Eating a wide-variety of nutrient-dense foods throughout pregnancy is the best way to ensure you’re providing the best for you and your growing baby. However, the reality is most of us have challenges that prevent us from eating optimally – from busy lifestyles to dealing with the nausea, fatigue and other challenges pregnancy can bring. Since pregnancy is a critical time of growth and development during which the mother’s nutrition can significantly influence the future health of her, her baby and future generations, entering into pregnancy rich in the critical nutrients is of utmost importance. Here are the 4 essential prenatal supplements every mama needs to consider from preconception through to the cessation of breastfeeding.
High-quality prenatal supplements help us to bridge the gap between dietary intake and the increased nutritional demands of both our rapidly changing pregnant body and developing baby. Studies unequivocally show that women who take prenatal vitamins have healthier pregnancies, healthier babies and reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, prenatal and postpartum depression (1).
- B Vitamins & Methylfolate – essential for growth, metabolism, energy, blood cell development, cognitive function and mood; B Vitamins can help prevent early pregnancy loss; B6 helps decrease nausea & vomiting in pregnancy; methylfolate (the active form of folic acid) & B12 help to protect against anemia, miscarriages, premature birth, autistic spectrum disorders and congenital malformations such as neural tube defects, cleft palates and cardiovascular abnormalities (13)
- Vitamin C – supports mom’s immune system and improves resistance against the common cold, supports our adrenals and stress response, and increases the absorption of iron (13); may prevent premature rupture of membranes (14)
- Calcium & Magnesium – critical for musculoskeletal development and supporting the nervous system; magnesium helps promote relaxation, reduces muscle cramping and decreases the risk for gestational diabetes along with vanadium and chromium (13)
- Iron – Adequate iron store throughout pregnancy ensures that you are able to meet the demand of nearly doubling your blood volume, help baby build her iron stores, better handle blood loss at birth, and help to manage common discomforts of pregnancy such as fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and restless legs (3).
- Zinc – Supports mom’s immune system throughout pregnancy, is a factor in promoting healthy growth and development of babe; may prevent low birth weight and congenital malformations (13)
I recommend all pregnant women supplement with additional Vitamin D on top of what is already in their prenatal vitamin as maternal Vitamin D deficiency is associated with premature labor, preterm births and low birth weight (2). Our primary source of Vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight, with minor amounts coming from dietary sources such as fatty fish, fish liver oils, grass-fed milk & butter, and egg yolks. Vitamin D plays an essential role in calcium absorption and bone formation, maintaining a strong immune system, supporting mood, regulating blood sugar, and may play a role in effective uterine function during labor (3). Optimal perinatal Vitamin D levels are associated with these benefits:
Baby: vital for development of baby’s bones, teeth, immune & respiratory systems; decreases the risk of childhood allergies, eczema and asthma (4,5,6)
Mom: decreased risk of respiratory tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and preeclampsia (2)
Probiotics are the health promoting bacteria that live in and on the surface of our bodies. We predominately hear of probiotics in relationship to our digestive health and immunity, but emerging research shows the role of probiotics has far-reaching benefits in maternal-newborn health as well. For example, the dendritic cells of the immune system are able to relocate bacteria from the mother’s digestive system into her breast milk so that it can colonize the baby’s gut! (7)
When your baby is growing in your uterus she is in a sterile environment and when she is born it is your microbiome that colonizes her body – so if you deliver vaginally it is your vaginal, skin and breast milk colonies that inoculate her body, and if you deliver via C-section it is the gloves, drapes and blankets of the operating room, as well as your skin and breast milk that colonize her body.
Since this whole cascade begins with the health of the mother’s microbiome, supplementing with the specific probiotic strains proven to positively influence both maternal and baby’s health is of paramount importance and confers these benefits:
Baby: help prevent the development of colic, allergies and eczema (8,9). Mom: decreased the risk of respiratory tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, Group B Strep colonization of the vagina, and mastitis; and may help prevent against gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm labor (7,10,11).
Essential fatty acids are crucial for the optimal growth, development & function of the brain and immune system. Essential fatty acids are found in high amounts in walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, avocados and cold-water fatty fish such as salmon and cod. Fish oil supplements provide a concentrated source of the omega 3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, and are great to include in your prenatal supplements.
Baby: DHA is a fundamental building block for baby’s brain & eyes; fish oil supplementation throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding can positively affect cognitive function, intelligence, IQ and visual acuity; decrease the risk of ADD/ADHD, eczema, allergies and asthma (12, 3).
Mom: EPA is essential for mood and cognitive function, thus supplementation reduces the risk of postpartum depression, poor concentration and memory; fish oil supplementation is also associated with reduced risks of preterm labor and preeclampsia (12)
If you are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant, book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor to ensure you are getting the most from your prenatal supplements.
1 Romm, A. 2016. NatMD Radio: The Top Daily Supplements for Women.
2 Hollis, B. & Wagner, C. Nutritional vitamin D status during pregnancy: reasons for concern. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2006; 174(9).
3 Romm, A. 2014. The Natural Pregnancy. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
4 Wagner, C. et al. Vitamin D and Its Role During Pregnancy in Attaining Optimal Health of Mother and Fetus. Nutrients 2012, 4(3), 208-230.
5 Weiss, S. & Litonjua, A. Maternal diet vs lack of exposure to sunlight as the cause of the epidemic of asthma, allergies and other autoimmune diseases. Thorax September 1, 2007 62:746-748
6 Carroll, K. et al. Relationship of maternal vitamin D level with maternal and infant respiratory disease. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 2011, 205(3),
7 Fernandez, L. et al. (2013) The Human Milk Microbiota: Origin and Potential Roles in Health and Disease. Pharmacological Research 69(1):1-10.
8 Elazab, N. et al. Probiotic Administration in Early Life, Atopy, and Asthma: A Meta-analysis of Clinical Trials. Pediatrics 2013, 132 (3).
9 Pelucchi, C. et al. Probiotics Supplementation During Pregnancy or Infancy for the Prevention of Atopic Dermatitis: A Meta-analysis. Epidemiology 2012, 23(3).
10 Lindsay, K. et al. Probiotics in pregnancy and maternal outcomes: a systematic review. Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 2013, 26 (8).
11 Zarate, G. et al. (2006). Influence of Probiotic Vaginal Lactobacilli on in vitro Adhesion of Urogenital Pathogens to Vaginal Epithelial Cells. Applied Microbiology
43 (2): 174-180.
12 Greenberg, J., Bell, S. & Van Ausdal, W. (Fall 2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Supplementation During Pregnancy. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 1 (4): 162-169.
13 NFH Prenatal SAP Product Monograph.