Pregnancy Supplements – They’re everywhere. On the TV, in magazines, on radio. Take this magical tablet and you’ll have the healthiest baby around! With absolutely no regard for mum’s diet, environment or emotional wellbeing. Not to mention mum’s body weight, original state of health or any other medications she might be taking!
Many over the counter supplements contain only a bare minimum level of nutrition. If you are eating a healthy diet, a majority of supplements will actually contain less nutrition than you are getting from a variety of whole-foods. In which case you are wasting your money.
If you eat rather badly, then the level of nutrition contained in these tablets is likely not enough to fulfill your nutritional needs, or may keep your nutritional status just above a level of deficiency. Without knowledge of which nutrients you actually need, these tablets may not be specific enough to supply your individual needs.
This is not to say supplements do not have a role to play in preconception and pregnancy care. As a naturopath specialising in women’s health, I have often recommended pregnancy supplements for those who appeared nutritionally deficient and unable to make up the difference between the recommended daily intake and their individual needs.
I see a clear difference between women who appear to be very low in certain vitamins or minerals, and those who are experiencing a “normal” pregnancy. In cases of deficiency, a supplement can help to raise nutrient levels more efficiently than eating kilograms of a food-rich source.
For instance, the recommended daily intake for iron during pregnancy is around 27mg. A quality supplement might contain up to 60mg iron, or 105mg for presciption tablets. In order to obtain the same amount of iron from food, you would have to eat around five small steaks a day, drink eight cups of prune juice, or ingest huge quantities of spinach. In such a case, I would still recommend that iron rich foods are eaten, however a supplement will help to restore balance much faster.
Perhaps the largest issue I have with pregnancy supplements is the media bombardment of pregnant women. Glowing images of pregnant mums, blossoming bellies and happy, healthy babies are juxtaposed with various supplements.
The captions and information provided tell you that you can “prevent” or “reduce serious risk” of certain conditions. This may be true. It is now well known that insufficient folate can lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. However there is also a more subversive message: if you don’t take this supplement, you are putting yourself or your baby at risk. In other words, your body is not capable of growing a healthy baby unless you supplement.
Doctors and naturopaths are bombarded with advertising just as much as women are, and are likely to recommend a supplement based on a company’s information, unless they are educated otherwise.
How do you know if you are actually in need of certain vitamins or minerals? What should you be eating to ensure yours and your baby’s health? How confusing with so much conflicting information out there!
If you are food savvy, then a check up with your naturopath or nutritionist could help reassure that you are on track. If you know your diet could use a little assistance, then these professionals can help you to make dietary changes, and recommend appropriate supplementation.
Surely a tailored health plan is better than a “one size fits all” supplement? Most importantly, please remember that supplements are just that. They are designed to be taken in addition to food, not as a replacement.
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