Pregnancy, especially for first-time parents, is without a doubt a very dicey, unpredictable and confusing phase. You will be most likely bombarded with a gazillion questions such as, "what happens if i don t take prenatal vitamins?" or "Am I getting enough micronutrients for the baby from my regular diet or do I need to supplement it with OTC additives?" Not to worry, though. It is normal to be fidgety, anxious and worry about what to expect when you're expecting.
Having said that, among the numerous questions that confronts first-time parents, none elicits more mixed opinions than the debate about, "What happens if you don't take prenatal vitamins?" To answer this as comprehensively as possible, let's first shed some crucial light about the role that prenatal vitamins play before and during pregnancy.
Are Prenatal Vitamins Important?
Truth be told, between nail-baiting cravings, terrible spells of morning sickness and random aversions, proper nutrition can seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb for first-time parents. And even if you are eating a healthy and balanced diet, chances are high that you could miss the threshold and target of some essential nutrients that you need to improve your odds of carrying the baby to term with minimal or no complications.
Therefore, not taking prenatals while pregnant predisposes you to a slew of complications that will be better enunciated when you take into account the role of the following micronutrients during pregnancy.
After conceiving, you will need approximately twice as much iron that you did before becoming pregnant. You see, your body needs to make blood cells for the developing foetus in the entire gestation period right up to delivery. The extra demand of iron on a mother's body is so taxing that it is estimated that about 50% of expectant women barely have enough of this very vital nutrient.
As such, the numerous benefits of taking iron tablets beats any concerns that you may have regarding pregnancy supplements that could be making you think that not taking prenatals while pregnant is such a great idea. For starters, your body needs as much iron as possible to manufacture haemoglobin for the growing baby. Besides, iron plays an indispensable role in the transportation of oxygen molecules from the lungs to the rest of the body tissues, including the developing foetus.
Secondly, sufficient iron levels prevent the onset of anemia. Pregnant women are considered to be an anaemia high-risk group due to the extra demand on their system for new red blood cells. Anaemia can cause a whole host of problems for you and the baby, including predisposing you needlessly to miscarriages or enduring a premature birth. And, considering that preterm babies have a lower chance of leading normal lives than full-term kids, the role of sufficient iron supplementation cannot be really overstated.
Start taking a quality low-dose iron-based supplement as early as your first prenatal appointment. According to the CDC, this ought to hover around 30mg of iron per day - most standard prenatal iron supplements and vitamins should furnish this sufficiently.
Away from prenatal vitamins, it is still important to add several iron rich foods to your dietary regimen. There are two main types of iron that you can find naturally in foods. The first is Heme iron, which your body absorbs and utilizes best. You can up your intake of Heme iron by eating lots of chicken, beef, pork, liver and turkey. Nonheme iron, on the other hand, can be found in spinach, beans, tofu, ready-to-eat iron-fortified cereals and so on. The only problem here is that nonheme iron is not as readily assimilated by the body like heme iron.
In other words, this means that vegans and strict vegetarians can find it particularly difficult to get enough iron purely from their food sources. Supplementation, in this case, using prenatal vitamins is a welcome idea.
Everyone needs a healthiful dose of calcium but moms-to-be need it more thanks to the extra demand for the mineral for the development of the baby's bones. The expectant mother still needs this vital mineral to maintain their own skeletal health. Now, any deficiency in the calcium levels in the bloodstream would mean that the mother would have to dig deep into her stores, thereby predisposing her severely to osteoporosis in her later years and increasing her risks of suffering from bone loss during the pregnancy.
Calcium is also instrumental in strengthening a baby's fast-developing teeth and bones and ensures proper nerve, heart and muscle development too. And, it is still as vital as ever for the mom's bones and teeth too. Hence, a calcium deficiency would mean that the body may divert some of the mineral resources that the baby needs thereby increasing their risk of suffering from rickets later in life.
It is estimated that during peak bone development, around 350 mg of calcium is transferred from the mother to the baby every day to facilitate this phase. This is actually one of the major reasons it is bad not to take prenatal vitamins. You will be inadvertently robbing your baby of a chance to lead a healthy normal life and risking bone loss.
And, as much as most women can recover any lost bone mass after they are done with breastfeeding and pregnancy, you should stay ahead of the game by boning up on calcium-rich sources while still expectant.
Pregnant moms can boost their calcium intake through either making sure that foods rich in this mineral are a regular addition to their diet or via a quality calcium supplement. Milk is the most affordable and easily accessible source of calcium for many. Cheese is also a good alternative and delivers a potent dose of the mineral, so does low-fat yoghurt, cheddar cheese, collard greens and canned sardines.
A growing foetus needs iodine for physical growth and brain development. Getting ample iodine means that the baby will develop a normal and healthy thyroid gland. An underdeveloped thyroid can have a combination of undesirable outcomes; such abnormally low IQ, deafness, severe developmental delays, and impaired fine motor skills.
Besides, iodine is also a fundamental aspect of lactation and breastfeeding seeing that you will pass some iodine on the baby everytime you feed them. The iodine that you will take during pregnancy will continue supporting the growing baby's thyroid and brain development long after birth - until they fully transition to solid foods.
Since iodine is very critical to proper fetal health, the NIHODC (National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements) advises strongly against not taking prenatal vitamins that contain iodine. Instead, they recommend that women should get at least 150 mcg of iodine each day before becoming pregnant, around 220 mcg after conceiving and approximately 290 mcg during breastfeeding. In fact, both the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the ATA (American Thyroid Association) recommend that breastfeeding and pregnant women should take a daily prenatal supplement or multivitamin that contains at least 150 mcg of this mineral.
Besides making sure that your prenatal supplement has iodine, develop an iodine-sufficient diet too. . This includes the likes of baked cod, shrimp, fish sticks, free-range eggs, enriched bread, canned tuna, creamed corn, dried plumes, enriched macaroni etc. Cooking using iodized salt is also a healthful way of upping your iodine levels.
4. Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant and immune booster that plays a role in the healthiful development of the growing foetus. There's also minimal evidence that vitamin C can also reduce your risk of developing certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
The human body cannot synthesize nor store vitamin C. So this means that it is a type of vitamin that you will need a fresh supply of, either from a diet or a supplement. Ascorbic acid is needed in plentiful quantities during pregnancy for quick wound healing and tissue repair. It also aids in correct bone and teeth development too. In later stages of the pregnancy, it aids in the body's production of natural collagen, bolsters immunity and most importantly, improves the mothers ability to absorb and utilize iron.
Studies have linked extremely low levels of vitamin C in expectant women to a heightened risk of suffering preeclampsia. And this is why not taking prenatal vitamins while pregnant is greatly frowned upon in most medical circles. You need around 85 mg of ascorbic acid every day. To help you visualize this, three servings of your favorite vitamin C-rich veggies and fruits on a daily basis should be more than enough for you.
Speaking of foods rich in ascorbic acid, there are many vitamin C rich fruits apart from just the traditional oranges. And bearing in mind that ascorbic acid is easily denatured when cooked, you may want to eat these foods raw and fresh from the farm. This includes orange, kiwi, grapefruit, green bell pepper, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, oranges, and brussels sprouts.
It is also helpful to know that vitamin C plays a role in pregnant women by helping their bodies assimilate iron. Hence, it is smart eating ascorbic acid rich foods alongside those that are proven sources of iron. For instance, brussel sprouts paired with fish or red bell peppers and chicken.
The Outlook of Pregnancy without Prenatal Vitamins
Here's the thing; many expectant moms struggle with the dilemma of what happens if you don't take prenatal vitamins or whether relying on just dietary sources can interfere with the baby's optimal developmental milestones. Well, this could be of concern to most women, particularly those who got pregnant unexpectedly and are managing the journey to motherhood on a shoestring budget. Well, research shows that for most women who are pregnant or breastfeeding there is a higher-than-usual risk of not meeting certain nutritional thresholds seeing that a growing baby's needs can overwhelm the mom's system.
In other words, for most people, a baby can offset the delicate balance of vitamins and minerals needed to lead a normal healthy life. And this is so much that the department of health recommends that women who are of childbearing age ought to take at least 400 mcg of folic acid capsule on a daily basis from the first week of conception to around 12 weeks.
So to answer the question, "what if you don't take prenatal vitamins?". Most likely not much harm will be done if you are generally healthy and committed to sticking to a balanced diet throughout the nine months. Nonetheless, it is far much better to improve your odds of a healthy and uneventful pregnancy by choosing to supplement the glaring gaps in your diet using prenatal vitamins.
Can You Take Prenatal Vitamins Without Being Pregnant?
Yes, you can take vitamins meant for expectant women when you are not pregnant but it will most probably be an overkill and quite unnecessary too. You see, these are vitamins and mineral concoctions that are tailored with the specific needs of an expectant woman in mind. Their dosage and nutrient composition implies that they are best suited for a person who needs additional assistance to hit several nutritional targets consistently over the course of nine months of gestation.
So, to answer the query, "can i take prenatal vitamins if i'm not pregnant?" Yes, you most certainly can - but you would fare better getting a supplement that is more attuned to your dietary needs.
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