Healthy Q & A: Supplements for Pregnancy

Q:  My husband and I are planning on starting to try for a baby.  I want to do everything right that I can, so I wanted to know what vitamins I should be taking before and during pregnancy.

A:  The first thing I’d recommend is folic acid.  It, more than anything other supplement, has been shown to help to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.  All women of childbearing age should take at least 400 mcg of the B vitamin, since most birth defects occur in the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy, often before many women know they’re pregnant.  Even if you’re not planning having a baby, it’s still important to take enough folic acid, since you never know.  A good multivitamin will contain 400 mcg of folic acid, so it’s just another reason why taking a multi every day is a good idea.

Once pregnant it’s important to switch to a true prenatal vitamin, and would be a good idea to switch now if you’re planning on getting pregnant.  Certain vitamins need to be in a lower dosage than what a person would normally take when pregnant.  Excess vitamin A and E for example, can be harmful to a developing fetus.

Another supplement which is crucial to a developing fetus is omega 3 fatty acids, either a fish based supplement or a vegetarian DHA supplement like Flora’s Vegetarian DHA.  Flax oil is a good source of omega 3 for vegetarians, but it does not contain DHA (one of the beneficial parts of omega 3 fatty acids) like omega 3 fish oil does.  DHA is extremely important for fetal eye and brain development.  DHA is also important during breastfeeding, so don’t stop taking it after you’ve had the baby.  Here’s a great article which reports on a variety of studies and benefits on DHA and pregnancy.

When I was pregnant, I also took probiotics, or “good bacteria”.  It was one of the only supplements for boosting the immune system that was safe during pregnancy (you need to be very careful with taking herbs and whatnot during pregnancy, since what is beneficial for a regular person can be harmful during pregnancy).   I had also read some studies which linked probiotics during pregnancy to a reduced risk of allergies and eczema in children.

Finally, I’d recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.  It’s a fantastic book for explaining hormone and fertility cycles in women.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  Another book I liked when I was pregnant was The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Romm.