It’s Not Just a Prenatal Vitamin

It’s Not Just a Prenatal Vitamin

By Cheryl Smitherman DNP, CNM
Women’s Wellness at Flower Mound

Most pregnant women or women considering pregnancy are aware of the importance of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy for fetal growth and development. However, few realize that a simple prenatal vitamin can have a significant impact on their own health before, during and after pregnancy.

Prenatal vitamins contain increased amounts of Calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Zinc, Copper and Omega-3 fatty acids which all aid in fetal development. They also contain the two key ingredients for pregnancy: folic acid and iron.

Prenatal vitamins usually contain more folic acid and iron than regular multivitamins. Folic acid is important for fetal development and can reduce the risk of maternal preeclampsia. Folic acid is recommended before and during pregnancy to significantly reduce the incidence of cleft lip and palate, certain heart defects, as well as spine and brain disorders such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Studies show that women who took folic acid supplements had a statistically significant reduction in mild and late onset preeclampsia compared to women who did not take the supplements. The recommended daily dose of folic acid before and during pregnancy is 400 micrograms.

During pregnancy, the demand for iron increases and is not usually adequate by diet alone which may lead to iron-deficiency anemia, especially in the second and third trimesters. Iron-deficiency anemia reduces the body’s ability to make a substance in red blood cells which carries oxygen to organs and tissues. This decreased circulation of red blood cells and oxygen leads to maternal symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia including fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, headache, poor concentration, leg cramps, restless legs, non-food cravings, and changes in skin and nails. It can also weaken the mother’s immune system, making her more susceptible to infection. Iron-deficiency anemia can also contribute to low birth weight, preterm labor and newborn anemia. A regular prenatal vitamin may be all that is necessary to prevent iron-deficiency anemia, but an additional iron supplement may be required in some cases. The recommended daily dose of iron is at least 27 milligrams of iron per day for women without anemia; however, the recommended daily dose for those with anemia is 60 milligrams or more.

Besides aiding the development of the fetus, iron supplementation to prevent iron-deficiency anemia is extremely important to the mother, not only to reduce symptoms during pregnancy, but to reduce them at delivery and during the postpartum period. Although most deliveries are uncomplicated, it is inevitable that some blood loss will occur at delivery. If a mother faithfully takes her prenatal vitamin, she will likely have adequate iron stores to prevent a large drop with delivery blood loss and, therefore, have few symptoms. Complications which lead to increased amounts of blood loss can be anticipated at times; however, occasionally a routine delivery has an unanticipated amount of blood loss. Poor compliance with prenatal vitamin consumption may not generate enough iron stores to compensate for routine blood loss at delivery, much less a large blood loss at delivery. Regardless of the amount of blood loss and although rare, severe anemia increases the risk of a blood transfusion and its associated risks. Iron-deficiency anemia is also associated with postpartum depression in some cases.

The simple act of taking a daily prenatal vitamin can be a significant risk-reduction strategy before, during and after pregnancy. One little supplement can be a powerful tool in the health of mothers and babies. Don’t underestimate its impact on a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

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