You Need To Know About Supplements During Pregnancy: What’s Safe & What To Avoid

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Many vitamins and supplements on a pregnant hands

Staying healthy during pregnancy can be a challenge when facing never-ending nauseas and sheer exhaustion. Eating healthy and exercising are the last things on your mind, and the advice that you receive can be contradicting. Is it safe to take supplements during pregnancy, or should you stay clear?

We know that things such as alcohol and cigarettes are bad for you and your unborn baby. Many don’t realize that specific vitamins and minerals should be avoided during pregnancy as well.

Taking the right nutrients during every stage of pregnancy is essential for your baby’s growth and your health during pregnancy. Pregnancy causes a woman’s nutrient intake needs to increase, as well as her macronutrients needs, such as her proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. For example, pregnant women need to consume 500 milligrams of protein per body pound instead of 360 milligrams of protein for a non-pregnant woman.

Your vitamin and mineral needs increase even more during pregnancy! It can be hard to meet those needs when you’re struggling to eat regular food due to excessive nausea. Vitamins and minerals support maternal and fetal growth throughout your entire pregnancy, and they’re necessary for cell growth.

What Nutrients and Vitamins Needed During Pregnancy?

A balanced nutritional intake is the best way to make sure you’re receiving all of the needed vitamins and nutrients throughout your pregnancy. That might make you wonder what nutrients and vitamins are necessary during pregnancy. Let’s take a look at what your body needs during the following months:

Vitamin A
Helps bones and teeth grow
770 - 1,000 mcg/day
Vitamin D
Aids your body to use calcium and phosphorous, along with encouraging healthy teeth and bones
600 - 4.000 IU/day
Vitamin E
Uses red blood cells and muscles
Up to 1,000 mg/day
Vitamin C
Protects tissues from damage and helps your body absorb iron
Up to 2,000 mg/day
Thiamin
Increases energy levels and regulates the nervous system
1.4 mg/day
Riboflavin
Promotes good eyesight and healthy skin
1.4 mg/day
Niacin
Supports healthy skin and digestion
18 - 35 mg/day
Vitamin B12
Plays a part in DNA synthesis and prevents neural tube defects
2.6 mg/day
Folate / Folic Acid
Supports the growth of the placenta and prevents neural tube defects
400 - 800 mg/day
Calcium
Creates healthy bones and teeth, and prevents blood clots
1,000 mg/day
Iron
Promotes hemoglobin and prevents anemia
27 mg/day
Protein
Produces amino acids and repairs cells
71 g/day
Zinc
Produces insulin and enzymes
11 - 13 mg/day

When Should You Take Prenatal Supplementation?

Doctors encourage women who are trying to conceive to start taking prenatal vitamins before conception to ensure they have the proper vitamins in their body. The first few weeks of pregnancy are essential for fetal health and development. Taking prenatal vitamins, folic acid and other vital supplements can help to reduce the risk of congenital disabilities.

If you didn’t start taking prenatal vitamins before conception, begin as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant. Wait to take other supplements until you speak to your OB-GYN to ensure you need them and that they’re safe for you to take.

women are drinking and taking medicine
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Who Should Take Prenatal Vitamins and Supplements?

Every woman should take prenatal vitamins and supplements during pregnancy! Prenatal vitamins ensure that, even on bad days, your body and baby receive all the vital nutrients necessary for the proper body, brain, and bone growth. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend all pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin and a folic acid supplement.

Some situations increase the need for women to take vitamins and mineral supplements. These situations include

Nutrient Deficiencies

If you have a blood test taken, you might find out that you have a deficiency in a specific vitamin or mineral. You should focus on correcting those deficiencies because some will affect your baby. For example, a shortage of folate is linked to congenital disabilities.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum is even worse than any morning sickness you could imagine. It’s a pregnancy complication that leads to severe nausea and vomiting. Some women need to have IV fluids given frequently to decrease the risk of dehydration. HG can cause weight loss and nutrient deficiencies, so it’s particularly crucial for these pregnant women to try to take supplements and vitamins.

Dietary Restrictions

If you have food intolerances or allergies, taking supplements can ensure you still get the right amount of vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, you risk developing a micronutrient deficiency.

Smoking

We know that women need to avoid smoking during pregnancy, but quitting can be very difficult for some women. In these cases, as the woman works towards the goal of not smoking, she needs to take more vitamin C and folate.

Multiple Pregnancies

If you think you need a lot of vitamins and minerals for a single pregnancy, you can only imagine what you need for multiples! Women carrying more than one child need more micronutrients than women carrying a single baby. Taking supplements help to ensure optimal nutrition for both mother and her babies.

Genetic Mutations

Some mutations change how minerals react in your body. One example is the MTHFR gene. This particular gene coverts folate into a form that the body can use. If you have this genetic mutation, you need a specific kind of folate to avoid issues.

Some prenatal vitamins can cause nausea in an already nauseous pregnant woman. If that happens to you, talk to your health care provider.

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Web MD
Reviewwed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH

What Safe Supplements During Pregnancy?

Always speak to your doctor ahead of time before taking micronutrient and herbal supplements. You want to ensure you’re taking necessary and safe supplements in the correct amounts.

Prenatal Vitamins

Most women know that taking prenatal vitamins are recommended during pregnancy because they’re designed to meet their increased demand for nutrients. Prenatal vitamins should be taken before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Prenatal vitamins help reduce the risk of preterm labor and birth, as well as preeclampsia and congenital disabilities. Remember that prenatal vitamins shouldn’t replace a healthy diet. Instead, they’re designed to prevent nutritional gaps by giving you extra nutrients that are in high demand during pregnancy.

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Folate

Folate plays a vital role in red blood cell production and fetal growth and development. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that you might find in many supplements, and your body converts it into an active form of folate.

The recommended dosage for pregnant women is 600 mg/day of folate or folic acid to reduce risks of neural tube defects and congenital abnormalities. Examples of abnormalities include heart defects and a cleft palate.

Consuming the correct amount of folate just through your diet can be difficult. Most women don’t eat enough folate-rich foods, so supplements during pregnancy become necessary. All women of childbearing age are encouraged to consume at least 400 mg folate each day.

Iron

Everyone knows that iron is a necessary vitamin, and the need for it increases dramatically during pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume (up to 2x its original). Iron is responsible for the transportation of oxygen throughout your body, leading to the healthy growth and development of the fetus and placenta.

Around 18% of pregnant women experience iron deficiency, and anemia can have dangerous effects on their pregnancy. Chances of preterm delivery, maternal depression, and infant anemia increase if the mother is anemic.

The recommendation is for pregnant women to take 27 mg of iron each day, and most of the time, that is met through prenatal vitamins. If you’re anemic or have an iron deficiency, you might need higher doses of iron.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is necessary for bone health, proper immune system functions, and cell division. Having a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of a cesarean section, preeclampsia, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes.

The recommended daily vitamin D intake for pregnant women is 600 IU, but some do believe that these levels should be higher.

Magnesium

Most people actually have magnesium deficiency, but are unaware of it. Magnesium is needed for chemical reactions throughout your body, and it plays a role in your boosting your muscle, nervous, and immune functions. If you have a magnesium deficiency, it increases the risk of chronic hypertension and premature labor.

However, some evidence shows that taking magnesium supplements increase the risk of fetal growth restriction and preterm birth. So, be sure to speak to your doctor about the safety of this supplement and the appropriate amounts.

Calcium

Calcium is responsible for your baby’s bone and teeth development, along with the heart, muscles, and nerve growth. Most pregnant women need around 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. If you don’t get enough calcium throughout your pregnancy, your body will take from your bones to give to your baby, leading to future health problems for you.

You can get some of this calcium by eating food that contains calcium such as:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Orange juice with added calcium
aroma beverage with lemon and orange
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Ginger

Ginger is a popular herbal supplement for pregnant women because it is used to treat nausea caused by morning sickness. Ginger is safe and effective to treat pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. It’s worth a shot to see if it works for you because a majority of pregnant women experience nausea during pregnancy.

Vitamin B6

Evidence shows that taking vitamin B6 during pregnancy helps prevent nausea for many pregnant women. No evidence supports that taking vitamin B6 does any harm to your fetus, so it’s safe to take as needed.

If you want to take vitamin B6 to help with nausea, try taking 10-25 mg three times per day. Avoid taking more than 100 mg of B6 within 24 hours because it could cause nerve damage. 

You can also find this vitamin in a variety of foods such as fish, meat, poultry, starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. Some doctors believe that vitamin B6 also might play a role in the prevention of preeclampsia.

Fish Oil

Fish oil contains DHA and EPA, which are two essential fatty acids. These acids are necessary for fetal brain development. Doctors recommend that women take DHA and EPA supplements in pregnancy to boost infant brain development and to decrease maternal depression.

Maternal DHA levels are crucial for proper fetal development, and, in most cases, supplementing is considered safe. However, doctors have yet to say that taking fish oil in pregnancy is necessary.

Probiotics

You would want to have a healthy gut while pregnant and beyond, especially since antibiotics are frequently given during pregnancy. Probiotics are living microorganisms that are beneficial for digestive health.

Studies show that probiotics are safe during pregnancy and no harmful side effects have been identified. Taking probiotics can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, postpartum diabetes, and infant eczema.

Red Raspberry Leaf

Red raspberry leaf is regularly taken as a tea and is sometimes called third-trimester tea. Some researches show that red raspberry leaf can help strengthen contractions without increasing the pain levels and might shorten labor. It helps to tone and strengthen your uterus. Women all over the world agree that taking red raspberry leaf made their labors better.

What Supplements to Avoid During Pregnancy

While most supplements are safe during pregnancy, there are some that should be avoided. Here are a few you want to stay away from taking:

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a part in gene expression and immune system function. It’s essential for your health, but you shouldn’t take a vitamin E supplement. No studies support any benefits for mothers, and it can increase your risk of premature membrane ruptures.

Vitamin A

We know that vitamin A is vital for fetal vision development and immune function; an excess of vitamin A, though, is harmful because the body stores excess amounts in the liver. Consuming too much vitamin A can cause liver damage and congenital disabilities in babies. If you’re taking a prenatal vitamin and eating a proper diet, you must only consume appropriate amounts of vitamin A.

Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is a herbal supplement that is used to help control hot flashes and menstrual cramps. If you’re pregnant, it’s not safe to take black cohosh because it can cause uterine contractions, leading to preterm labor. Also, taking black cohosh might cause liver damage.

Goldenseal

Goldenseal is another herbal supplement that some people take to help treat respiratory infections and diarrhea, but little to no research has been done on its effects and safety. It contains a substance called berberine, and we know that berberine can cause jaundice issues in infants. Also, it can cause a condition called kernicterus, which is a type of brain damage that can be fatal for mothers and babies alike.

Dong Quai

Here is another herbal supplement that you need to avoid during pregnancy. Dong Quai root is popular in Chinese medicine for over 1,000 years that can be used to treat menstrual cramps and high blood pressure. The issue with Dong Quai is that it can cause uterine contractions, increasing the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor.

Yohimbe

Yohimbe is an herbal supplement that comes from the bark of a tree in Africa. It’s been used as a herbal remedy for a multitude of issues such as erectile dysfunction. Don’t take this during pregnancy because it’s associated with issues such as high blood pressure and seizures.

This list is far from exhaustive. Talking to your OBGYN or midwife can offer you more insight into what supplements are appropriate for you to take during pregnancy. A few other herbal supplements that you should avoid during pregnancy include:

  • Mugwort
  • Ephedra
  • Saw Palmetto
  • Tansy
  • Red Clover
  • Angelica
  • Yarrow
  • Wormwood
  • Blue Cohosh
  • Pennyroyal

Are Exercise Supplements Safe During Pregnancy?

Ensuring you are getting the proper nutrients while exercising during pregnancy is essential, as they help support your body, too. But if you are thinking about taking weight loss supplements, think again.

Weight loss supplements are during pregnancy.

You do need to gain weight during pregnancy, but your goal can be to maintain an appropriate weight by exercising and eating a healthy diet.

Can I Use Homeopathic Supplements During Pregnancy?

Herbal supplements are popular during pregnancy, in addition to micronutrients. However, most don’t inform their doctors that they’re taking these supplements. It’s important to speak to your doctor about this because some herbs are not considered safe during pregnancy at all. Some homeopathic supplements can be beneficial and help to reduce nausea or other undesired side effects of pregnancy, but be very cautious when choosing the one for you.

The baby’s feet are taken care of by the mother in the palm of her hand
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Final Thoughts on Supplements During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is hard on your body, whether you notice it or not. The baby takes what is needed for growth, but that can leave mom with a vitamin deficiency. You still need to maintain a healthy body, as nutritional deficiencies can cause a multitude of problems, even postpartum depression. Taking supplements during pregnancy, under the watchful eye of your health provider, can ensure a healthy mom and baby.

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