Super Prenatal Supplements

Stacelynn Caughlan Cl.N, CH

Here are a few ‘Super Supplements’ to consider during your pregnancy. As always, check with your practitioner to fine-tune dosages.

PROBIOTICS

During pregnancy, a change in the pH of the vagina occurs, as does an increase in discharge. Many women become more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections. If a woman had experienced a yeast infection just prior to pregnancy, there is a good chance it will reoccur unless it had been properly addressed at the time. Not only would a yeast infection be an uncomfortable nuisance during pregnancy, there is also a risk of the baby becoming infected as it passes through the vaginal canal during birth. Babies may develop oral thrush, diaper rash, or colic as a result. Yeast infections can also interfere with the breastfeeding relationship as it can pass back and forth from the mother’s nipple to the child. Nipples can become very painful and nursing difficult.

The best defense against yeast – and any other vaginal infection – is to supplement with probiotics. Recent research has supported its use in protection against childhood allergic conditions such as eczema when used by a pregnant or lactating mother. Probiotics are safe and easy to take. They contribute to proper digestion, good immune health, and protection against infection.

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CALCIUM AND MAGNESIUM

The daily requirement for calcium increases to 1200 mg during pregnancy. Women who are avoiding dairy are often concerned about their calcium intake. It can sometimes be tricky getting enough calcium from the diet – especially when a woman’s appetite diminishes in the third trimester. To be sure that the daily requirement is met, a supplement may be recommended. The best calcium supplement to look for is one that is made from calcium citrate and equal or half the amount of magnesium.

Many women consider leg cramps to be a normal discomfort of pregnancy. I see it as the body’s way to ask for something it needs. Frequently leg cramps will abate when a woman starts taking a cal/mag supplement. These minerals that are involved in the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Low levels during pregnancy have also been linked to high blood pressure and the subsequent risk of pre-eclampsia. Some women have even reported that using a supplement throughout labour helped improve uterine contractions and increase their pain threshold.

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ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (EFAS)

Luckily there is a growing awareness for the importance of EFAs in fetal and child development. During pregnancy proper neural and retinal development of the fetus is dependent on the presence of EFAs. After birth the baby’s brain will continue to grow rapidly and a continued source, such as that found in breastmilk, is very important. Women must ensure that they ingest the appropriate oils during pregnancy and lactation, as it will directly influence the fatty acids that the baby receives. Scientists have even discovered that trans-fatty-acids, usually found in unhealthy hydrogenated oils, are passed directly through the placenta and the breast, and are potentially harmful to the baby.

EFAs can be found in fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Rich in health-giving omega-3 fatty acids, flax seed oil is a tasty addition to the diet. Supplements have entered the market specially formulated for the specific needs of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most of these blends include DHA and AA, two EFAs discovered to play a more significant role in fetal and child development that once thought.

Nature Made Prenatal is one developed for the needs of pregnant women.

FOLIC ACID

All women of childbearing age should ensure that they are getting at least .4 mg to 1 mg of folic acid daily. Most pregnancies are unplanned, and it is known that the presence of folic acid in the early days of development is vital to proper development of the neural tube. The neural tube is what will later become the spine, brain, and nervous system. Defects may not be exclusively linked to folic acid deficiencies. A deficiency in the other B vitamins may very well be pinpointed with further research, emphasizing the need to take the entire B complex when supplementing.

Many women assume that they can discontinue their folic acid supplements after the first trimester. But it plays a role in DNA synthesis and cell development, and should be considered important throughout the entire pregnancy. Some women are at greater risk of gum disease during pregnancy if their folic acid levels are low.

PROTEIN

To meet the increased caloric needs of pregnancy, many women will increase their intake of carbohydrate-rich foods (breads, pasta, etc.), but not protein. Low protein intake can contribute to reduced placental and fetal growth. A small placenta has been linked to an increased risk of premature delivery. Adequate dietary protein may also help prevent high blood pressure and is the “gold-standard” for many practitioners who work with high-risk pregnancies.

IRON

It was once thought that all women should supplement with large amounts of iron when pregnant, due to the natural increase in blood volume. Today, many practitioners will still emphasis the importance of iron, but avoid the high-dose supplements of the past. Low iron status during pregnancy increases the risks of a low-birth-weight baby and preterm delivery. After birth, a baby should have enough stored iron to last for about 6 months, at which time solid foods are often introduced. Babies born to anemic moms may have reduced iron stores and be more prone to anemia themselves. Anemic mothers are at greater risk of experiencing difficulties with low milk supply, plugged milk ducts, and yeast infections.

Many women, particularly vegetarian women, do not get adequate iron in their diets even before conceiving. It is a good idea to place an emphasis on iron-rich foods, consumed at the same time as a source of vitamin C which will in turn enhance absorption. A natural-source iron such as the liquid irons available in health-food stores are very well absorbed and do not contribute to constipation the way that many of the prescribed iron-salts do.

Stacelynn Caughlan is a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Herbalist who specializes in Prenatal and Pediatric Health.