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Do You Need Prenatal Supplements?
By Rosalind Haney, RN, ACN

In a perfect world your healthy and rested, chemical-free body would pull all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally from the wide variety of nutrient rich, pesticide free foods you eat.

In your world, the environment you are exposed to, the medications you have taken, the processed foods you resort to and the multiple roles you take on each day, make taking in and retaining the nutrients you need to support your body’s demands – very difficult. Add to this the hormone balance needed for a healthy conception and the vitamin and mineral demands of a very rapidly growing fetus, and you will see the great importance of needing to supplement your diet for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

In pregnancy, your body will protect itself first, because you must have the health and energy to care for your child for several years. Your child’s well being depends on this. Even a mild vitamin deficiency that may show merely as fatigue or dry skin could have grave consequences for your fertility or your unborn child. This is because nutrient deficiencies cause hormonal failure first, then deficiency diseases.

The most critical growth in your unborn child occurs when you are “barely late” with your period and over the following 4 weeks. In fact, most abnormalities and birth defects occur before you may know you are pregnant – and weeks before your first prenatal doctor visit, which is often scheduled late in your 10th to 12th week of pregnancy.

For instance, in the very earliest weeks of pregnancy, a deficiency of folic acid (a B vitamin) greatly increases the risk of neural-tube and other birth defects. There are many factors that deplete your body of folic acid, such as female hormones, over-the-counter meds, caffeine and chronic stress. Folic acid supplementation beginning three months before conception to help ensure the high fetal requirements for rapid cellular division are adequate has long been recommended. But current research has found that when folic acid is supplemented one year before conception, the risk of delivering prematurely was reduced between 50% to 70%. This is a very significant finding for your future family given the risks to a pre-term baby such as cerebral palsy, mental disability, vision impairment; and chronic diseases in later life such as diabetes and heart disease.

Early supplementation is especially critical for women on birth control pills. These synthetic hormones deplete your body of folic acid and other B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and tyrosine -- the very nutrients needed to support a healthy fertility and critical fetal development. It is advised that all women on birth control pills simultaneously take a multi-vitamin mineral tablet along with additional folic acid or B complex.

I must emphasize that supplements do not replace your body’s need for a variety of whole, nutrient rich foods, especially those rich in the vitamins and minerals critical to fertility and a healthy pregnancy. This is your first priority.

Next, you would add high quality supplements that are formulated on the most current evidence-based research. All supplements are absolutely not created equal. The FDA focuses on product safety, not effectiveness. Supplements should be tested by an independent lab, be free of toxins and microbes, authentic to the label claim, and in a highly absorbable form. Confirmation of this testing, an expiration date and a customer service contact number should be noted on the bottle.

Ideally, you would begin a prenatal supplement 3-6 months before you plan to become pregnant. Having these critical nutrient stores before you become pregnant will protect the developmental health of your child should nausea and vomiting or a stomach virus interfere with your ability to take supplements (and adequate food) in these early, critical weeks.

The health of your partner’s sperm is also critical to the health of your child. There are food sources, supplements and lifestyle considerations that can improve sperm numbers and motility, as well as reduce the genetic mutation risk of aging sperm.

Please contact Rosalind for a personalized evaluation of your supplement needs for fertility, pregnancy or postpartum recovery.

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