Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also feel kind of intimidating—the body is changing quickly, and you may be wondering what to eliminate or add to your routine to support yourself and your growing baby. 

An absolute non-negotiable? Prenatal vitamins. Some blends on the market include just the essential prenatal vitamins and minerals, but it’s key that you and your baby get all the extra nutrients to prepare for the road ahead.  

Everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.  

Why do you need a prenatal vitamin? 

Prenatals are helpful for many reasons. The first is supporting fertility—restoring vitamin and mineral deficiencies can help balance hormones and support egg development. They’re also packed with antioxidants which can help to reduce oxidative stress. 

Taking a prenatal can also support your baby’s development. From neural tube and spinal development to brain development, the ingredients and dosages in prenatal vitamins are designed to help promote healthy development. 

Another important reason to take a prenatal—it supports your health! It’s basically the ‘putting your own oxygen mask on first’ of pregnancy. Supporting your health in turn supports the baby’s health, and prenatals are packed with nutrients that help you thrive during this transitional period. 

It’s important to note that supplements work in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle. We know eating well can be tough when met with morning sickness and fatigue, but reaching for whole food options instead of relying on supplements alone will help to create a healthy environment for you and your baby. 

Working with a practitioner to create a custom blend during pregnancy can also be helpful. Generic prenatal vitamins don’t take into consideration morning sickness, lack of appetite and other dietary restrictions and changes that are unique to you. You may need an extra boost of these nutrients through supplements. 

Just like in other aspects of life, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Working closely with a healthcare practitioner and undergoing regular tests can help ensure that you’re not overconsuming certain nutrients, particularly vitamin A and iron. 

When should you start taking a prenatal? 

Technically, it’s never too soon. The first few months of pregnancy are when the baby’s development is at its most critical—the neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord develops within the first month, often before people even know they are pregnant. 

It’s recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you start trying, and ideally at least three months prior to conception in order to ensure the baby’s environment is at its healthiest.  

What vitamins and minerals should you look for in a prenatal? 

You’ll want something that covers all your bases, but some of the key nutrients include: 

  • Folate: This is crucial for helping to prevent neural tube defects in the baby’s brain and spine. It comes in a couple of different forms. One is Folic Acid which is the synthetic version. 5-Methylfolate is the active version, and more bioavailable—more on that later. 
  • Iron: Pregnant women need more iron to support the increased blood volume and to prevent anemia. If your iron is always particularly low, you may want to consult with a healthcare professional about taking a therapeutic dose. 
  • Calcium: Calcium is essential for the baby’s bone development. 
  • Vitamin D: This can help your body absorb calcium and is important for bone health. 
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are important for the baby’s brain and eye development. 
  • Iodine: Iodine is crucial for the baby’s brain development. 
  • Vitamin B12: This is important for the baby’s brain and nervous system development.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C can help with the absorption of iron and support the immune system. 
  • Vitamin A: Important for vision, immune function, and fetal growth and development.
  • Vitamin E: Acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells from damage.
  • Vitamin B6: Can help with morning sickness and metabolism.
  • Zinc: Essential for cell growth and immune function. 

Why should you choose 5-methylfolate over folic acid? 

It’s estimated that 60% of women carry the MTHFR gene, which makes it genetically challenging to convert folic acid into folate. We use methylated folate, so you and your baby still get the benefits of folate without the body needing to convert folic acid on its own. 

At what time of day should prenatal vitamins be taken? 

Time of day doesn’t matter so much, but it’s always good to create a schedule in order to get into a routine and stay consistent. Since most prenatal vitamins contain both water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients, it’s best taken with food in order to improve absorption—ideally, a high-fat meal. 

If prenatal supplements tend to make you nauseous, which is quite common, you can try taking it in the evening or before bed with a high-fat snack so it doesn’t disrupt your day-to-day schedule and activities. 

Other Pregnancy Considerations.

How do hydration needs change?

During pregnancy, hydration needs tend to increase significantly to support the growing baby and the physiological changes in your body. The blood volume in pregnant people increases by approximately 50%, necessitating additional fluids to maintain adequate circulation and nutrient transport. Proper hydration ensures there is sufficient amniotic fluid, helps to flush out waste, and can regulate body temperature. Additionally, staying well-hydrated can alleviate common pregnancy symptoms such as constipation, swelling, and morning sickness.

It is generally recommended to consume at least 10 cups (2.3 liters) of fluids per day, though individual needs may vary. This includes all fluids from beverages and foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables. Monitoring urine color can help gauge hydration levels, with light yellow indicating proper hydration. Adequate fluid intake is essential for maintaining maternal health and promoting optimal fetal development, so consulting with a healthcare provider for personalized advice is crucial.

What foods should you avoid when pregnant? 

You’ve probably already sworn off sushi for the next 9 months, but some of the other foods you should consider avoiding in order to reduce your risk of bacterial infections include: 

  • Unpasteurized Cheese
    The concern with unpasteurized cheeses during pregnancy is primarily due to the risk of listeria contamination, which can be harmful to the baby. It’s a misconception that all soft cheese is off the table, however, pasteurized soft cheeses are considered safe to consume during pregnancy because the pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria, including listeria.

    Hard cheeses, on the other hand, typically have a lower moisture content and a higher acidity level, which makes it less conducive for bacteria to grow. While it’s still recommended to consume pasteurized cheeses during pregnancy to minimize any potential risk, some women may feel comfortable consuming certain unpasteurized hard cheeses with the support and guidance of their healthcare practitioner.
  • Deli Meats / Hot Dogs
    Avoiding deli meats and hot dogs during pregnancy is recommended due to the risk of listeria. Deli meats and hot dogs are considered high-risk for listeria contamination because they are often consumed without further cooking. Listeria bacteria can survive and even grow in refrigerated foods like deli meats, especially if they are stored improperly or if the processing conditions are not adequately controlled.

    While heating deli meats and hot dogs until steaming hot can kill the listeria bacteria, many pregnant women prefer to avoid them altogether to minimize any potential risk.
  • Raw or Runny Eggs
    Raw or partially cooked eggs should generally be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of Salmonella contamination. While pregnant it may be best to avoid anything containing raw eggs like cookie dough, hollandaise sauce or fresh caesar dressing, and stick to eggs that have fully cooked, firm whites and yolks. 
  • High-Mercury Containing Fish
    Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm the developing nervous system of the fetus. Instead of tuna and swordfish, you can swap it out for salmon, tilapia, haddock and catfish. 
  • Raw Bean Sprouts
    Sprouts should be avoided because they are often consumed raw or lightly cooked and can harbor bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. If you’re craving them, consider cooking them thoroughly before adding them to dishes. This can help ensure that any harmful bacteria present on the sprouts are eliminated, making them safer to consume during pregnancy.
  • Caffeine
    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that moderate caffeine consumption—defined as 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) per day—is unlikely to have adverse effects. However, sensitivities to caffeine can vary, and some people may choose to limit or avoid caffeine altogether during pregnancy. 

What skincare should you avoid when pregnant? 

It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss skincare products and ingredients that are safe to use during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another. Some chemical sunscreens and preservatives, like phenoxyethanol, have raised concerns among pregnant women due to potential absorption through the skin. While more research is needed, it’s wise to discuss these concerns with your healthcare provider to do what’s best for you. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is a skincare ingredient commonly found in anti-aging products. High levels of vitamin A can be harmful to the developing fetus and may increase the risk of birth defects. Generally, many healthcare practitioners advise pregnant women to avoid using products containing retinol.

Everyone’s pregnancy is different, and what feels right and works for you, may not work for someone else. It’s important to work closely with a practitioner to determine what’s safe and comfortable for you.

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