One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “What vitamins and nutrients do you recommend for pregnancy?” As I like to do, I thought I would compile this information into a blog post so I don’t have to type it over and over all the time!
After experiencing my share of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia twice, three preterm babies and our fair share of the NICU, I focused my nutrition education on prenatal health. More than any other specific topic, I have devoted hundreds of hours of research on this particular topic. I mostly did it as a result of my information-seeking personality. Some of it has also been a part of my education for my nutrition counseling as well as the program I am doing for my doctor of naturopathy certification. Fortunately, it is now also helping me benefit others through my Prenatal Nutrition Counseling and my job as prenatal nutrition counselor at a local birth center.
The following is my personal nutrition regimen. Everyone’s will vary somewhat because we all have different health histories and nutritional needs. Because I do not have any chronic health problems, it is not as in-depth as some people’s protocols will need to be. I recommend simply using these as a guideline, in addition to the care of a natural health professional that can test your vitamin and mineral levels to adjust accordingly.
This is, of course, the #1 most important factor for prenatal health. More important that prenatal vitamins or any supplements, our diet has the biggest impact on our prenatal health and the life-long health of our baby.
Many traditional societies knew and valued the importance of a nutrient-dense diet before pregnancy. As you can see in my post on Conception Nutrition, some cultures even required a woman to be on a nutrient-dense diet before being allowed to be married.
Nutrient dense foods are foods that provide our bodies with a large amount of nutrients without negative health effects. Oftentimes, these are also nutrients that are hard to find in the Standard American Diet.
Here are some of the nutrient dense foods I like to prioritize in prenatal nutrition:
- Whole fresh unprocessed (raw) milk from grass-fed cows
- Fresh eggs (raw or cooked) from hens allowed to roam outside and fed organic, non GMO feed. (Because I want the most nutritionally-dense eggs possible, I went ahead and got my own hens! See my post about that adventure here!)
- Beef from grass-fed animals that are not given hormones or antibiotics Liver at least once/week (beef from grass-fed cows and chicken liver from organic hens). I know it’s nasty, but this is one of the most nutritionally-dense foods on the planet! I could write a whole separate blog post on this, but know that it is a very good source of heme iron, useful for prevention of anemia which is increasingly common in pregnancy. (As a tip: I grate up frozen beef liver with a cheese grater and add it to ground beef to hide it!)
- Wild fish, especially wild salmon
- Homemade bone broths (Nutritionally incomparable to store-bought broths)
In addition to these foods, here are some of the other things our family’s diet includes (or doesn’t include):
- Absolutely no refined sugar in any food, especially during pregnancy! And for so many reasons, including preventing preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, orthodontic problems, etc. (See more info on my No-Sugar Challenge) For sweeteners, we use pure maple syrup and local raw honey. (Of course, honey is not safe for babies under age 1. It is, however, safe for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.)
- NO GMO’s! (This is a hard one, so gradual progress is best. I’m Type A personality, so when I set this goal, I set out to achieve it!) And no meat from animals fed GMOs.
- No caffeine, except the miniscule amounts found in homemade kombucha.
- No vegetable oils (corn, canola, soybean, etc.), margarine, or any foods containing them.
- No foods containing artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners and no foods containing chemical preservatives.
- Almost seven years and counting without fast food. (Except with an occasional splurge at Chipotle, which has been reduced to a couple times a year due to knowledge of GMO soybean oil in their food.)
- Over a hundred pounds of fresh, completely organic, produce each week (see my post on how to get organic produce for CHEAP here!). Some of this is used for juicing–carrots, beets, celery, and apples are our favorite homemade juice. Homemade vegetable juice (with fruit to make it taste good) provides our body with megadoses of condensed nutrients without the bulk (fiber) that would prevent our stomachs from being able to fit all of these in! (Watch Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead or The Beautiful Truth if you’re not sure of the benefits of raw vegetable juicing!)This also includes frozen and fresh fruits for smoothies and snacking, including 20 pounds of organic bananas per week, lots of organic apples, organic oranges, etc.
- Daily consumption of various organic leafy greens, including romaine, baby greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens.
- Homemade probiotics, including milk kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, etc. For introductory info on probiotics and why they are nutritionally superior to probiotic supplements, read my post Probiotics 101.
- Good fats including virgin coconut oil, avocados, nuts, butter/cream from grass-fed cows, etc.
- Lots of filtered water. (City tap water is NOT recommended Click here to read my post on the best drinking water.)
- Organic rolled oats (soaked), which provide an extremely cheap breakfast option for our big family!
- For various reasons, our family has also chosen to be gluten-free. One of the reasons for pregnancy is because of my history of anemia during pregnancy. Gluten, in addition to other things like corn, caffeine, etc., has a tendency to block iron absorption as well as cause nutrient loss from gut malabsorption. Be sure to check out my eBook on Gluten here!
I will admit that it took us 6 years to get to this kind of diet, so do not expect yourself to be the same as us. I am listing this as proof that even with a very good diet, supplements are necessary and very advantageous during pregnancy and otherwise.
Before I got pregnant with #6, I was convinced that our diet full of organic, nutrient-dense foods would only warrant a few supplements. But let me tell you that because even organic soils are so nutritionally-depleted nowadays, I soon found out from testing that supplements are still very necessary, even with a diet like this! But the good news is that when vitamins are sourced naturally from food, there is almost no chance of toxicity or overdose with most nutrients, so it can’t hurt to get more than enough! This brings us to the next category of Supplements:
Let’s start with prenatal vitamins, as this gets asked often. I worked hard to research this one, emailing companies for specific answers. I personally decided on Garden of Life’s RAW Prenatals for a few reasons, including:
- The nutrients are food-based, meaning they come from food and not synthetic nutrients. This was very important for me to confirm with the company, which I did. Unlike other prenatal vitamins that contain the constipating ferrous sulfate, this contains food-based iron which will not cause constipation. (An added problem we do NOT need in pregnancy!)
- It contains added benefits of probiotics, digestive enzymes, and more things not commonly found in standard prenatal vitamins.
However, there are other food-based prenatal vitamins out there. This is just the one I have chosen. MegaFoods has a good one as well. (For those with MTHFR mutation, you will need one with methylated folate and other B vitamins in higher doses.)
Additional supplementation with vitamin D is necessary especially in cold climates during winter months as prenatal vitamins do not contain adequate amounts for pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to more health issues than any other deficiency, and poses an increased risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia. Babies born to mothers who were deficient in vitamin D tend to grow more slowly, have weaker bones, and be more susceptible to colds.
For this, I take an additional D3 supplement. There are many out there, just choose one that does not have soybean oil or other bad fillers.
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny recommends pregnant women take 6,000 IU’s per day (this would be a combined total of the vitamin D in prenatal vitamins and additional vitamin D supplements). However, I highly recommend getting vitamin D levels tested as many women need much more than this to obtain the idea Vitamin D blood levels of 60ng/mL.
Fermented cod liver oil
In addition to prenatals and vitamin D, I also take fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures. More information on fermented cod liver oil, including where to get it, can be found on my post here Fermented Cod Liver Oil: What’s the Hype And Is It Really Nasty?
Dosaging and information on the benefits of this nutrient during pregnancy, as well as counter-arguments to myths about taking cod liver oil during pregnancy, can be found in this article on the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website.
*NOTE: Fish oils/cod liver oils should not be taken by anyone on blood thinners or with health problems related to thin blood.
Selenium & Iodine for the Thyroid
Pregnancy can take a heavy toll on the thyroid, sometimes resulting in postpartum thyroiditis, a common cause of inadequate breastmilk, postpartum hair loss, and future thyroid problems. Medical research has proven that selenium has a protective effect on the thyroid, and since Brazil nuts are a perfect, whole-food source of selenium, I eat two of them per day! This amount of Brazil nuts will provide all of the selenium a pregnant women needs for many benefits, including having a protective effect on the thyroid.
Most prenatal vitamins have very small amounts of iodine but it is not enough to nourish both mom and baby as well as protecting mom’s thyroid from the strain of pregnancy and environmental chemicals that damage thyroid function (such as fluoride, soy/soybean oil, chlorine, etc.). Even the RDA, which as many of us know are already too low in dosaging amounts for all nutrients, recommends 290 mcg of iodine for pregnancy/breastfeeding. Most prenatal vitamins have 150-200 mcg. 290 mcg, in my professional opinion, is the bare minimum amount a woman should take when pregnant. This will benefit not only mom’s thyroid but baby’s intelligence as well!
For supplementing iodine and selenium, as well as other essential trace minerals, be sure to check out my company’s Thyroid Mineral Support supplement!
I also included a daily dose of about 2,000 mg of vitamin C. Orthomolecular experts also recommend additional vitamin C, as well as vitamin E, during pregnancy, especially for those with a history of miscarriage. http://www.doctoryourself.com/miscarriage.html
One of my favorite benefits of extra vitamin C is not just for warding off colds–vitamin C is known by many midwives to strengthen the amniotic sac, helping prevent premature rupture of membranes (PROM).
I have used various vitamin C supplements but now prefer Dr. Mercola’s.
If you are not taking food-sources of probiotics, then I would recommend adding an additional probiotic supplement to your protocol. A mother’s bacterial balance is extremely important for giving baby good immune health. Be sure that your probiotic contains the strain L. Gasserii as this bacteria is normally found in healthy vaginal flora. It changes the pH of the vagina so that pathogenic (bad) bacteria like Group B Strep and candida cannot survive. (Note: For candida, I also recommend making sure your supplement has S. Boulardii.)
Of course, the best source of probiotics is homemade fermented foods, like homemade raw milk kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables. Be sure to check out my post on Probiotics & Fermented Foods 101 for more info!
Sometimes, additional iron supplementation is necessary. Floradix is an herbal-based iron supplement that is recommended by some midwives. Because the iron is naturally-sourced, it does not cause constipation and has been shown to improve iron levels quickly.
I found this product to be effective at raising iron levels well, but I also found another product to be just as effective and taste better: Integrative Therapeutics Cinnamon Liquid Herbal Iron.
Note however that many times, the body will “hide” iron in the presence of bacteria/toxins, so sometimes it’s also a matter of getting rid of any pathogenic bacteria and toxins present. That is why many moms have also noticed Chlorella getting rid of their anemia. Be sure to check out HFFG’s Chlorella supplement which provides many additional benefits during pregnancy and lactation. After much research, it is something I will always be sure to take during any pregnancies and lactation. It reduces the amount of toxins passed to baby through either the placenta or breastmilk in addition to helping restore iron levels.
(*I purchase many of my supplements from Vitacost.com; they are very inexpensive and have a very wide selection of many brands. If you use my referral link https://www.vitacostrewards.com/Bl9Qddk, you can get $10 off your first order and that gives me $10 off my next order of my family’s supplements as well!)
Of course, this is all just a brief overview of my personal prenatal nutrition protocol. As stated above, everyone’s will differ according to their own health history and nutritional needs. Don’t forget to check out my Prenatal Nutrition Counseling Services.
If you have any information to add, please leave a comment and tell us about your protocol!
Blessings of good health and a healthy baby/babies,