What Happens If You Don’t Take Prenatal Vitamins?
Pregnancy is a life-changing event, so naturally, you have to adapt your day-to-day habits too.
Raw fish in sushi is a no, no. Enjoy eating brie, camembert, or goat’s cheese? Think again!
Not only do you potentially have to cut things out of your diet, but it’s also important to add things into it, too - such as specific supplements.
Prenatal vitamins can be integral to ensuring both you and your baby are healthy and helping your baby develop in the way that it should. Therefore, prenatal vitamins should be one of the first things you consider, even when you’re just thinking about becoming pregnant.
In this article, we’ll explore why prenatal vitamins are essential, which ones you should consider taking and what happens if you choose not to take prenatal vitamins.
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What are prenatal vitamins?
It’s essential that your body gets an ample amount of specific vitamins and minerals, even more so when you become pregnant or are planning to.
A prenatal vitamin’s main aim is to ensure your baby is developing as they should, and both you and the baby are healthy.
There are a wide range of supplements available, but three of the most important for pregnant women to take are:
Folate (vitamin B-9)
Folate helps the body create healthy red blood cells. A deficiency in folate means that red blood cells develop unusually large and don’t work as they should. As a result, these abnormal blood cells can harm the body.
Arguably one of the most important prenatal vitamins to take, folate should be taken as soon as you begin trying for a baby (if this is the case), or as soon as possible when you become pregnant.
Folate helps the baby’s spine develop and can prevent neural tube and brain defects, including spina bifida.
Research suggests that the recommended amount of folate during pregnancy can reduce the potential development of neural tube defects by up to 70%.
Food rich in folate include:
- Uncooked leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, peas)
It’s difficult to know whether you are getting the suggested amount of folate from diet alone, so a supplement is strongly recommended.
We naturally absorb vitamin D through sunlight, so during the winter months, it’s unlikely we get the daily amount we need - around 10mcg.
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Expectant mothers need to get an adequate amount of vitamin D throughout pregnancy to develop a baby’s bones. A deficiency could lead to the baby growing soft bones as a child, otherwise known as rickets.
The impact of rickets is severe and can result in:
- Stunted growth
- Painful bones
- Deformities in both skeleton and teeth
Winter months could look anything like from September to March, so it’s especially important to take a supplement during this time to ensure your body is getting the right amount of vitamin D.
We often think of absorbing vitamin D from the sun, but it’s also available in the following foods:
- Oily fish
- Red meat
Like vitamin D, calcium helps promote the growth of bones and teeth in your baby.
One study suggests that calcium can also help prevent pre‐eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure in pregnant women and pregnancy loss.
The fetus absorbs more and more calcium as the pregnancy goes on, so it’s vital pregnant mothers increase their daily calcium intake to around 600mg per day to keep up with this demand.
Many foods are a good source of calcium; however, some calcium products, including unpasteurized milk and cheeses, are unsafe for pregnant women to consume.
Some foods high in calcium include:
- Green vegetables
While these are the three most recommended supplements to take throughout pregnancy, other vitamins and mineral supplements can contribute to a healthy pregnancy, including iron and vitamin C.
What happens if you don’t take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Institute of Medicine, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended pregnant women to take prenatal vitamins since 1991.
Prenatal vitamins play an important role in ensuring a pregnancy is as healthy as possible and reduces possible complications.
These supplements help fetal development and prevent different issues your baby could otherwise be at risk of developing, including birth defects.
By not taking prenatal vitamins, you could be putting both your and your baby’s health at risk during pregnancy.
If you have any concerns, it’s best to speak with a medical healthcare professional. They can recommend what prenatal vitamins to take as well as how much to take.
It’s important to remember that prenatal vitamins go hand in hand with a healthy diet, instead of replacing one.
When should women start taking prenatal vitamins?
When it comes to prenatal vitamins, the general consensus is the earlier you take them, the better.
If you’re planning for a baby, it’s best to start taking them before you’ve even conceived by up to three months. But of course, this isn’t always possible. If this is the case, start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you become aware you are pregnant.
Do prenatal vitamins have side effects?
Prenatal vitamins are considered safe and side effects are typically mild, which can include:
- Change in urine color
Occasionally, prenatal vitamins can cause nausea, especially if you’re already experiencing morning sickness.
In this case, it’s best to speak with a medical healthcare professional who will advise you on how to go forward, which may mean prescribing anti-nausea medication.
A healthy diet is essential for your body to get the nutrients it needs, whether you’re a pregnant woman or not. However, the recommended daily amount isn’t always attainable through diet alone, especially during pregnancy, when that number tends to increase.
Therefore, prenatal vitamins ensure your body gets the right amount to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible during pregnancy.