What Happens If You Don't Take Prenatal Vitamins While Pregnant?
OBGYNs recommend that women start taking prenatal vitamins two to three months before getting pregnant, then continue on them until they are done with breastfeeding.
According to an analysis of over 1,000 pregnant women, about 30% of pregnant women do not take prenatal vitamins, despite this recommendation. What happens if you don’t take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy?
One obvious consequence of not taking prenatal vitamins is the increased risk of being low on key prenatal vitamins and minerals. The same study found that women who took prenatal vitamins were much less likely to be low on nutrients like Vitamin A, folate and iron. The reduction in risk varied depending on the nutrient, but in general, prenatal vitamins appeared to cut the risk by about half.
That’s important, because prenatal vitamins are a key tool to support your reproductive health and prenatal health through nutrition.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are a multi-nutrient supplement designed to provide nutritional support to pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant. Prenatal vitamins contain vitamins and minerals that support the growth and development of babies, as well as the mom's health.
Prenatal vitamins, despite the “prenatal” label, can also be an important tool to make sure moms who breastfeed their babies get enough nutrients to support both of them.
What are prenatal vitamins used for?
Prenatal vitamins are used to support your overall health during pregnancy, as well as the normal development of the baby. Prenatal vitamins can be especially beneficial if you have trouble eating a balanced diet or have vitamin deficiencies like these very common ones.
Supporting fetal health
Your body needs nutrients to support the growth and development of your fetus. For example, many nutrients included in prenatal vitamins are there because they are essential for your baby’s brain health.
Here are a handful of key prenatal nutrients that support your growing baby:
Vitamin B9 or folate is essential for your reproductive health. This vitamin supports your body’s processes that make pregnancy possible, but you may be more familiar with its role in supporting the proper growth of the baby’s neural tube.
The neural tube is the start of what will eventually become the brain and spine of a baby. The neural tube develops early, between the 17th and 30th day of conception, so it’s essential to up your folate intake in the very early days of pregnancy.
Aside from prenatal vitamins, you can get folate from green, leafy vegetables, beans, peanuts, and whole grains.
Like folate, choline is essential for the baby’s brain development. As a building block for a neurotransmitter, it’s likely choline also supports the baby’s cognitive health even after birth.
Getting a full daily requirement of choline can be tough. Pregnant women should get 450 mg, while you need 550 mg when nursing. In order to meet these goals, you’d need to eat 4-5 eggs (one of the foods with the highest concentration of choline) a day, which may not be feasible. So, choosing a prenatal vitamin brand with a meaningful amount of choline is key.
In the early stages of pregnancy, your body needs more iodine because of the increase in thyroid hormone production, and the baby relies entirely on the thyroid hormones from the mom. A deficiency can lead to cognitive birth defects.
Some foods that contain iodine include seaweed, eggs, dairy, fish, and chicken.
Vitamin D helps support the growth and development of the skeletal system, tooth formation, and other normal growth and development of a fetus. Vitamin D also supports normal immune functions.
Foods containing vitamin D include tuna fish, orange juice with fortified Vitamin D, sardines, and beef liver. Your skin generates quite a significant portion of your Vitamin D needs from exposure to the sun for just a few minutes, especially in the summer.
Proper magnesium intake can support a fetus's healthy growth rate, support nerve and muscle function, and help regulate blood pressure.
Magnesium is found in many everyday foods like dairy products, bread, and cereals.
Zinc supports immune and metabolism functions. According to the CDC, Zinc is essential for children's proper growth and development even after birth.
Nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, and breakfast cereals are all sources of zinc.
Helping the mom thrive during pregnancy
Vitamins and minerals are fundamental for pregnant women to stay strong and healthy during pregnancy. Your body’s needs increase during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, in order to support you and the growing baby.
For example, your body needs more iron because the volume of blood increases to bring oxygen to the baby in the uterus. Prenatal vitamins can ensure you are getting enough iron.
When you take prenatal vitamins with meaningful amounts of nutrients, you can rest easier, knowing that your baby is getting the nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Making nutrition convenient and within reach
Ideally, eating a well-balanced diet should help you get all the vitamins and minerals needed to support and maintain your prenatal health. However, estimating your vitamin and mineral intake and making adjustments with diet alone can be challenging with work, family, fun and other life things on your plate.
Prenatal vitamins deliver the amount of vitamins and minerals listed on its label, so you don’t need to worry about eating just the right amount of the right foods each day. That can be a big relief when you are in a higher-stress state of a pregnancy.
What happens if you don’t take prenatal vitamins?
Did you know that over 90% of pregnant women are low on at least one key prenatal nutrients? How can an inadequate amount of these key nutrients affect you during your pregnancy?
It may affect your reproductive health
One important ingredient in prenatal vitamins for a developing baby is folate (more widely known as folic acid, the synthetic version of folate). Folate is a B vitamin that supports the growth of a baby’s neural tube in the first trimester, which ultimately becomes the brain and spine. Pregnant women need at least 400 mcg per day of folic acid.
However, folate doesn’t just support your growing baby - it also supports cell metabolism within your ovaries and helps keep harmful homocysteine levels low. So, not taking prenatal vitamins with folate prior to a pregnancy may impact your reproductive health.
Many other important vitamins and minerals have roles to play in your reproductive health, including Vitamin D, iron, iodine, and more.
You may not be able to thrive during pregnancy
Your body needs nutrients to maintain and support its natural functions, so it may not work at its best without the right daily amounts of nutrients. Your quality of life may be affected, as the gap widens between what you put into your body and what your - and your baby’s - body need.
Your meal planning will have to be more precise
When you are skipping prenatal vitamins, you need to plan your daily meals more carefully to ensure you are getting all the right nutrients to support your and your baby's health. A well-balanced diet includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, and a variety of proteins (lean meats, fish and legumes). For example, dietitians recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
A healthy diet is essential whether you take prenatal vitamins or not, but you may find that you need to be more disciplined without prenatal vitamins.
Planning nutritious meals to support your preconception and prenatal health can be time-consuming for those with a busy day-to-day schedule. While fertility-focused cookbooks like “It Starts with an Egg Fertility Cookbook” can make your meal planning easier, taking prenatal vitamins is one way to ease the burden.
The bottom line
Start taking prenatal vitamins early, and try to stick to your prenatal vitamins throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. If nausea during the first trimester is making it difficult to keep down prenatal vitamins, try the tips in the linked article. It can help your chances of conception, support you and your baby's health throughout pregnancy and lactation.
Please reach out if you have any questions about prenatal vitamins, or need help picking the best prenatal vitamins for your particular situation. We are with you, and happy to help.
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