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What are prenatal vitamins and why you need them

vitamins while pregnant

Are you pregnant or considering getting pregnant? Congratulations!

Have you had your first visit to the hospital yet? I bet you have. You were most likely recommended some prenatal vitamins to take and you have a bunch of questions. In this post we will address a few of them.

We will cover

  • What prenatal vitamins are
  • Why you need prenatal vitamins
  • Which ones do you need and what to avoid
  • What if you can’t take prenatal vitamins
  • Where you can get prenatal vitamins
  • Medication safety tips

Are you ready? Let’s dive in

It’s a general term for supplements (vitamins, minerals) that you take before and during pregnancy. Growing a little human in you not only drains your energy but your nutrient bank as well. Your needs are sure to increase.

You would say, in those days, our mothers didn’t have to take prenatal vitamins and the children turned out just fine so why should you? Normally a healthy and balanced diet should be able to meet up with the requirements needed for you and your baby.

There are however some situations where it is important you take prenatal vitamins

  • If you have poor nutrition habits
  • If you are on a special diet e.g. vegan. You may miss out on some nutrients
  • Nutrient deficiency usually revealed in a blood test
  • If you are pregnant with more than 1 baby
  • Poor lifestyle habits like smoking
  • Excess vomiting during pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidum) can make you lose a lot of nutrients
  • Some genetic mutations

1: Folic acid

This one is a must have. It is a song practically sung at every prenatal visit yet some miss out on it. It is so important; you even have to start taking it before you get pregnant (at least 3 months before) and as soon as you discover you are pregnant (for the 1st 12 weeks).

It helps prevent problems with the baby’s brain and spine. This is medically known as neural tube defects, you may hear a lot about spina bifida (and your midwife must have shown you horrid pictures by now).

The brain and spinal cord develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy, when most do not know they are pregnant yet, reason you are advised to take it before.

Your body needs 600mcg each day of folic acid. While it is difficult to get the amount of folic acid you need from diet, you can get it from eating green leafy veggies, citrus fruits like oranges, nuts, and beans.

You need at least 400mcg supplemented daily for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, if you had a child with a neural tube defect, you should take 4mg of folic acid daily (usually as a separate supplement)

2: Iron

In lay man terms, it is needed for ‘blood’. Your baby needs rich oxygen supply and you will most likely lose some blood in the delivery process. You need at least 27mg of iron daily. Can also be gotten from leafy veggies and lean meat.

3: Calcium and Vitamin D

They help promote the development of bones and teeth

Those are the main supplements to take as the rest can easily be gotten from a healthy diet. However, other important supplements include: Vitamin C, iodine, omega-3, choline, B vitamins, Magnesium, Zinc.

Unfortunately, not all supplements are good in pregnancy and natural doesn’t neccessarily mean safe.

In general, avoid taking more than the daily recommended dose. For example Vitamin A which helps with your baby’s visual development could be harmful to your baby if taken in excess. You may find it in your prenatal vitamins.

Use herbal supplements with caution. Always have your healthcare provider look at the content of your prenatal vitamins before taking.

There are 3 main reasons people in Cameroon do not take prenatal vitamins

1: Ignorance

They either do not know they have to take or why they have to take. This can be resolved by faithfully attending your prenatal visits especially the group ones with the midwives who take their time to explain these things.

Private follow up with a doctor is good as well but in our context, they may sometimes skip out on the explanations. Plus those midwives have a way of explaining that somewhat instills the fear in you and you see yourself rushing to buy. The pictures they show you ouch!

2: Money

Financial constraints make it difficult to get the vitamins. My advice is to get generic versions and also buy as multivitamins instead of buying each individually.

Coupled to this is the fact that one sees the importance so they prefer to invest more in other baby needs like outfits and not the medicines.

3: Side effects

I personally had a challenge with this. With excess vomiting, you are barely trying to get things down and some of these tablets cause nausea. Iron can also cause constipation (and black stool).

Here, you try to find the presentation of medication that works for you. They are available as syrups, tablets, capsules, chewables etc and also maximize on your diet.

For constipation, you should drink plenty fluids, increase your fibers, physical activity and if necessary, use a stool softener.

  • While you can find prenatal vitamins in stores and pharmacies, always buy from a credible source
  • If you do not know which one to buy, have your healthcare provider recommend one for you. Always show them which one you are taking
  • It is never a good idea to take more than the recommended dose of prenatal vitamins as excess vitamins could be detrimental to you and your baby.

The take home is that a healthy diet is most important and supplements are never a substitute for proper dieting. Hope this helped and you won’t skip out on your prenatal vitamins. Do you have more questions? Ask in the comment section.

Ekwoge Hilda

Dr. Ekwoge Hilda is a trained pharmacist from Cameroon and Co-founder of HILPharma. When she is not busy creating content, she slings pills to pay the bills.

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