The importance of proper nutrition during pregnancy cannot be overstated. It is not only essential to a mother’s health, but it is also vital for the development and overall well being of her baby. Due to the increased energy requirements during the life stages of pregnancy and lactation, the daily requirements for many micronutrients are also higher in order to meet these physiological changes in pregnant women.
As such, a quality prenatal vitamin is always recommended for future moms to ensure they are supplementing with the essential nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy, as well as a healthy baby. Regardless of the prenatal you choose, be sure it is manufactured in a GMP-certified facility for quality assurance. So what prenatal vitamin ingredients should you be taking?
Prenatal Vitamin Ingredients
We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of recommended micronutrients based on The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine that can be used as a referencing tool when making a selection (15, 16):
- Vitamin A:
Vitamin A is involved in the regulation of gene expression, growth, and development, cellular production, vision, and immunity. Forms of Vitamin A, known as retinoids, are essential for embryonic and fetal development including the formation of the eyes, ears, limbs, and heart (12, 14).
- Vitamin B Complex:
The B-vitamins, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Biotin (B7), Pyridoxine (B6), Folate (B9) and Cobalamin (B12), are amongst some of the most important vitamins to supplement with during pregnancy. While all of the B-vitamins are essential, Folate sits at the top of the list for its imperative role in creating red blood cells, proteins and DNA. In addition to playing a vital role in the healthy development of the baby, folate has also shown in numerous studies to play a large role in the prevention of birth defects (9). Folate is preferable over folic acid, or the synthetic form of folate typically found in various fortified supplements and foods. Vitamin B deficiencies during pregnancy can cause fetal abnormalities and various side effects to the mother including hair loss, anemia, digestive problems, lower immune response, weakness, and fatigue.
- Vitamins C & E:
Vitamin C and Vitamin are two antioxidant vitamins that play a vital role in the production of collagen, a structural protein found in cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin. As antioxidants, they also support a healthy immune system and protect against oxidative damage (1).
- Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is recognized as its function in bone health, however, Vitamin D also plays a number of other roles in health and disease prevention. Vitamin D levels affect pregnant women’s blood pressure, mood and brain function, and immunity, and as such, avoiding deficiencies is imperative to the health of mom and baby (6, 18).
Calcium supplementation supports the development of the baby’s bones while simultaneously protecting the mother from bone loss while carrying the baby (5). Calcium has also been shown to support the functioning of the circulatory, nervous and muscular systems.
Iron requirements are significantly increased during pregnancy. While the mineral is needed for a variety of biological functions, the mineral is generally needed to support growth and development of the fetus and placenta during pregnancy, in addition to meeting the increased demand for red blood cells to transport oxygen. Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia during pregnancy (8), and as such, supplementing with iron during pregnancy is crucial.
Sufficient intake of iodine is required for maternal thyroid hormone production, and thyroid hormone is necessary for myelination of the central nervous system and healthy fetal brain development (10). Iodine deficiencies have been shown to lead to inadequate production of thyroid hormone during pregnancy which can lead to irreversible brain damage, miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects (11, 17).
- Magnesium, Sodium & Potassium:
Electrolytes are chemicals that support hydration within the body which is necessary for functions including transmissions of nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Magnesium, perhaps the most important electrolyte to supplement with during pregnancy, is required for healthy development and supports sufficient blood flow to the brain (3).
Zinc deficiencies are common in pregnant women due to rapid cell growth, and as such, proper supplementation is imperative. Zinc deficiencies during pregnancy have been associated with adverse outcomes including low birth weight, premature delivery and labor complications (13).
- Choline Bitartrate:
In small amounts, choline can be synthesized by the body, but dietary intake is needed to maintain sufficient health (4). Choline is vital for embryonic and fetal brain development, healthy liver function and placental function (19). During pregnancy and lactation, a mother naturally delivers large amounts of choline to the fetus across the placenta and to the baby through breast milk, which places a larger demand on internal stores. As such, supplementation is key to maintaining adequate choline levels during pregnancy and lactation.
Want to Know More?
- Pregnancy Nutrition
- Vitamin D and Pregnancy
- Natural Sources of Vitamin B6 During Pregnancy
- Eating Seafood During Pregnancy
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Andrian, UH, Mora, JR. & Iwata, M. Vitamin effects on the immune system. Nat Rev Immunol. 2010.
2. ABarker DJP. Mothers, Babies, and Health in Later Life. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 1998.
3. Belfort MA, Anthony J, Saade GR, Allen JC, Jr. A comparison of magnesium sulfate and nimodipine for the prevention of eclampsia. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348(4):304-311. (PubMed)
4. Blusztajn JK. Choline, a vital amine. Science. 1998; 281(5378):794-795. (PubMed)
5. Heringhausen, J & Montgomery, KS. Continuing Education Module—Maternal Calcium Intake and Metabolism during Pregnancy and Lactation. J Perinat Educ. 2005.
6. Holmes VA, Barnes MS, Alexander HD, McFaul P, Wallace JM. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency in pregnant women: a longitudinal study. Br J Nutr. 2009; 102(6):876-881. (PubMed)
7. Kanaka-Gantenbein C. Fetal origins of adult diabetes. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010; 1205:99-105. (PubMed)
8. Katz DL. Diet, pregnancy, and lactation. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008:299-309.
9. Folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009; 150 (9):626-631. (PubMed)
10. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Iodine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2001:258-289. (National Academy Press)
11. Pearce EN. Monitoring and effects of iodine deficiency in pregnancy: still an unsolved problem? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013; 67(5):481-484. (PubMed)
12. Semba RD. The impact of vitamin A on immunity and infection in developing countries. In: Bendich A, Decklebaum RJ, eds. Preventive nutrition: the comprehensive guide for health professionals. 2nd ed. Totowa: Humana Press Inc.; 2001:329-346.
13. Shah D, Sachdev HP. Zinc deficiency in pregnancy and fetal outcome. Nutr Rev. 2006; 64(1):15-30. (PubMed)
14. Solomons NW. Vitamin A and carotenoids. In: Bowman BA, Russell RM, eds. Present knowledge in nutrition. Washington, D.C.: ILSI Press; 2001:127-145.
15. Subcommittee on Interpretation and Uses of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes: Applications in Dietary Assessment. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2000. (The National Academies Press)
16. Subcommittee on Interpretation and Uses of Dietary Reference Intakes and the Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes: Applications in Dietary Planning. Washington, D.C.: The National Academy Press; 2003. (The National Academies Press)
17. Yu CK, Sykes L, Sethi M, Teoh TG, Robinson S. Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation during pregnancy. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2009; 70 (5):685-690. (PubMed)
18. Zeisel SH. Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. Int J Women’s Health. 2013; 5:193-199. (PubMed)
19. World Health Organization, UNICEF, ICCIDD. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination: a guide for program managers. 3rd ed.: World Health Organization, 2007.