Yes, the shock, the horror! All women are admonished to take prenatal vitamins as soon as they get pregnant. Ideally, as soon as they even start trying to conceive. But I don’t. I did, the first time, and most of the second, too. But I’m not this time.
This is not an accident. I have not “forgotten” to take them because I am so busy. I have deliberately chosen not to take them. And you know what? Maybe others don’t need them, either.
The reason for taking prenatal vitamins is that our diets are not quite adequate for the nutrition that we need during pregnancy. And honestly, when I say not quite (and I’m talking about the way the ‘typical American’ eats), I mean, not at all. This is compounded by the fact that many women suffer from morning sickness and can barely eat anything during the early months.
It’s important to keep this in mind when making a choice about whether or not to take prenatal vitamins, because various vitamin deficiencies have been shown to increase birth defects. A lack of B12 was recently linked to excessive crying in newborns (presumably because their neurological system is immature). Vitamin A deficiency can cause defects in the heart, lungs, and cleft lip/palate. A lack of folic acid (B4) can cause spina bifida. Vitamin deficiency is definitely not something you want to mess around with during pregnancy.
Knowing all of this, why don’t I take a prenatal vitamin?
Most prenatal vitamins are synthetic. That is, they are created from synthetic, lab-made versions of the vitamins and minerals. Try to burn one and it might melt into a black, sticky pile (a friend tried it once). These synthetic vitamins are not well absorbed by the body, so very little is actually useful to you. Most of it will be excreted. Which, honestly, just makes for very expensive urine, and that’s not what you’re going for…right?
Certain vitamins — like iron, in the form of ferrous sulfate — can be very hard on pregnant women. It can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. (I experienced some of these while taking it when I wasn’t even pregnant!) New studies show extra iron is of limited value unless you’re actually anemic anyway, but it’s not uncommon to become anemic during the second and third trimesters.
There are natural prenatal vitamins out there, but I don’t fully trust these. I think a lot of them are not really as natural as they claim to be, and there’s no guarantee that they’re all safe. (Despite being predisposed towards the “natural” side of things, I do not trust all things natural…I research carefully.)
Instead, I focus on a “whole foods” diet. I don’t eat processed foods. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (organic where possible), pastured eggs and meats, whole milk, etc. If the foods I eat are more “nutrient dense” (which, let’s face it…fresh fruits and vegetables are compared to most processed foods, we all know that), then I am less likely to be deficient in anything.
I also take a fermented cod liver oil, which is not a prenatal supplement, but something I alway take. It has vitamins A, D, EPA, DHA, and other nutrients in it (it’s a minor source of iron).
There are different pregnancy tea blends that are available (some commercially, some you can mix yourself) that contain a lot of extra nutrients, too. There are other “natural” supplements — like spirulina, which contains a very absorbable form of iron — that you can take specifically, too, if you need to. Consult a midwife or herbalist for your particular recommendations.
Since I focus on getting my nutrition from foods, and from (occasional) natural supplements, I don’t feel the need to take a standard, synthetic prenatal vitamin.
If you are sensitive to prenatal vitamins, or if they make you sick, you may choose to discuss this approach with your healthcare provider. It is important to do your own research, but not to start or change anything — especially during pregnancy — without consulting with a trusted doctor or midwife.
Do you take a prenatal vitamin? Why or why not?
Top image by colindunn