Growing a child inside of you is no small feat.
Your body stretches and changes, you go through hormonal changes, and cravings leave you wanting all sorts of snacks you'd never have considered before. But on top of that, your body is now responsible for directing all the nutrients and vitamins you're usually taking in for yourself towards a whole other person as well.
It's so important that during pregnancy, you're making sure you're giving your body every chance to keep growing that healthy little bub and setting it, and you, up for optimum wellbeing.
That's where prenatal vitamins come in. Not sure what these are? Let's dive in.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are supplements to ensure your body and baby are getting as many nutrients as they need to grow happily and healthily. While a healthy diet is important, it can't always provide everything you need in the correct doses.
In many respects, prenatal vitamins are not dissimilar to standard daily supplements in terms of ingredients, but they are amped up and designed to target the specific nutrient gaps that pop up for people who are pregnant.
A commonly consumed prenatal vitamin is folic acid — also known as folate (the natural form versus man-made) — which is a B vitamin that can help bolster your immune system and protect your baby against birth defects like spina bifida and other neural tube defects.
Supplements aren't the only way to receive this goodness, with folate found in a whole range of foods like dark leafy greens, certain fruits and cereals. But, consuming folate in the form of prenatal vitamins is more direct, measured and accessible through a handy capsule.
It's important to note that folic acid doesn't suit everyone though, with more than one in three people having difficulty using folic acid in their body due to a common genetic variant.
This is why Kin uses methylated folate in its Prenatal as this is a more bioavailable form (which means your body can easily absorb and use it). Iron is also commonly included in prenatal vitamins, alongside vitamin D, calcium and vitamin B12, which is particularly important for vegans or vegetarians.
What is the difference between prenatal vitamins and daily vitamins?
Not all vitamins are created equal and it's important to seek out prenatal supplements that cater to your nutritional needs at this extremely demanding time of life.
But, you might be wondering what the difference between prenatal vitamins and daily vitamins is.
While there are some overlapping ingredients in daily multivitamins and prenatal supplements, multivitamins often contain more general vitamins and minerals like vitamin C or zinc.
Prenatal vitamins, on the other hand, are specifically designed for pregnancy and include nutrients that cater to both the mother and the baby including folate.
Kin's Prenatal, for example, is packed full of vitamin B12, omega-3 and methylated folate (rather than folic acid) and is specially formulated to ensure that you're getting enough of the necessary nutrients in your body.
It also contains bioavailable iron, to help keep constipation at bay during pregnancy, and our Prenatal doesn't taste or smell like fish and won't add to any nausea you may already be experiencing.
Our Prenatal contains 12 key vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, including:
- Iron: To assist with development and weight, while also helping your red blood cells to send oxygen to your baby.
- Vitamin D3: To help the body absorb magnesium and calcium. It's particularly important during the second and third trimester to help your baby grow strong bones.
- Methylated folate: Used instead of folic acid, this vitamin is used to support healthy growth and neural tube development, assist with the development of your baby's nervous system.
- Iodine: An essential nutrient for thyroid health and the biosynthesis of thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulating your baby's growth, nervous system development and metabolism.
Why do pregnant women need prenatal vitamins and what happens if you don't take them?
Pregnancy is extremely demanding on the body and as such, your body needs a little help to keep up with what is required of it during this time, which is why prenatal vitamins are so important.
Research shows that it's common for nutritional deficiencies to worsen during pregnancy due to increased energy and nutritional demands. Experiencing malnutrition during pregnancy is linked to poor health outcomes for your baby down the line, including a greater risk of obesity or stunted linear growth.
Basically, the healthier you are, the better you're setting up your child to be healthy too — now and in the future.
Prenatal iron deficiency is particularly common, with anemia affecting around 25 per cent of pregnant women to varying degrees, and is more common again for Torres Strait Islander or Aboriginal women.
This is due, in part, to an increased need for iron while growing your baby as the recommended daily dose of iron jumps from 18mg per day to 27mg. Fortunately, iron supplements (whether separate or included in prenatal supplements) can often help, as even eating an iron-rich diet doesn't always get you over the line.
However, be sure to check in with your GP before you start iron taking supplements.
The current practice in Australia involves blood tests at certain stages of your pregnancy before you're advised to increase your intake of iron by taking prenatal vitamins.
It's also important to note that iron tablets don't work for all pregnant women (and constipation can be a common, but unpleasant side effect), so be sure to check in with your doctor if you're not experiencing any change.
When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?
For many people, getting pregnant doesn't happen overnight. As unsexy as it sounds, there's a whole lot of planning that comes into play and a range of factors that are going to influence you and your partner's success — including diet and nutrition.
This is why it's encouraged for women who are trying to conceive to start taking prenatal vitamins before falling pregnant. The common recommendation is that you start taking prenatal vitamins up to three months before trying to conceive to ensure your body has time to reach the desired nutritional status.
Basically, you want to build up your stores before you have to start sharing them with someone else, and it also allows you to get into good habits.
For even more motivation, it's in the first month of pregnancy that your body gets busy forming some really important organs like the heart and the neural tube, which then develop into the spinal cord and brain.
This is why there is such an emphasis on taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy, in order to support the development of important organs and help prevent birth defects.
Many women often don't realise they're pregnant before the four to eight-week mark, so preparing your body by taking prenatal vitamins will help set you up for a healthy pregnancy.
As with all things health-related, it's important to check in with a relevant medical professional first to make sure you're doing all the right things before trying to conceive, including following a healthy diet and consuming prenatal supplements.
You can continue to take prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy to ensure you're delivering as much goodness into your body as possible.
In fact, including prenatal vitamins into your daily diet has been shown to support strong maternal and child nutrition, have a range of health and well-being related benefits and is an important part of prenatal care.
Can you start taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy?
Sometimes life throws you some real curveballs — and getting pregnant unexpectedly or sooner than expected fits that bill.
However, just because it's advised you start taking prenatal vitamins before conception doesn't mean that the ship has sailed if you're reading this and already pregnant.
If you're still in the early stages of your pregnancy (first trimester) bringing folic acid, or methylated folate, into your daily diet is recommended.
Plus, your body is going to continue needing an increased level of iron and other vitamins and minerals throughout the full nine months that you're growing your baby, which prenatal vitamins can provide.
And, taking iodine supplements for the duration of your pregnancy (and even while breastfeeding) is encouraged.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, pregnant women should be having 220mg of iodine a day, and 270mg when breastfeeding.
This important mineral is one of the 12 essential ingredients included in Kin's Prenatal.
Are there side effects to prenatal vitamins?
In some cases, pregnant women can find their supplements are leaving them feeling nauseous or constipated — particularly when iron is included in the supplement formulation.
If you are experiencing this, drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fibre can prove helpful. Kin's Prenatal was formulated to prevent constipation and is super gentle on the stomach, so shouldn't cause nausea when consumed.
However, be sure to check in with your GP or midwife for advice if these side effects continue.