Food as opposed to supplementation is the best way to meet your nutritional needs during pregnancy. That said, most of us do not achieve the necessary levels of all micro nutrients. Taking an antenatal multi vitamin/mineral supplement is a good ‘insurance policy’ to make sure your nutritional needs are met. Whether you eat a well-balanced diet or not.
Not all supplements are uniform and equal, and many differ in quality. In addition to varying amounts of vitamins and minerals, the way a supplement is formulated can make a dramatic difference to its bioavailability (how well the nutrients can be absorbed and utilised). Cheaper, synthetic ‘isolated’ nutrient supplements do not provide the cofactors required for absorption. This may lead to toxicity or problems with ‘competitive absorption’ if taken in high quantities. A good quality ‘food state’ multivitamin provides nutrients in the form they would be provided in nature. This enhances our bodies recognition and, therefore, utility of these nutrients. Here is a quick guide to choosing the best quality supplements for pregnancy.
Avoid supplements with artificial colours/flavours
Some supplement companies add these to enhance the visual appeal and flavour, but in reality they cause unnecessary pressure on your liver
Avoid fillers and binders
Supplements usually contain more than just active ingredients (nutrients). This is especially true of tablets, which require the most processing to pack everything in and achieve a small ‘swallowable’ form. Cheaper supplements sometimes contain fillers and additives that may do more harm to our health than any nutritional value of a pill could supply. It is important to check the labels for its ‘excipients’ or ‘non-medical ingredients’. If there is a long list of ingredients you don’t recognise, do not purchase it.
Bioavailability is a term used by nutritionists to explain how well the vitamins and minerals you take are absorbed into your body. Nutrients come in different forms, some of which are more absorbable and useful to the body than others. Often the least bioavailable forms are the cheapest and, therefore, favoured by poor quality supplement companies. For example magnesium can be found as magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium succinate, and magnesium chelate. Each of these forms have the same integral flaw, they are never found this way in nature. Which brings into question how effectively our bodies can metabolise and utilise them. Since you would need a degree in nutrition to know all the nutrients most bioavailable forms, we would recommend consulting a Nutritional Therapist if you can, and buying your supplements from a reputable health food store like The Nutricentre or Planet Organic.
Supplements for pregnancy
Now that understand what to look for, we have cherry picked our favourite supplements for pregnancy below. Be sure to always check the label however, as many regular supplements are not suitable for consumption during pregnancy.
Multivitamin / mineral
Your nutritional needs differ during pregnancy when compared to other times in your life. Thus it is important to choose a multivitamin/mineral supplement that is specifically designed for your pregnant body. In addition, some multivitamins contain higher than safe levels of vitamin A, which, if consumed in large quantities, can be harmful for your baby.
NICE guidelines recommend all pregnant and breastfeeding women to take a vitamin D supplement. The recommended daily dose is 10 micrograms (0.01 mg). Since this level is often not present in a multivitamin, a separate supplement is required.
Folate or Folic Acid
Folate or Folic Acid should be taken as soon as you know you are pregnant (or earlier if you are trying for a baby) until you are 12 weeks. Preferably 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) a day. You can take it for the duration of your pregnancy and whilst you are breastfeeding. Food-stable Folate is preferred by some to synthetic Folic Acid, as Folate crosses the placenta more easily in its natural form. However, Folic Acid supplements do meet the UK guideline standard.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are made up of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These nutrients are vital for normal development of the brain and eyes, and are particularly important during your third trimester. If there is insufficient DHA in your blood to meet your baby’s requirements it will be extracted from your body’s richest store – your brain! As such, it is important to choose a high quality Omega 3 supplement that provides 200–400mg of DHA per daily dose.
Bodies of research indicate that taking probiotics while pregnant improves the strength of your baby’s immune system. It also increases their ability to tolerate lactose when they are born. Recent studies suggest babies born to mothers who took probiotics whilst pregnant are also at a lower risk of developing allergic conditions such as eczema. Probiotics can also help reduce pregnant and breastfeeding women’s susceptibility to colds and infections, and alleviate constipation. Choose a multi-strain probiotic that contains at least 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs).