Bringing a little one into the world is one of the most rewarding yet difficult and stressful things a person can do. There is a lot to do to prepare for your baby's arrival, like purchasing a prenatal vitamin to promote your health and baby's development.
If you are trying to learn more about prenatal and postnatal vitamins, you may be surprised at the amount of information you have to sort through to separate the truth from the lies.
Thankfully for you, we created this guide on prenatal and postnatal vitamins to help you find the perfect product to support your pregnancy and postpartum journeys. We describe their roles, benefits, when and how to take them, and where to purchase vitamins of the highest quality.
Why take prenatal and postnatal supplements?
Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically to support the nutritional needs of pregnant women. Pregnancy causes many physical changes that increase your need for energy and nutrients. For example, your heart rate increases by up to 10 beats per minute, and your blood volume increases to help meet the fetus's needs (1). You are also creating a human who depends on you for their nutrition. Meeting your nutritional requirements ensures they have everything they need to grow and contributes to their healthy development.
Eating enough micronutrients can be challenging for a few reasons during pregnancy. First, symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and heartburn can lower appetite. Second, some nutrients recommended dietary allowances (RDA) are higher for pregnant individuals. For example, non-pregnant adults should consume 400 mcg/day of folate, while pregnant people should consume at least 600 mcg/day (2). Since lower appetite and higher needs can make it difficult to meet nutritional requirements, prenatal supplements help pregnant individuals meet all their needs.
On the other hand, postnatal supplements support the mother's health after she delivers her baby. Adequate postpartum nutrition is essential for healing and recovery from childbirth. If you are breastfeeding, appropriate food intake is even more crucial because you experience a significant increase in energy and nutrient needs during this period. For example, did you know nursing mothers need to consume about 500 extra daily calories to produce nutritious breast milk (3)? In short, postnatal supplements are a great solution to replenish your nutrient stores after delivery and meet nutrient needs for lactation.
What is the difference between a prenatal and postnatal supplement?
You should take prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy, whereas postnatal supplements are for the postpartum period. That being said, the type and the amount of nutrients you need during pregnancy are very similar to those you need in postpartum and to support lactation. Therefore, some vitamins work both as a prenatal and postnatal supplement.
Which nutrients should you look for in your prenatal and postnatal vitamins?
Choosing the right prenatal and postnatal supplement is not as easy as it seems. Unfortunately, not all vitamins are created equal, and some do not include all the essential ingredients needed to support pregnancy and lactation. Here are some of the vitamins and minerals you should look for when shopping for your prenatal and postnatal supplements:
Folate is a must-have ingredient in prenatal vitamins. It is a water-soluble B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges (4). As mentioned earlier, you must increase your folate intake significantly during pregnancy, from 400 to at least 600 mcg/day.
Adequate folate intake during preconception and early pregnancy can prevent up to 40-80% of neural tube defects (NTDs) (4). NTDs occur when the neural tube does not close properly during the early stages of fetal development. The two most common are spina bifida and anencephaly (5). The first happens when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly, while the second is a fatal condition occurring when the brain and/or the skull do not develop fully.
Taking a folate supplement during preconception and pregnancy decreases the risk of neural tube defects. Therefore, always look for folate on the ingredient list when shopping for a prenatal vitamin.
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, plays many roles in the body. For example, it promotes the production of the body's genetic material (DNA and RNA) and keep our nerve cells healthy (6). It also works with folate to produce red blood cells and help our body utilize iron better (6).
Low vitamin B12 levels during pregnancy are associated with many adverse conditions, including placental abruptions, stillbirths, and preterm delivery (4). Moreover, just like folate, B12 deficiency increases the risk of neural tube defects (4).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is not rare and affects approximately 25% of pregnancies worldwide (4). Therefore, it is wise to choose a prenatal vitamin with B12, especially considering its importance for healthy baby development and the prevention of complications.
Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3. We find the first one in plant-based food sources of vitamin D. The second one is the form found in animal sources, and we also produce it in our skin (2). Our bodies convert the vitamin D we consume or make in the skin into its active form, called dihydroxy vitamin D (2).
Vitamin D plays many roles in the body, but the main ones are bone, tooth, and cartilage formation, as well as blood calcium concentration regulation (2). During pregnancy, the growing fetus relies entirely on the mother to provide enough vitamin D for its development (4). If the mother fails to maintain adequate vitamin D levels, the risk for neonatal rickets, a bone disease, is higher (4). Moreover, the risk for some pregnancy-related complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth, increases with maternal vitamin D deficiency (4).
Some studies have found that preventing and treating vitamin D deficiency promotes bone health for the mother and the baby and supports the growth of the fetus (4). Studies looking at vitamin D supplementation specifically found that, compared to no intervention or placebo, it may (2):
- Reduce the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
- Reduce the risk of having a baby with low birth weight.
- Lower the risk of severe postpartum hemorrhage.
The current recommendation for pregnant women is to consume 400-600 IU of vitamin D daily (2). However, this number increases in the third trimester and during the months of low sunshine, at which times 1000 IU/day is more appropriate (2).
Iron deficiency affects over 30% of pregnant women worldwide (4). One of the reasons why this deficiency is so common is the increased demand. Indeed, when someone is pregnant, the iron demand goes from 18 to 27 mg/day to accommodate the increase in blood volume, compensate for iron losses and fulfill the baby's iron needs.
Iron deficiency and the consequent anemia are associated with a greater risk of (4):
- Preterm birth
- Babies born with low birth weight
- Maternal infection
- Abnormal psychomotor development of the infant
- Impaired infant cognitive function
Based on current studies, iron supplementation can prevent maternal iron deficiency and anemia and possibly the complications related to low iron and anemia (4). Therefore, any good prenatal vitamin should include iron. Postnatal supplements should also contain iron to compensate for the blood loss experienced during childbirth.
Who should take prenatal and postnatal vitamins?
Anyone who wants to conceive, is pregnant, just delivered, or is breastfeeding should take a prenatal and/or postnatal supplement. Most health professionals recommend the "3-month rule," meaning that you should start taking your prenatal supplement three months before you want to be pregnant. This ensures you have sufficient levels of every essential micronutrient by the time you conceive.
Of course, we do not always plan our babies. If you happen to be blessed with a surprise, simply start taking your prenatal supplement as soon as you learn you are pregnant.
Once you deliver, you can continue taking your prenatal supplement if it also acts as a postnatal vitamin. Continue taking your prenatal/postnatal supplement while you breastfeed. If you do not breastfeed, you can continue the prenatal until your baby reaches the age of six months and then switch to a regular multivitamin.
However, the recommendations regarding how long you should continue your prenatal/postnatal supplement can vary from person to person. Therefore, it is best to discuss your specific supplementation schedule with your doctor.
VitaminAlly -Your go-go prenatal and postnatal vitamin supplement
Creating life is no small feat, which is why VitaminAlly is here to be your partner in your motherhood journey. Our prenatal and postnatal supplement was created with your health and well-being in mind.
Our prenatal + postnatal liposomal vitamin contains 16 key nutrients for your health and baby's development, including folate, vitamin D, iron, iodine, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. All the nutrients in our formula are in their active and stable forms. Your body does not have to transform them, meaning they are more easily absorbed. Our liposomal technology also promotes better absorption because the vitamins and minerals are delivered directly inside your cells.