Creating life takes a lot of time and energy. It should be no surprise that this would also take an increase in nutrients to provide the proper environment for fetal growth and development. Although a healthy lifestyle is always encouraged, it is not always feasible for women to consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods that provides all the needs of a growing baby. Enter prenatal vitamins.
Prenatal supplements have been around for decades to help women fill in any nutritional gaps during gestation. Most doctors encourage women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or lactating, to take prenatal vitamins but what do we really know about them? And how many women are really taking them?
Prenatal vitamins come in many different forms depending on the brand. Although many different nutrients increase during pregnancy, there are no current guidelines for supplement companies to abide by when it comes to what they include in their product. The biggest nutrients to look for in prenatal vitamins include folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and iodine.
As is the case with most supplements, some prenatal supplements are better than others. You can also choose ones that emphasize specific nutrients of concern, such as iron, or vitamin B12. The prenatal supplement market is huge, but it might surprise you to know how many women still aren’t taking advantage of prenatal supplements despite ongoing research proving the importance of certain nutrients during pregnancy for healthy fetal development.
Below are some current statistics on prenatal vitamins.
- The global prenatal vitamin supplement market size was estimated to be 409.8 million in 2019.
- Prenatal iron deficiency affects 19.2% of women.
- Vitamin A deficiency affects an estimated 15% of pregnant women in low-income countries.
- In developing countries, only 4% of women in their first trimester did not have any nutrient deficiencies.
- 98% of women took at least one supplement during pregnancy.
1. Fewer than half of U.S women reported taking prenatal vitamins before pregnancy
(Prenatal Health and Nutrition Survey, 2017)
According to the Prenatal Health and Nutrition Survey completed in 2017 by the March of Dimes, 97% of women 18-45, out of a population of over 1000 women, reported taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. However, only 34% reported taking them before they knew they were pregnant. That number further reduces for Hispanic women at 27% and African American women at only 10%.
2. A study on urban women showed fewer than 5% supplemented with folic acid before pregnancy
(American Journal of Public Health, 2018)
A study completed by John’s Hopkin’s Children’s Center of a population of over 7,000 low-income urban mothers showed a concerningly low percentage (5%) of them supplemented with folic acid consistently before pregnancy. Folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy is a widely recommended public health measure to reduce incidences of birth defects in children, such as neural tube defects and anencephaly.
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3. Study suggests that 95% of pregnant women are not meeting recommendations for vitamins D, C, A, B6, K, and E, as well as folate, choline, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc even with the use of dietary supplements.
Of the women studied (1,003 pregnant women between the ages of 20-40), about a third of them were overconsuming nutrients such as sodium and folic acid. Although supplements in this case did help women to decrease their risk of deficiencies, it also led to overconsumption of some nutrients that are also not recommended for fetal growth and development.
4. One study indicates that continuing to take a pre or postnatal vitamin with folate, DHA, vitamin D, and iodine can help a baby’s brain development, processing skills, and visual acuity.
Along with the importance of taking additional vitamins and minerals during pregnancy for fetal development, the importance continues after birth for breastfeeding mothers. Many nutrient needs are increased during this time to ensure adequate nutrition for baby therefore doctors recommend continuing with prenatal supplements during this time.
5. Approximately 55–60% of women in their first trimester reported taking folic acid- or iron-containing supplements compared with 76–78% in their second trimester and 89% in their third trimester.
Prenatal dietary supplements are heavily encouraged before and during pregnancy, as well as during breastfeeding. Unfortunately, many studies still show that a large portion of women don’t begin taking prenatal vitamins consistently until well into their pregnancy.
6. A daily intake of 400mcg of folic acid can prevent severe congenital defects of the brain and spine.
Folic acid is a specific nutrient of concern when it comes to prenatal care for women, which is why it is heavily encouraged in prenatal vitamin supplementation to help avoid congenital defects such as neural tube defects. A daily intake of only 400mcg of folic acid can prevent this condition from occurring during gestation.
7. 7 out of 10 neural tube defects can be prevented by using supplements with folic acid.
Folic acid can be found in many foods including leafy greens, beans, some nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, whole grains, liver, and seafood. For those in urban areas, these foods may be more challenging to come by, making supplementation more essential.
8. Prenatal supplements can help manage postpartum blues.
Prenatal depression can be worsened when certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies are present. By continuing to take prenatal supplements consistently during pregnancy and immediately following birth, post-partum blues can be more manageable in some.
9. 63% of pregnant women recognize folic acid as a vital nutrient during pregnancy.
Despite the heavy encouragement from the health community, only a little more than half of pregnant women recognize folic acid as an important nutrient during pregnancy.
10. Studies on the use of probiotics during pregnancy are ongoing and inconclusive, but some benefits have been shown
Although not a standard in most prenatal supplements, probiotics and prebiotics have started making their way into prenatal care products. Although research has found many positive effects with probiotic supplementation, much research remains needed, especially in the population of pregnant individuals who have weakened immune systems.