Last week we discussed your perfect prenatal supplement plan for a happy, healthy baby. It’s also just as important to learn what supplements might be harmful for your baby bump, whether in deficiency or in excess.
Most women want to know which nutrients are the most important during pregnancy, whether taking supplements during breastfeeding is safe and what supplements could be dangerous to their unborn child. Here are the answers to these important questions:
Not enough folic acid — Study after study has shown that a deficiency of folic acid greatly increases the risk of neural tube defects and low birth weight infants. Folic acid requirements double during pregnancy and requirements are best met with 600 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid each day in supplement form. Foods that are high in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
Too much vitamin A — Doses of 10,000 IU per day or less appear to be safe, however, doses of 15,000 or more have been found to be associated with birth defects like cranial neural-crest tissue. A deficiency of vitamin A may be linked to preeclampsia, and premature babies deficient in vitamin A have been found to have increased risk for chronic lung disease. A dose of 6,000 IU to just under 10,000 IU is generally considered safe.
Not enough calcium — The requirements for calcium double in pregnancy. Low levels have been linked to preeclampsia, preterm deliveries and leg cramps during pregnancy. Pregnant women should take 1,200 mg per day in a citrate or malate form with vitamin D3 for improved absorption and assimilation into bones.
Not enough zinc — Zinc, required for proper fetal growth and immunity, often declines in pregnancy. Deficiencies of zinc have been associated with spontaneous abortion and premature delivery, fetal distress, labor complications and toxemia of pregnancy. Be sure to get at least 15 to 20 mg of zinc per day to prevent complications for both baby and mom. Take your zinc supplements (which will most likely be your prenatal multi) with food, as it can cause nausea on an empty stomach.
Not enough vitamin B6 — Low levels of B6 have been associated with morning sickness.
Not enough vitamin E and C — These antioxidant nutrients have been found useful in preventing preeclampsia.
Not enough magnesium — Magnesium deficiencies are associated with preeclampsia and premature births. Ensure you take supplements in the first trimester to positively affect your baby’s birth weight. Aim for 300 to 500 mg per day.
Not enough vitamin D — Vitamin D is essential for baby’s teeth and bone development. 2000 IU per day and a bit of sunshine is all you need.
Vitamin K concerns — Vitamin K is essential for the formation of thrombin — a chemical that is critical to blood clotting. Insufficient vitamin K can contribute to postpartum hemorrhaging. Vitamin K is also essential for healthy bones. Babies are given vitamin K shots in their foot when delivered in hospitals to prevent hemolytic disease. Some NDs recommend checking mom’s dietary levels of vitamin K and adding oral supplements in the last month of pregnancy if required, rather than giving the shot which has been found in some studies to be linked to childhood cancers. Dietary sources of vitamin K include dark leafy greens, chlorophyll drops, parsley and brown rice. Nettle tea or alfalfa tea will increase vitamin K levels as well if taken throughout pregnancy.
Should I take prenatal vitamins before conception and during breastfeeding?
Yes. Building up your levels of iron, folic acid, vitamin D, calcium and other nutrients essential to a healthy pregnancy is a great thing to do prior to conception. As soon as I know my patients are attempting to conceive, they are put on the pregnancy supplement plan, which we discussed last week. Your requirements also increase during breastfeeding, so it is best to keep taking the prenatal supplements until you are no longer breastfeeding. Aim to continue breastfeeding until your little one is at least six months old before introducing solid foods. And remember — don’t introduce foods that need chewing before your baby has teeth!
Pregnancy and birthing are processes that can be positively supported through rest, preventative nutrition, avoiding harmful substances like caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners as well as through using the right vitamins and supplements. Monitor your stress levels as well, because high levels of stress hormone in pregnancy have been linked to mood disorders in children later in life, like depression and anxiety.
Balance your days with low-impact exercise, fresh air and sunshine. Most of all — enjoy being beautiful and pregnant! The most important factor in pregnancy is your relationship with your body and your emotional connection to the child that you are carrying.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a Toronto-based naturalistic doctor. She is the founder of the Clear Medicine wellness boutique.