Why and how To Supplement During Pregnancy
Not all pregnancy supplements are made the same. Womens’ Health & TCM expert Josie Bouchier talks about how to choose the best supplements for you and your growing baby
A pregnant woman’s health affects the health of her baby, even as the baby grows into an adult. In fact, a mother’s health affects the health of her grandchildren, if her baby is a girl since women are born with the same eggs or follicles they will have throughout their entire life. That is to say, my daughter essentially existed in my mom’s belly–in my ovary–when my mom was pregnant with me. Pretty cool!
What is ‘health’?
All health and disease starts in a cell. Cells make up tissues, which make up organs, which make up our whole bodies. If we keep our cells healthy, our cells can take good care of our bodies and create new life. Since our cells are literally made of what we feed them, proper nutrient intake is seldom more critical as it is during pregnancy.
While healthful eating is important for pregnant women, it’s nearly impossible to get optimal doses of life-sustaining vitamins and minerals from diet alone. For example, to get the recommended daily dose of 400 IU of Vitamin E from your diet, you’d have to eat 2.3 pounds of almonds, 28.8 pounds of spinach, or 1.7 pounds of safflower oil.
Even for the most health-conscious pregnant mama who is eating a varied diet of organic, whole foods, essential vitamins and minerals are stripped from our soil due to over-farming and poor agricultural practices over the past hundred years. When nutrients aren’t in the soil, they aren’t in our food.
For these reasons and more, proper supplementation is key to cellular health and development of a healthy baby.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that pregnant women have increased nutritional demands. Omega 3s, like those found in fish oil, are necessary for fetal brain development, while B Vitamins are vital for the baby’s organ development and energy metabolism.
A pregnant woman’s blood volume will increase by 50%, and Vitamins B6 and B12 support the additional red blood cell formation. Vitamin C makes collagen for tendons, cartilage, bone, and skin, while helping with iron absorption. Vitamin D forms healthy teeth and bones, and according to recent studies, is correlated to healthy birth weight.
Baby’s growth and development, immune system, energy, and mama’s postpartum recovery all depend on adequate levels of Vitamin A (preferably in the form of beta carotene). Folic acid guides proper neural tube development, while iron transports oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. Iodine supports maternal thyroid health and baby’s cognitive development. Calcium maintains mama’s bone density while building a new skeleton, teeth, and muscles. Magnesium aids in calcium absorption and fetal development, copper helps with blood cell production, and optimal levels of zinc are associated with healthy birth weight and proper fetal development.
In addition to the increased nutritional demands of pregnancy, there are many more compelling reasons to supplement properly. Early placenta detachment has been found to be associated with folic acid deficiency. Blood flow and clotting need to be balanced by calcium and magnesium in order to prevent or manage pregnancy-induced hypertension. Gestational diabetes is linked with Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and chromium deficiencies. Early miscarriages may be due, in part, to iodine deficiency, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (and 72% of all prenatal vitamins contain no iodine). In fact, most common pregnancy complications can be traced back to easily preventable vitamin deficiencies.
How to supplement during pregnancy
Just as you wouldn’t eat all your food for the day in one sitting, it doesn’t make sense to take a one-a-day vitamin. There are 100 trillion cells in your body. Every hour, 1 billion cells are renewing. If necessary micronutrients are not readily available, your cells will substitute. For example, if there is not enough calcium and magnesium to create a new cell, your body will draw calcium and magnesium from your bones, which can lead to loss of bone strength. For this reason, it’s essential to take your vitamins not only in the morning, but also in the evening. Especially since most of your body’s regeneration and renewal processes happen while you sleep.
Be sure to look for high quality supplements. What does high quality mean? To me, it means that supplements that are manufactured in an FDA registered facility, and adhere to pharmaceutical grade Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) instead of food grade GMPs. This helps to ensure that the supplements are scientifically tested for purity, potency, and safety. You also want to make sure that the supplements you take are tested by several third party studies and get high ratings. I personally recommend USANA Health Sciences to all my patients, friends, and family because they meet all of these guidelines.
My recommendations for prenatal supplementation include USANA Prenatal CellSentials, Biomega Fish Oil (guaranteed to be double-distilled and mercury free), Active Calcium, and Vitamin D. As always, check with your doctor before starting any new health regimen, including supplementation.
More on pregnancy health…
Prenatal vitamins are not created equally. Some are synthetic, some are food-based and some – possibly a little bit dangerous. For more information, see our article on How to choose the best prenatal vitamin.