Supplements in Pregnancy: 5 Rules to Live By
Written by Celesta Bargatze, Certified Professional Midwife, Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Chemistry
Adding a regime of popping pills daily - while pregnant - may seem counterintuitive. It would be so very nice if our food provided all the nutrition we needed, but sadly that is rarely the case. Unless you eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables daily from your own organically thriving garden, then you, like most Americans, need to supplement in order to prevent deficiency. Especially in pregnancy, when our bodies need increasing amounts of nutrients to build another human being, we are at risk of developing significant shortages of key nutrients. These deficiencies can be slight at first and are often confused as symptoms of pregnancy (think fatigue or leg cramps), but our bodies are trying to warn us before the lack becomes severe. As a midwife and mother of four, I have done my share of research on supplements, as well as trying a wide variety in my pregnancies. In this post, I hope to provide you with a good starting place in your quest for a healthy childbearing season as well as give some tips for common issues that arise with supplementation.
You are an individual.
While there are some vitamins I recommend for everyone (magnesium, vitamin D, methylfolate), it is wise to work with a provider who will test your levels prenatally or ideally prior to conception. Ask them to check Vitamin D, serum magnesium, Vitamin B12, iron and MTHFR. They can help you interpret the results in order to tailor supplements to your specific needs.
Cheap supplements end up costing you more.
Many inexpensive, off brand dietary supplements do not contain nutrients in a form that will be absorbed by your body and may also contain harmful fillers. In the case of individuals with an MTHFR mutation (which is thought to be about 30% of the population), the forms of B12 and Folic acid found in many vitamins will actually prevent your body from absorbing what it needs! If you are making an effort to be healthier, it is worth spending the money and purchasing from a reputable company.
Look for multivitamins with “whole food” sources.
Without geeking out too much on how foods and vitamins work in our cells, let me just say that nutrients work best in their natural form. Synthetic or highly extracted and processed versions of vitamins and minerals often are not absorbed by our bodies. So for multivitamins, look for something on the label that says “whole food” and you likely have a better option.
Form is important.
Some vitamins like D are much better absorbed by our body as a liquid. I took the pill form of Vitamin D for months with no improvement. When I finally did my research and switched to the taking drops under my tongue, my levels came up relatively quickly. Form is also important if you are newly pregnant and struggling with nausea. Vitamins come in many forms-powders, gummies, chewables, liquids and even creams. If swallowing horse pills isn’t your thing, you still have good options.
Set those reminders for optimal timing.
Certain vitamins are better absorbed with food while others, like iron and calcium, ideally should not be taken at the same time. A good schedule for taking your supplements can be daunting but it’s worth it! Set reminders on your phone and carry a pill box in your purse so that when you are notified, you can stick to your schedule. It takes a while to really make a change if your levels are low, especially in pregnancy when the constant demand for things like magnesium is so much higher than normal. So make your schedule and try to plan ahead for challenges that may stop you from taking them.
While those aisles of dietary supplements with thousands of options can be overwhelming, a good prenatal multivitamin is a great start. From there, you can add as your lab results indicate. Do some research or ask your provider about optimal form and timing and you are well on your way to a healthy pregnancy!
*All recommendations should be discussed with your health care provider. Everyone is different and what you need is best evaluated with the help of a professional.
Prenatal Multivitamin: Look for a product from a reputable company. I you have the MTHFR mutation or have not been tested, I would look for the brand to contain Methylfolate and methylcobalamin rather than folic acid and B12. A few suggestions are here & here.
Magnesium: This mineral can and should be supplemented in multiple forms. These are a few goods, there are many more out there. I recommend these in pill form, or these in powder form. Soaks/sprays like magnesium oil and Epsom Salts are also a great way to get more magnesium. These should NOT be consumed orally but absorb well through the skin.
Probiotics: These are best (and most affordably) found in fermented foods and drinks, but can also be found in this pill form for a specific strain. I recommend this particular probiotic.
B-12: You can find my B-12 preference here.