What to look for in your prenatal supplement

Written by Meghan Donovan

A nourished mama is incredibly important during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum and a well-rounded diet is best supported with a prenatal supplement to meet the increased nutrient requirements for maternal energy and a rapidly developing foetus.

When planning for pregnancy, I recommend beginning a prenatal supplement 6-12 months prior to conceiving (where possible) for both prospective parents, and at a minimum 3 months prior. Of course surprises happen, you may not have been supplementing and that’s totally okay – it’s best to find one but don’t stress! I offer an early pregnancy supplement review for the early stages of pregnancy if you’re unsure which product to purchase or if you’re experiencing side effects from your current prenatal.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING THE QUALITY OF A SUPPLEMENT

  • Nutrients come in various forms and the form of the nutrient will determine how much of the compound your body actually absorbs for usage

  • Some forms of nutrients can actually exacerbate common pregnancy symptoms such as constipation & nausea

  • To meet increased demands, the dosage of each nutrient needs to be sufficient

  • It is beneficial to consult a practitioner to ensure the nutrients are in most appropriate form at the correct dosage for you 

A NOTE ON BIOAVAILABILITY

A substance/nutrient will only exert its effects if it is absorbed by the body. Bioavailability refers to the rate and the extent to which a nutrient becomes available to the target area after it has been administered.

Various factors can reduce or enhance the bioavailability of a nutrient/supplement:

  • Nutrient forms: some compounds will require an increased amount of reactions and catalysts to be activated to the be used by the body, these processes can be more work and reduce the intended outcome of the nutrient.

  • Nutrient pairing: there are nutrients that have affinity for each other and enhance the bioavailability of their compounds e.g. vitamin C and iron. While others compete for absorption, e.g. calcium and iron.

  • Supplement formulations: tablets, capsules and powders have varying rates of absorption and will be more or less tolerated depending on the individual

  • Gastrointestinal health: inflammation and increased permeability of the intestinal lining can reduce the absorption of nutrients, limited absorption will occur with impaired gut function

The bioavailability of a compound is especially important when assessing supplementation to support the healthy growth and development of a baby. Working with a practitioner can support you in sourcing activated forms, educate around nutrient pairing and assess gut health prior to supplementing to ensure proper absorption.  If you would like support on your fertility journey, book an appointment.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR PRENATAL SUPPLEMENT

Folate

Folate helps form the foetal neural tube that will eventually become the baby's brain and spinal cord which occurs in the first 4 -6 weeks of pregnancy. Folate supplementation is important in the prevention of neural tube defects.

Folate and folic acid are terms that have come to be used interchangeably however, folate in activated forms such as levomefolic acid, methylfolate, calcium folinate, folinic acid has greater bioavailability, enabling the body better absorption and increased speed of raising folate status.

Not everyone carries the gene required to break folic acid down into its activated form folate. I suggest finding a supplement that contains both folate and folic acid while working with a practitioner for specific advice on your needs.

Choline

Required for rapid cell division that occurs in the development of the baby’s brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Choline reduces the risk of neural tube defects and specifically supports normal development of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory and attention. 

Iodine

An essential mineral for thyroid function which is responsible for the growth and development of the human body. Thyroid hormone production increases by 50% in the early stages of pregnancy and meeting the increased iodine requirements is important in the development of baby’s rapid brain growth, physical growth, nervous system and cognition.

Selenium

Another essential mineral for thyroid function and a potent antioxidant. Selenium is important in developing immune function and reducing cellular stress. Adequate intake is associated with maternal blood pressure regulation, healthy foetal growth and reduced risk of postnatal depression.

Vitamin D

Sunshine is key! However, if fatigue and morning sickness have you stuck in bed then supplementing is recommended as Vitamin D is used for foetal bone development, maternal blood pressure regulation, prevention of miscarriage and postnatal depression.

Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in the construction of baby’s cells and DNA as well as forming the foundations for the immune system and reducing poor maternal birth outcomes. Ensuring a good quality form of zinc is important for bioavailability and avoiding digestive irritation.

Iron

Iron is required for the production of red blood cells that deliver oxygen to tissues throughout the body to provide energy. Red blood cell production increases during pregnancy, thus so does iron requirements. Iron provides oxygen supply to baby and in the 3rd trimester baby begins to build their own iron stores which will last for the first six months of life. If mama is deficient and baby cannot build enough stores, they too will become deficient.

Supplementation depends on iron requirements of the woman & may not be recommended during all stages of pregnancy. Some forms of iron can cause constipation and aggravate symptoms of morning sickness.

Calcium

Required for the production of bone, teeth, heart & muscles, nervous system function, most important during the third trimester when baby’s skeletal system is rapidly developing. Calcium also assists in the regulation of mums blood pressure.

Vitamin B12

Essential component of the developing brain, spinal cord and neural tube formation, adequate intake reduces the risk of neural tube defects. B12 assists in developing and maintaining a healthy nervous system and red blood cell production while also preventing anaemia in mum!

B vitamins

All the B’s! This group of vitamins have a broad range of roles including energy production, collagen production, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, DNA integrity, reduces morning sickness and elevated homocysteine – and much much more.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

Your prenatal sidekick as they’re often not found in the same product. Critical in the development of foetal brain, eyes, liver, nervous system & placenta growth. Essential fatty acid intake has shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth, promote healthy birth weight and reduce postnatal depression.

Wherever you are on your fertility journey, I would love to support you. In addition to my regular consultations, I offer a short, early pregnancy supplement review consultation. Click here to find out more.

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