Debunking Myths of Prenatal Vitamins

Pregnant Woman holding pills
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When discussing family planning with your doctor, one of the first things she will ask you about is whether you are taking a prenatal vitamin or if you would like a prescription for one.

In fact, prenatal vitamins are a hot topic these days. Everyone from TV personalities to your doctor is touting the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins prior to getting pregnant to help prevent certain birth defects. The experts insist that you should continue them during pregnancy and also during breastfeeding for continued protection from nutrition deficiencies. However, despite all of the attention these little pills get, there are a lot of myths to be aware of as well.

Prenatal vitamins are great sources of vitamins and minerals for pregnant women. The problem comes when we have misconceptions about prenatal vitamins. Here are some of the most common myths about prenatal vitamins:

Taking Prenatal Vitamins Will Be Adequate No Matter What Your Diet Is Like

This is false because the goal of prenatal vitamins is to supplement your diet not to replace it. In fact, prenatal vitamins work better when you are eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods. There are also known deficiencies in prenatal vitamins, for example, calcium. The level of calcium in the average prenatal vitamin is 250 mg. A pregnant woman needs about 1,200 - 1,500 mg of calcium daily to help her and her baby to adequately grow.

All Prenatal Vitamins Are Alike

Recent studies showed that out of 9 prescriptions vitamins only 3 actually released the amount of folate that they claimed to contain. This means that even though they really contained the folate the body didn't absorb it.

Prescription Vitamins Are Better Than Non-Prescription Vitamins

Not all vitamins are created equally and many vitamins that are available by prescription are also available over the counter. What is more important are the ingredients in the vitamins and how well they absorb into your body. While drug companies would love you to believe that their prenatal vitamin is the only thing that will really work, most prenatal vitamins will work for most women, with a few exceptions. Most often, your doctor provides you with a prescription brand so that the cost of the vitamins will be picked up by your insurance company instead of you spending out of pocket.

Prenatal Vitamins Are a Cure-All

There is no doubt about it — prenatal vitamins are great as supplements. The real issue at stake is that we believe that we can have poor nutrition fixed by popping a pill. Even when that pill is a great prenatal vitamin, it's not going to do anything but boost your nutrition. Remember, the better your nutrition, the more you will get out of your prenatal vitamin.

You Must Use a Prenatal Vitamin

There are also some good multivitamins available that are safe during pregnancy. You need to ensure that it has an adequate amount of folic acid and the appropriate amounts of other vitamins and minerals. Some vitamins, like Vitamin A, in high doses, can actually cause birth defects. Though if you have trouble taking regular prenatal vitamins, many practitioners will recommend other variations on the traditional prenatal vitamin.

You Need to Take It Before Pregnancy or It's Pointless

This one is actually only partially a myth. You should begin taking a prenatal vitamin before you want to become pregnant, hopefully at least several months before you become pregnant. If you fall into that category of becoming pregnant prior to taking vitamins, it is still advisable that you begin taking prenatal immediately, as there are still benefits to be had.

Choosing the Right Supplement for You

When you're trying to decide which prenatal vitamin to supplement your diet with, talk to your doctor or midwife about their recommendations and keep some things in mind:

  • No prenatal vitamin will contain all of the calcium you need.
  • Too much vitamin A can cause birth defects, be sure that you're using a prenatal vitamin or a multi-vitamin with under 10,000 IU.
  • Too much iron in a prenatal vitamin will not be absorbed properly.
  • The taste and texture of vitamins do bother some women. If you can't keep your prenatal down, consider switching brands.

If you are ever in doubt, bring your bottle of prenatal vitamins with you to your next doctor's visit to see if they are right for you.

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