The Link Between Supplements and Pregnancy

Should women take supplements while pregnant?

Pregnancy is an exciting and joyful time in a woman’s life. It’s also a time when expectant mothers must be extra vigilant about what they eat and how they move. This is due to the fact that the baby in the stomach is completely reliant on its mother for all of its needs. As a result, pregnant women must eat well, especially during their pregnancy.

One important factor that expectant mothers are likely to consider is supplementation. Mothers should be aware, however, that not all supplements are beneficial to their child’s health. We’ve asked Jennifer Lui Soek Mei, Pharmacist Consultant, to share her thoughts on supplements and pregnancy in the hopes of shedding some light on the subject.

Jennifer Lui Soek Mei, Pharmacist Consultant

1Twenty80: Why should pregnant women consider taking supplements?

Jennifer Lui Soek Mei: It’s imperative to take supplements for mums-to-be or for those who intend to have a child in the near future. To try for a baby, the mum needs enough resources for the upcoming arrival of a beautiful, perfectly formed baby. As it’s every parent’s dream to have a perfect baby.

To embark on this journey, the first thing is to understand that nutrients including supplements play an important role. The most basic ones are Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium and Vitamin D.

It’s important to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before you’re pregnant, maybe three months prior and until you’re 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

Besides folic acid and iron, prenatal vitamins that contain calcium and vitamin D help to promote the development of the baby’s teeth and bones. It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and iodine. The new trend is taking EPA/DHA for the development of the eyes and brain. Don’t forget probiotics for the gut as well.

1Twenty80: What supplements are considered safe to consume during pregnancy?

Jennifer: First and foremost, consider taking supplements that have been proven to be beneficial for the development of the fetus (baby). To be honest, there’s no blanket rule nor any studies to medically prove that some supplements help or some are detrimental. A rule of thumb, take less than the recommended adult dose. For example:

  • 400 IU of vitamin D.
  • 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
  • 70 mg of vitamin C.
  • 3 mg of thiamine.
  • 2 mg of riboflavin.
  • 20 mg of niacin.
  • 6 mcg of vitamin B12.
  • 10 mg of vitamin E.
  • 15 mg of zinc.
  • 17 mg of iron.
  • 150 micrograms of iodine.

A prenatal vitamin should be able to have all the nutrients to fulfill the needs of a growing baby.

1Twenty80: What are the supplements women should avoid during pregnancy?

Jennifer: Surprise, surprise! What may come as a shock to you is that some vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements should be avoided by pregnant women.

While some supplements may be safe to take during pregnancy, there are far more that might not be. Although some supplements can help with common pregnancy ailments like nausea and upset stomach, some may be harmful to both you and baby. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research regarding the use of supplements by pregnant women, and much is unknown about how the supplements can affect you.

To be honest, we are equally in the dark. Evidence based medicine or in this case, evidence based data for supplements are far few and below. However, there are some supplements that should be avoided during pregnancy.

Always check with your doctor before adding any additional supplements outside of any prenatal vitamins you may be taking.

These are some examples:

    Vitamin A is a vitamin prerequisite of supplements for the development of a child’s vision and immune function. However, since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is not recommended to take more than prescribed. Hence, too much vitamin A could be harmful.

    The accumulation can have toxic effects on the body and can lead to liver damage. It can even cause birth defects.

    For example, excessive amounts of vitamin A during pregnancy has been shown to cause congenital birth abnormalities.
    This fat-soluble vitamin plays many important roles that involve gene expression and immune function.

    Extra supplementation with vitamin E has not been shown to improve outcomes for either mothers or babies and may instead increase the risk of abdominal pain and premature rupture of the amniotic sack.

1Twenty80: What are off-limits for women during pregnancy?

Jennifer: Although most foods and beverages are perfectly safe to enjoy, some, like raw fish, unpasturised dairy, alcohol, and high mercury fish, should be avoided. Plus, some foods and beverages like coffee and foods high in added sugar, should be limited in order to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Below are some food you may want to consider to avoid during pregnancy:

    Avoid uncooked seafood including oysters, mussels, and clams. Also avoid rare or undercooked beef and poultry. These can be contaminated with toxoplasmosis or salmonella.
    Deli meats can be contaminated with listeria, bacteria that can cross the placenta and infect your developing baby. An infection in utero could lead to blood poisoning and could be life-threatening for your baby.
    In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children.
    Avoid lox, kippered fish, jerky, or nova style salmon. There’s a risk that this refrigerated, smoked seafood could be contaminated with listeria. Smoked seafood that’s shelf-safe or canned, however, is probably fine.
    This includes foods that contain raw eggs. Raw eggs can pose a risk of salmonella.
    Some imported soft cheeses can have listeria, so steer clear of soft cheeses unless they’re made from pasteurized milk.
    These products can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter. The same goes for unpasteurized juice, which is also prone to bacterial contamination. These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby.
    It’s a stimulant and a diuretic, which means drinking your usual few cups of coffee every day will increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and the number of trips you make to the restroom. Plus, caffeine crosses the placenta. Low birth weight — defined as less than 2.5 kg — is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. Just remember that caffeine isn’t just in tea and coffee. You’ll find it in chocolate, sodas, and even certain over-the-counter medicines.
    An elevated body temperature during the first trimester can lead to certain birth defects.
    Smoking is terrible for you and your baby, but secondhand smoke can be nearly as bad. Exposure to secondhand smoke during your pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, low birth weight, learning issues and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
    Avoid wine, beer, and liquor during your pregnancy. Alcohol passes quickly from your bloodstream through the placenta and umbilical cord to your baby, and this can harm your developing baby’s brain and organs.

Remember, you won’t be pregnant forever. Hang in there, as all of these off-limits foods and activities will soon be available to you again.

1Twenty80: Are herbal supplements safe for pregnant women to consume?

Jennifer: Many herbal supplements are not studied extensively. Many are claimed to be effective as according to the testimonials, history, culture, beliefs and the list goes on. Where do we draw the line? Sad to say, there is no line. Take at your own risk.

Some examples of herbs that are notorious in harming either the fetus or the mum are as stated below:

A member of the buttercup family, black cohosh is a plant used for a variety of purposes, including controlling hot flashes and menstrual cramps. It’s unsafe to take this herb during pregnancy, as it can cause uterine contractions, which could induce preterm labor. Black cohosh has also been found to cause liver damage in some people.

Goldenseal is a plant that’s used as a dietary supplement to treat respiratory infections and diarrhoea, although there’s very little research on its effects and safety. Goldenseal contains a substance called berberine, which has been shown to worsen jaundice in infants. It can lead to a condition called kernicterus, a rare type of brain damage that can be fatal. For these reasons, definitely avoid goldenseal.

Dong quai is a root that has been used for over 1,000 years and is popular in traditional Chinese medicine. You should avoid dong quai, as it may stimulate uterine contractions, raising the risk of miscarriage.

Yohimbe is a supplement made from the bark of a tree native to Africa. This herb should never be used during pregnancy, as it has been associated with dangerous side effects like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and seizures.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, it’s also best to avoid palmetto, tansy, red clover, angelica, yarrow, wormwood, blue cohosh, pennyroyal, ephedra, mugwort and passion flower.

The safest bet? Keep your doctor in the know about any and all changes to your eating plan and supplements.

It seems extensive, but there are still plenty of great nutrition choices during your pregnancy. While it’s always important to eat a balanced diet, pregnancy is an especially critical time. In your daily mail plan, try to incorporate:

1Twenty80: Can supplements replace a pregnant woman’s healthy eating plan?

Jennifer: Supplements aren’t intended to replace food. They can’t replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Whole foods offer three main benefits over dietary supplements. Firstly, greater nutrition. Secondly, regularly eating high protein foods like fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, peanut butter, nuts and beans promotes your baby’s healthy brain and heart development. Thirdly, grain foods like brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and oatmeal are great to eat while pregnant. Women who are pregnant or have the potential to become pregnant should inform their health care provider about any supplements they are taking and discuss the risks and benefits of continuing them.