Can a healthy diet during pregnancy cancel out the need for prenatal vitamins?
Ever wondered if prenatal vitamins are even necessary for pregnant women already on a healthy, nutrient-dense diet?
“This is a touchy subject,” begins Randy Fink, MD, Director of the Center of Excellence for Obstetrics & Gynecology in Miami, FL.
“It is clear that good prenatal nutrition impacts health of both mother & child, but there are many challenges to studying the scientific specifics behind it.
“The CDC and the Institute of Medicine recommend prenatal vitamins ‘for pregnant women who do not consume an adequate diet.’”
Vitamin supplementation will benefit any person whose diet is poor, or who has a compromised ability to assimilate nutrients from food.
Dr. Fink says that the following categories of pregnant women are at high risk for nutrient deficiencies:
• Women pregnant with multiples
• Women breastfeeding
• Substance users
• Women with lactose intolerance
Dr. Fink adds, “You will never find an obstetrician who does not recommend prenatal vitamins for even their ‘normal’ patients.
“Women who take a prenatal vitamin are said to be at 10-30 percent lower risk for having a low birth weight baby, compared to those who take no prenatal, or those who take iron-folate combinations only. So supplementing with micronutrients is probably beneficial.”
This is interesting, because there’s a whole school of thought out there that insists that vitamin supplements — prenatal or not — are worthless because the vitamin is not in its natural state; that vitamins are beneficial only when ingested as part of a whole food item, where the vitamin is present with many other constituents of the food, acting in harmony with these constituents.
It seems very clear, however, that pregnant women at risk for under-nutrition should take prenatal vitamins. However, Dr. Fink explains:
“Iron (a mineral, not a vitamin) supplementation is necessary in almost every pregnancy, regardless of how healthy mom’s diet is. Iron is needed for the baby’s development and to help prevent mom’s anemia during pregnancy.
“Almost all women will become anemic during pregnancy, and most require iron, as diet alone is not sufficient to replace the iron stores used during pregnancy. Folic acid is needed for proper development of the brain and spinal cord.
“It is best supplemented before conception, and then through the first trimester.”
Another valuable supplement, says Dr. Fink, is omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil capsules.
Supplementing with fish oil means a pregnant women is less likely to have blood pressure problems, and may cut risk of postpartum depression.
Babies of women who supplemented with omega-3 acids during pregnancy score higher on tests of visual acuity and some brain function tests.
Conclusion: Prenatal vitamins, iron and fish oil are smart supplements for all pregnant women.
Creating an environment where the very best of medicine and gentle gynecology are practiced and where patients come first has always been Dr. Fink’s goal.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.