I often get emails with questions about what supplements are most important to take during pregnancy and nursing, and which ones should be avoided.
Of course, these times of a woman’s life are times when she should be even more vigilant about getting enough nutrients to nourish her little one, but there are also some supplements that should be avoided.
As someone who has been pregnant, nursing, or both continually since I got married, I’ve seen first hand how supplements can make a pregnancy (and delivery) easier!
Each woman’s dietary and nutrient needs will vary, but as a general rule, a nutrient-dense diet is the most important factor in her ability to get enough vitamins and minerals during pregnancy.
A good pregnancy/nursing diet includes:
- Lots of high quality protein from high quality sources like grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild, caught, sustainable seafood (smaller fish preferable). Organ meats from grass fed sources are also wonderful for pregnancy and nursing and can help reduce the chance of anemia.
- Large amounts of vegetables, especially green ones! Green veggies have folic acid, which is important for fetal growth, and are also high in many other nutrients. They help prevent the constipation that can sometimes occur during pregnancy, and are great for making sure nursing moms are getting enough vitamins.
- Healthy Fats galore! Pregnancy and nursing are not times to skimp on healthy fats. Quality fats are absolutely vital for baby’s brain development, organ and tissue growth, and good milk production for mom. Sources like healthy meats, coconut oil and coconut products, olive oil, avocados, and nuts are especially good during pregnancy (peanuts are not nuts!).
- Other high nutrient foods like homemade bone broth, soups, fermented vegetables like homemade sauerkraut, fruit (especially berries) and green smoothies are also great for pregnancy and nursing.
Even with the most solid diet, it is difficult to make sure that you’re getting enough nutrients for both you and baby. While I don’t recommend going wild with the supplements, there are a handful that have been shown to help with pregnancy, delivery, nursing and baby’s health.
The supplement folic acid is commonly recommended, but there is substantial difference between folic acid (the synthetic form) and folate (the natural form). This article explains the difference in detail. The dosage is also slightly different, and some sources recommend as much as 1200 mcg of folate per day for maximum benefit. This amount should include the amount in multivitamins and any additional folate supplement (be sure to check multivitamins, as many contain the synthetic form!). Folate is one supplement that has been extensively studied for use in pregnancy and is extremely effective at preventing neural tube defects. It is also very inexpensive and easy for every pregnant woman to take.
NOTE: People who have a MTHFR defect will need to consult with a specialized practitioner and will probably need to take L-5-MTHF which is the methylated form of folate. I explain more in this post.
There is some debate on if a full multivitamin prenatal is necessary during pregnancy or not. While I don’t routinely recommend taking a multivitamin, pregnancy and nursing is one exception. A deficiency in a vitamin or mineral won’t make a tremendous, immediate impact on an adult in most cases, but during the intensive developmental phases of pregnancy, a nutrient deficiency can have lasting consequences for baby.
A high quality prenatal is an “insurance policy” or sorts to guard against deficiencies but should accompany a high nutrient diet! Many prenatals contain iron, though this isn’t necessary if you are consuming red meat from healthy sources and organ meats. Just make sure it doesn’t contain folic acid (but folate or methyl folate). This is the brand I use.
Omega 3s and Healthy Fats
I take Fermented Cod Liver Oil all the time, but especially when pregnant or nursing. It helps balance out your Omega ratios, provides necessary fats for baby’s brain development, and guards against inflammation. It also seems to make recovery after delivery go much faster (probably due to the anti-inflammatory properties. The high vitamin butter oil is obtained from cows eating rapidly growing green grass, and contains Activator X, as discovered by Weston A. Price. Not only is this superb for baby’s development, but there is some information showing that it helps get baby’s vitamin levels (especially Vitamin K) after birth. This is also now available in capsule form, which makes it more palatable in early pregnancy. These are especially important during the third trimester when brain development is at its peak.
Probiotics are critical, especially during pregnancy. Babies are born with a completely sterile gut and they culture their beneficial guy bacteria from what the receive from mom when passing through the birth canal and from nursing in the months afterward. Quality probiotics (I take these) help ensure that baby will get a good dose of beneficial bacteria, which can reduce risk of ear infection and illness in the first few years. Good gut health also has a tremendous impact on lifelong health, and this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby’s health. Probiotics also help mom avoid illness and constipation during pregnancy, and might reduce the risk of Group B strep. Since baby’s gut bacteria continues to culture during the nursing time, it is good for mom to continue to take probiotics during this time as well.
There is a lot of emerging research that Vitamin D can help reduce the risk of many pregnancy related complications including gestational diabetes. It is important for baby’s bone and hormone development and helps support mom’s immune system during pregnancy. Some research suggests that nursing babies may be able to obtain Vitamin D from the mother’s milk if mom is getting more than 5,000IU/day. I take 5,000 IU/day while pregnant or nursing, unless I’m able to get 30 minutes or more of midday sun. For supplementation, only Vitamin D3 should be taken and one should test blood levels of vitamin D to make sure levels don’t get too high. This is also not usually needed if taking Fermented Cod Liver Oil or getting sunlight daily.
I take magnesium all the time, but it is especially beneficial in pregnancy. Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to poor fetal growth, preeclampsia, or even fetal death. Proper magnesium levels also help mom’s tissue growth and recovery during pregnancy and may help baby receive more nutrition through the placenta. It is very difficult to get enough magnesium from food sources anymore, so I typically recommend magnesium oil on the skin, Natural Calm in the evening before bed, or an ionic supplement. In total, a pregnant woman shouldn’t exceed 500 mg from all sources unless severely deficient.
During pregnancy and nursing, I take 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut oil in smoothies or tea daily as a supplement in addition to cooking with it. It is naturally immune boosting, supportive of baby’s brain development, and contains many of the components of breast milk to support nursing as well.
Things to Avoid
Just as deficiency of some things can be dangerous during pregnancy, consumption or contact with other things can be harmful to a developing baby. In general, these are things to avoid during pregnancy (not a complete list… do your own research):
- Artificial sweeteners
- MSG or chemical additives
- Diet Sodas or foods
- Vegetable Oils and trans fats
- Any herbs, drugs, or medicines without approval from your midwife or doctor (or your own research)
- BPA and plastic containers
- Aluminum in antiperspirants (make your own)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sugars or sweeteners
- Artificial dyes or colors in food
- Chemicals in laundry detergent, personal care products and household cleaners
Did you take supplements during pregnancy? Are you pregnant now? Share below!