Healthy, Natural Pregnancy: Prenatal Vitamins
from Keeper of the Home
About a week before delivering my first child, I had a sudden panic attack. What if there was something wrong with her? What if she hadn’t developed properly because of that one month when I didn’t take any prenatal vitamins, or because I enjoyed a few ice creams during the hot, Japanese summer afternoons? Did I eat enough green and orange veggies? Did I get all my protein? Had I always remembered to drink my 8-10 glasses of water a day? Thankfully, the big day came, and she was not only beautiful, but just perfect and incredibly healthy. Phew!
Although I am a big proponent of health and good nutrition and I believe that a healthier mom and diet makes for a much healthier baby, it may surprise you to know that I actually don’t take a typical prenatal supplement. I do, however, pay even closer attention to my diet than usual, and focus on supplementing my whole foods diet with a few specifics that I think are especially important.
Quite a while back, I wrote a series called “Isn’t Good Food Good Enough?” and explored the idea of whether supplements are even necessary, when eating an excellent diet. Overall, I don’t believe that many should be necessary if you are eating optimally, although I do believe they are especially helpful for overcoming specific ailments or issues, and also for seasons of life (such as pregnancy and nursing) that require significantly more from our bodies.
I personally choose to opt out of a standard prenatal vitamin for the simple reason that the ones on the cheaper side are full of synthetic vitamins and minerals (not taken from whole food sources), often have undesirables in them (dyes, preservatives, corn or soy products, etc.) and are not well-absorbed by most bodies in general. The ones that I believe are high quality (made entirely from whole food sources, at lower temperatures, in a digestible format, with pure ingredients) are also very high cost.
I prefer instead to spend my money on excellent quality foods, also including superfoods (raw colostrum, spirulina and other greens, butter oil, etc.) whenever I can, and then purchase quality supplements that provide me with specific nutrients that I or my midwife or naturopath think that I specifically need at that time.
With that in mind, and reminding you that I am not a doctor, midwife or certified nutritionist or naturopath (ie. I’m not qualified to give you medical advice), I’ll just let you know what works for me during pregnancy.
Cod liver oil This is a regular supplement for me, pregnant or not, but I feel it’s especially important during pregnancy. It provides me with an excellent source of essential fatty acids (omega 3s, in particular DHA and EPA, which we know to be crucial for good health and development of children, especially brain development), as well as Vitamin D (difficult to get enough of in the winter months) and Vitamin A.
Note that the Vitamin A is NOT synthetic, and there is no associated risk of birth defects with naturally occurring, fat-soluble Vitamin A. Read this article to understand it’s importance and safety during pregnancy. As well, true Vitamin A is different from carotene. In optimal conditions, carotene (such as beta-carotene, found in orange colored veggies) can be converted to Vitamin A in the upper intestinal tract, however, most of us do not have bodies in optimal conditions, nor do we eat enough fruits and vegetables to ensure a high enough conversion rate and therefore adequate Vitamin A. If you’re really interested, you can check out this looong (but helpful) article on Vitamin A.
I usually use Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, because it is very affordable and I notice a real difference when I take it. I am currently trying out Cod Liver Oil softgels, but am so far unconvinced. Personally, I feel that the liquid is more effective, or else I need to go well above the recommend serving size of the softgels.
Floradix Liquid Iron
This is one of my all-time favorite supplements, simply because it is easy to take and it really, truly works! The problem with most iron supplements is usually three-fold:
1. They cause nausea
2. They cause constipation
3. The iron isn’t well absorbed, so the nausea and constipation are a waste
Floradix iron Not so with Floradix Liquid Iron! It has never once made me either nauseas or constipated (gosh, that’s just such an unpleasant word, isn’t it?). Even better, I have always felt a difference in my energy level within days of starting to take it. Quite often, one bottle is enough to bring me back from borderline anemia, provided I maintain the iron intake in my diet afterwords.
Although I don’t take this throughout my entire pregnancy (as it is fairly expensive), I do use at least a couple of bottles over the course of each pregnancy, and then take one after the birth as well, to help with my recovery and replenish my iron stores once again.
My midwife is also not big on prescribing many supplements, but her main concern is adequate B vitamins during first trimester. Not only are B vitamins crucial for babies early development (think folic acid, among others), but getting enough B6 and B12 also helps to reduce nausea and fatigue, so it’s important for mamas, too.
This pregnancy, I was thrilled to find a liquid B vitamin, rather than try to choke down the pills which make me gag during morning sickness. Problem was, within a week of the nausea hitting, I knew that I was going to struggle with it’s strong cherry flavor. Ugh. I did my very best, but next time I will try something different.
Regardless of the form that you prefer to take it in, this is a very important supplement for when you’re trying to conceive and throughout the entirety of 1st trimester. Feel free to continue taking it afterwords, though it may not be necessary if you eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, eggs, raw milk products, fish, butter, green leafies and legumes, which are all excellent sources of B vitamins.
This is one that is important on a number of levels. First of all, a growing baby needs much calcium to develop strong bones as well as healthy hearth, nerves and muscles. Secondly, if this calcium is not available through mom’s diet, it will be leached from her bones in order to make sure baby isn’t severely lacking in it- yikes! This means we need to be on guard both for our babies, and for ourselves, to prevent weak bones and osteoporosis down the road.
As well, a lack of calcium and magnesium can lead to some discomforts and difficulties for mama, such as painful leg cramps, sore muscles in general, and insomnia. Magnesium also plays a role in developing strong bones and teeth, as well as helping to regulate blood-sugar levels. It may also help to prevent pre-term labor because of it’s ability to help relax muscles, and research suggests that low levels may be associated with early contractions.
Personally, I prefer a liquid source. If you’d prefer a pill, ask a reputable health food store for their recommendation. Calcium is best taken in the evening, before bed, as this is when it will be most readily absorbed, and will also help to calm and prepare your body for a restful sleep.
If you’re really keen on taking a prenatal vitamin and looking for a recommendation, the one that are taken from whole foods and botanical sources, are more digestible and absorbable than most, and do not contain any of the usual fillers, preservatives, coloring, etc.
There are some wonderful options available to us, for those times when we need the additional support of a supplement, and I’m thankful for that! In general, though, I would suggest making a nourishing, whole foods diet the focus of your efforts and money, as this is where truly optimal nutrition will come from!