Supplementing Prenatal Vitamin Formulas

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I’m pregnant and I have to take a prescription prenatal vitamin. Do you think this it is enough for me, or should I be taking something else? Also, they make me a little nauseous, what can I do?”
–D.W. Tulsa, Oklahoma

ANSWER: The nutrients in those prescribed prenatal vitamins are usually enough for most women. However, some women get pregnant shortly after having been sick, stressed, overworked or run down. Also, some women eat poorly with a diet that routinely includes fast food, diet soda and candy bars. In these cases, taking prenatal vitamins along with additional nutrients during pregnancy and nursing will give your baby a better start.

Getting enough vitamin C is important when you’re pregnant. This antioxidant does double duty, protecting you and your baby from infections while repairing cells and tissues in the body. Besides that, vitamin C boosts mood and energy levels. It is important to know that iron and vitamin C have an intimate relationship. Most people don’t realize that having a sip of OJ with any iron-containing supplement will boost the amount of iron you absorb. Kiwi fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers and papaya are also great sources of vitamin C.

Another pregnancy power supplement is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an essential fatty acid found in fish oil, krill oil and flax seed. Think of the brain when you think of DHA, because that is where DHA seems to work best.  It can improve mom’s memory while the developing baby benefits too. Studies have linked DHA intake to a higher IQ score and better sleep patterns for infants. Fish oil, krill oil and flaxseeds boost mood too; all of these are sold at your local health food store, and some pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

Calcium is crucial for strong bones and teeth and most prenatal supplements don’t offer enough. I think you need about 600 to 1,000 mg per day. Calcium helps a muscle contract too; if you’re not getting enough, you might get painful leg cramps to go with that weak bladder and those sleepless nights. Calcium citrate seems to be the best type since it creates less gas, bloating and stomach upset in people. You can also eat more calcium; the best way is with steamed or sautéed leafy greens, nuts, fruits, vegetables and dairy.

As to your nausea—it can occur with any vitamin, and of course, the surging hormones of pregnancy make you even more sensitive. Always take your vitamins and minerals with a snack or a meal. The acid used to break down your meals also helps break down the supplement, allowing the micronutrients to be absorbed by your body. If that doesn’t help, take your supplements with a snack before bedtime, so you can snooze through all the tummy upset and nausea. Finally, try ginger tea. It’s easy to make by grating ginger in hot water (with honey and lemon) or buying crystallized ginger – a candied version sold in health food stores.