Supplements during pregnancy: Decoding the right one for you
Eating well during pregnancy is a given, as you eat to support yourself as well as your baby. What requires special focus is a balanced diet. Balanced meals are about incorporating foods from various food groups, so that you consume both macronutrients and micronutrients in sufficient quantities. A few additional nutrients might also be required during pregnancy, so that they can act as a reserve for tackling emergency situations. This is where nutritional supplements come into play.
Why are supplements important?
A supplement is typically composed of one or more natural ingredients that are intended to provide nutrients in addition to a regular diet. Supplements might be available in the form of oral tablets, liquids, or even injections in case of extreme deficiencies. As the name suggests, these must only supplement the diet and not replace the diet entirely.
In India, over-the-counter supplements such as multivitamins are pretty commonly consumed. However, pregnancy supplements are slightly different. Their composition is designed to specifically suit the needs of expectant women. In other words, they contain nutrients that are needed in larger quantities during the gestational period. Hence, it is important to adhere to only those pregnancy multivitamins or supplements that are prescribed by your doctor.
The need for supplements can be felt more in case of vegetarian or vegan mothers. As they don’t consume meat, poultry or eggs, they might be missing out on some vital nutrients. Also, you might need supplements if you are allergic to a certain food that is essential during pregnancy.
So, here is a list of some supplementary nutrients that can make your pregnancy a healthier one:
- Folic acid/Folate: This one is one of the most significant nutrients during the pre-pregnancy and pregnancy stages. Typically, 400-600 mcg of folic acid is prescribed per day during the pregnancy phase to prevent birth defects, especially brain and neural tube defects. Certain studies also show that this B-vitamin can prevent heart diseases. In case of severe deficiencies, your dietician/healthcare provider can prescribe up to 4000 mcg of folate. Folate levels are usually low in vegetarians. However, vegetarian sources such as cereals, bread, pasta, and even green vegetables can make up for it.
- Iron: This mineral is of tremendous significance during pregnancy as it helps in the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells. Since blood cells carry oxygen to your foetus, for respiration, your blood volume during pregnancy increases. This happens to ensure increased oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood. Hence, low iron can lead to anaemia, fatigue, increased vulnerability to infections, low birth weight, and even premature births.
- Iodine: Development of the baby’s nervous system relies heavily on iodine. Additionally, iodine helps produce thyroid hormones required by the mother’s body to use and store energy efficiently. Around 220 mcg of iodine is thus suggested during gestation, for consumption. Some pregnancy supplements do not contain iodine, and hence, food sources like Iodised salt, fish, milk, cheese, and fortified cereals should be included in your diet.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: Calcium is responsible for bone and teeth formation, along with a few other minerals such as phosphorus. It is also essential for the health and development of muscles and the nervous system. However, calcium alone cannot help, even if it is consumed in adequate quantities. You need vitamin D to ensure that calcium is properly absorbed and utilized by the body. While ragi, dairy products, orange juice, etc. are rich dietary sources of calcium, vitamin D is another pregnancy vitamin like folate. It can be obtained through exposure to sunlight, and consumption of dairy foods and fatty fishes. Usually, a 1000 mg calcium tablet is prescribed each day during pregnancy and is always accompanied by vitamin D as a supplement.
- Omega-3: This is an important form of fat needed for the baby’s brain and eye development. Not all supplements will contain omega-3, however, 200 mg of omega-3 (sometimes labelled as DHA) is recommended during pregnancy. You can consult your doctor for further guidance on this.
While these nutrients must be your focus during pregnancy, others are definitely not less important. To prevent any kind of deficiencies, defects or complications, balanced meals along with the right supplements is necessary. Also, mothers expecting more than one child will have to consume more nutrient-rich meals along with more dietary supplements.
Probiotic foods can also help during pregnancy as they consist of live bacteria that enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients in your gut. These foods can help your body utilise the nutrients you take in with more efficiency. Foods such as yoghurt and probiotic milk are hence good choices.
To conclude, always buy supplements after consulting your doctor, as no two women have the same health status. Also, take note of the nutrient composition on the supplement labels and keep an eye out for the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) mark. This mark will assure you of the quality of the supplement.