You know that making healthy choices when you’re expecting a baby will help you enjoy an easier pregnancy. But did you know that these choices will also impact your child’s health in the future? Consuming adequate amounts of essential nutrients, such as folate (folic acid), iron, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and vitamins C and D, supports a healthy pregnancy and builds the foundation of good health, providing lasting positive effects and giving your child the best possible start in life. While it’s best to obtain all nutrients through dietary sources, it can be difficult to obtain enough from food alone. For this reason, your practitioner may recommend that you take certain supplements for the duration of your pregnancy.
Top pregnancy supplements
In combination with eating an abundance of vegetables, fruits, and other nutrient-dense foods, you may need to supplement with additional nutrients during your pregnancy, such as folic acid, iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, and DHA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of reproductive age, regardless of whether they plan to become pregnant, take a supplement containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day. This is because the most critical stages of fetal development, particular brain and spinal cord development, occur in the first three to eight weeks of pregnancy. In some cases, a woman may not even know she is pregnant until this time has already passed, and the fetus may not receive the benefits of supplemental folic acid. (3) Since folic acid is vital for the proper development of the brain and spinal cord, a lack of folic acid vitamin has been directly linked to the occurrence of spina bifida, anencephaly, and other neural tube defects. (3)
Folic acid vs. folate
The terms folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably; however, while they are both forms of vitamin B9, folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin and folate is the naturally occurring form found in foods. Fortified foods and some supplements contain folic acid, whereas whole foods contain folate. (2) Up to 60% of women carry a mutation of the MTHFR gene, which makes it difficult for them to utilize folic acid. These women should make sure their prenatal supplement contains folate, the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, in order to maximize benefit from supplementing with this important nutrient. (4)
Iron is a mineral that is essential to growth and development. It helps the body produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen from the lungs to the entire body. It also assists in the production of myoglobin, which is responsible for delivering oxygen to muscle cells. (9) Iron is also used to build the placenta and the organs and muscles of the growing fetus. During pregnancy, a mother’s red blood cells are delivering oxygen and producing hormones for both herself and her baby. (12) Despite its many important functions, many people do not ingest enough iron-rich foods. Iron deficiency anemia (low or depleted iron stores) can cause many symptoms, including fatigue, reduced physical capacity, cognitive issues, and more. Furthermore, iron deficiency anemia can also cause marked blood loss after delivery. Speak to your care provider to find out if you would benefit from iron supplementation during pregnancy and beyond. (7)
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it isn’t stored in the body and should be consumed each day for optimal mother and fetal health. Vitamin C plays a role in tissue repair and healing as well as healthy development of bones and teeth. Vitamin C also improves the body’s ability to absorb iron. (1) In some studies, adequate intake of vitamin C has been linked to lower occurrence of preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and indications of kidney or liver damage that affects 3 to 7% of pregnancies after the 20th week. (11) While the recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 85 mg, most supplements contain much more. (5) Strong evidence suggests that 1000 mg of vitamin C per day is well tolerated and unlikely to cause side effects. (10)
Many people are deficient in vitamin D, and pregnant women are no exception. (8) 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day has been recommended to try and address these deficiencies. (8) Low levels of vitamin D can cause musculoskeletal complications (e.g., congenital rickets, fractures) and metabolic dysregulation in the fetus. Moreover, adverse outcomes of pregnancy such as pregnancy loss, preterm delivery, and gestational diabetes have recently been associated with inadequate vitamin D. (8)
DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, has numerous benefits and assists in the development of crucial body systems and functions. DHA is critical for healthy fetal development, maintaining a mother’s postnatal hormonal balance, and preventing preterm labor. (8) Maternal DHA levels may impact a baby’s development, including central nervous system, cognitive (mental), vision, and motor function development. Prenatal DHA availability, which is influenced by maternal intake during pregnancy, is linked to better performance in these three areas throughout life. (6)
The bottom line
Medical research has clearly established that a child’s health can be linked to the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy. However, not all nutritional supplements are created equal. Your healthcare provider can recommend the best pregnancy supplements for you.Advanced Nutrition. All supplier partnerships have been approved by doctors on our Integrative Medical Advisory team, and this content adheres to all guidelines outlined in our content philosophy. Fullscript has not been compensated financially for the publication of this article.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2021). Nutrition during pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=int
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, October 22). Key findings: Folic acid fortification continues to prevent neural. . . https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folicacid-prevents-ntds.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 19). Folic acid. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
- Colson, N. J., Naug, H. L., Nikbakht, E., Zhang, P., & McCormack, J. (2015). The impact of MTHFR 677 C/T genotypes on folate status markers: A meta-analysis of folic acid intervention studies. European Journal of Nutrition, 56(1), 247–260.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. (2020). Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US).
- Lauritzen, L., Brambilla, P., Mazzocchi, A., Harsløf, L., Ciappolino, V., & Agostoni, C. (2016). DHA effects in brain development and function. Nutrients, 8(1), 6.
- Milman, N. (2011). Postpartum anemia II: Prevention and treatment. Annals of Hematology, 91(2), 143–154.
- Mithal, A., & Kalra, S. (2014). Vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 18(5), 593–596.
- National Institutes of Health. (2021). Iron. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
- Rumbold, A., Ota, E., Nagata, C., Shahrook, S., & Crowther, C. A. (2015). Vitamin C supplementation in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Preeclampsia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000898.htm
- World Health Organization. (2018, September 13). Daily iron and folic acid supplementation during pregnancy. https://www.who.int/elena/titles/guidance_summaries/daily_iron_pregnancy/en/