Everything you ever wanted to know about prenatal vitamins

Mum belly holding pregnancy vitamins

Our bodies were made to grow babies – it’s one of the miracles of nature. But it takes lots of energy and nutrients to grow a whole new little being, and it doesn’t take long before nutritional gaps in our diet start to show.

That’s where prenatal vitamins step in – they’re like the gap fillers, plugging up any nutritional holes and helping both mother and baby get the vitamins and minerals they need.

Do you need to take prenatal vitamins?

Having a healthy and balanced diet is the best way to help growing bumps, but experts also recommend additional supplements. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) says all expecting women should be taking folic acid and iodine, and some will need an extra boost of B12, D, and K, as well as iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?

It’s recommended starting a prenatal supplement at least a month before conception. It’s ok if you don’t, just start taking them as soon as you get confirmation there’s a baby on board.

What do prenatal vitamins do?

Some prenatal vitamins help mum-to-be’s body cope with the extra demands of growing a baby, while others help bub. There’s been lots of research conducted on how each vitamin works to help support mum’s growing body, and give bub the best chance at a healthy start to life.

Here’s a more detailed look at what each vitamin and mineral does, and the dose recommended by the experts:

Iron

Lots of mums find that pregnancy drains their iron stores, and low iron in early pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight and premature birth. RANZCOG says not every pregnant woman needs iron supplements and recommends all women have their haemoglobin level checked at the first antenatal visit and again at around 28 weeks.

How much iron is needed: Between 22mg/day – 27mg/day

Iodine

A mild to moderate iodine deficiency can result in learning difficulties and impact motor skills development and hearing. All bread (other than organic) in Australia is fortified with iodine, but some extra may be needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

How much iodine is needed: 150 micrograms each day.

Folate

Making sure your body has enough folate helps to prevent birth defects like spina bifida. It can be found naturally in lots of foods, but some women have an increased risk of their bub being affected by a neural tube defect.

How much folate is needed: At least 0.4mg daily, or 5mg if there’s a known increased risk of NTD.

Vitamin D

This gem of a vitamin is for you and for bub – to keep bones and teeth healthy. Not enough vitamin D can make children’s bones soft and lead to a disease called rickets. A daily dose of sunlight during pregnancy will help boost your vitamin D, as well as taking a pregnancy supplement.

How much is needed: 400 iu, but the dose will be more if your doctor determines your levels are too low.

Zinc

Zinc is really helpful in supporting pregnant bodies during the quick-fire cell growth that happens during pregnancy. It’s found hiding in lean meat, seafood, nuts, milk and wholegrain cereals.

How much zinc is needed: Between 9mg/day – 11mg/day or more.

Vitamin C

Important for the creation of collagen, extra vitamin C is needed during pregnancy because of the increased blood volume flowing around to support the growth of bub. It also helps aid the absorbtion of iron.

How much is needed: Between 40mg/day – 60mg/day or more

Calcium

Super important for creating bub’s bones and teeth. Calcium is found in dairy and eating fish with edible bones is also a great source of calcium.

How much calcium is needed: Between 1000 mg and 1300mg a day.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 is critically important for the development of baby’s brain. If you don’t eat much seafood, a supplement to boost your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids is recommended.

How much is needed: no more than 2-3 serves (150g /serve) of fish per week for pregnant women, or from a pregnancy supplement.

It’s worth remembering that if you have a special diet, are vegetarian or vegan, your dietary and vitamin needs will be different, so chat with your doctor.

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