from a regular multivitamin because they provide additional, and larger amounts of, certain vitamins and minerals that are especially important during pregnancy. This includes folic acid for brain development, calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones and teeth, and iron for both your blood supply and your baby’s.

What to Look for in a Prenatal Supplement

Two important nutrients to look for when choosing a prenatal supplement are folic acid and iron. Women need more folic acid and iron during pregnancy than most, if not all, other periods of their lives, and getting these nutrients adequately from food sources can be difficult (1). The recommendation for supplemented folic acid is at least 0.4 mg (or 400 mcg) per day and 16-20 mg of iron per day (1). Other nutrients that tend to be lacking in the diets of pregnant women are EPA + DHA, vitamin D, iodine, choline, magnesium, and potassium, and should also be accounted for when choosing a prenatal supplement (2). 

When Should I Start Taking a Prenatal Supplement?

Ideally, it is recommended to begin taking a prenatal supplement 1-3 months before conception, or as soon as you decide that you are actively trying to become pregnant (3). However, because that is not always how women decide on pregnancy, the next best time to start a prenatal supplement is as soon as you learn that you are pregnant. Fortunately, you can find prenatal supplements at any pharmacy!

Tips for Prenatal Supplements

  • Check the expiry date. This might seem silly, but expiration dates can oftentimes be missed, and nutrients may no longer be as effective.
  • Consider what time of day you are taking your supplement. Depending on your individual feelings of nausea, you may need to change the time of day that you take your prenatal supplement. For example, if you are taking it with breakfast and that is the time you are feeling most nauseous, try taking it with a snack in the evening, before heading to bed.
  • Follow the instructions. Depending on different brands of supplements and the combination of nutrients specifically, recommendations for consumption may differ from one supplement to to the next. This can also be discussed and determined with your Dietitian.
  • Do not “double dose” if you missed a day. It’s okay! Life as a Mama can be busy, and you may forget some days, or maybe end up out of the house during mealtimes. Just go back to your routine the following day and take the recommended dose as presented on the supplement bottle, or as recommended by your Dietitian.
  • Talk to your Dietitian and any other practitioner about specific recommendations for choosing a prenatal supplement based on your specific needs, supplies, and dietary restrictions.

The Bottom Line

Choosing a prenatal supplement can seem overwhelming based on the large variety of supplements out there. The key is to look for the main nutrient recommendations, and talk to your Dietitian and Doctor about the best prenatal supplement for you. Choosing a prenatal supplement may also seem unnecessary if you believe that you eat a healthy and balanced diet, but the majority of women do not get the appropriate amounts certain nutrients from food alone, and prenatal supplements are there to help you achieve your pregnancy nutritional needs.

Looking for individualized nutrition recommendations for pregnancy?

Contact a Registered Dietitian today!

References

  1. Government of Canada. Healthy eating when pregnant and breastfeeding [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada: 2020 Jan 15 [cited 2020 Jan 15]. Available from: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/pregnant-breastfeeding/
  2. Brown, E. J. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (5th ed.). Stamford (CT): Cengage Learning; 2014. 517p. 
  3. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Nutrition During Pregnancy. [Internet] 2020 June [cited 2021 Jan 15]. Available from: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn

~ Written by Rebecca Woods