Pregnancy is a nutritionally demanding period. Not only do you require enough nutrients to sustain yourself, but your growing baby also increasingly demands lots of nutrients from your own reserves.
Your best bet is to start off your pregnancy in optimal health, without any nutritional deficiencies. However, some nutritional supplements are routinely recommended to ensure good outcomes for you and your baby.
Most pregnancies are unplanned, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go into some lengths to plan yours. Get a pre-pregnancy check once the idea of a pregnancy starts coming along. On top of screening and optimising any ill-health, this is a chance to review your nutritional status. If already in good nutritional state, all you need is routine supplements. Any apparent deficiencies must be addressed as you embark on getting pregnant.
You will be aware of recommended routine supplements that keep making it into public health supported ads. Iron and Folic acid are the main ones, and for good reason. They are essential in maintaining the function of your blood cells, and are critical for fetal development.
Folic acid reduces the risk of having a baby with some birth defects. It should ideally be taken prior to conception to ensure maximal benefits. But if that is missed, start taking it as soon as you realise you are pregnant. True, some foods are fortified with Folic acid, but this is thought not to be enough to give you the required levels in pregnancy.
Some women will require a higher dose of Folic acid depending on their risk factors. Your antenatal care provider will advise on the optimal dose for you. Maximal benefits accrue in the first 12 weeks when foetal development is at its peak. Beyond this, you may stop taking Folic acid.
Blood tests will normally guide whether there is reason to continue taking a combination of Iron and Folic acid for the rest of the pregnancy. If monitoring tests are unavailable or doubt arises, it is safer to continue with supplementation.
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Many women take far too many non-routine supplements that may not confer any benefits. The market is full of pregnancy-related products claiming to supplement all manner of micro-nutrients. If already in good health, most of what you take will go in one way and come out the other way.
If you feel compelled to take some additional supplements, check with your obstetrician or midwife for advice. Some supplements like omega fish oils may be beneficial in those who hardly eat fish. In certain cases, you can get some blood tests done to inform on the need for other supplements.
Essential pregnancy supplements are readily available for every pregnant woman. Government subsidies ensure affordability and accessibility to all. Missing out on the recommended supplements may predispose you to avoidable pregnancy complications that you could well do without.