By Marianne McDonald
When it comes to vitamins and supplements, we often believe the more the merrier because “it’s natural, so it must be harmless.” The truth is you shouldn’t put anything into your body that you don’t really need.
Clinical Pathologist Dr Ossie Van Rensburg says, “There are two types of vitamins, those that are water soluble and those that are fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins include the likes of vitamin C and will be flushed out of your system should they not be needed. However, the vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble and if taken in excess can cause toxicity.”
Most doctors agree that if you’re following a healthy, balanced diet, you should be getting all the nutrients you need and Dr Van Rensburg insists that everybody should take a holistic approach to their health, which starts with eating right. “I used to be against the use of supplements until I did tests on soil and food, and discovered that there is significantly less nutrients available to us now than there was 30 years ago.” So we should see vitamins and supplements as a helping hand.
Paediatric nurse Tracy Sydenham at the Linksfield Baby Clinic also believes in taking a moderate approach and says that any vitamin or supplement taken during pregnancy should be cleared by a doctor first. “Even something as seemingly innocuous as vitamin C will cross the placental barrier and, if there’s an overload, can potentially cause problems.”
Probiotics helps to supplement good bacteria in the colon and small intestines. It also helps to prevent yeast infections during pregnancy. “Probiotics are known as friendly bacteria. About 60% of your immune system is found in your gut so probiotics help you to absorb nutrients and can even help prevent things like urinary tract infections,” says Dr Van Rensburg.
Fish Oil (Omega 3, DHA-DPA) is a common recommendation by doctors. “During the first trimester, your baby will require a lot of DHA, which it will, of course, take from the mother’s supplies. A lack of DHA is linked to what is commonly known as ‘porridge brain’ or ‘baby brain’ so you need to make sure there is enough for both you and your baby since the brain consists of 70% fat,” says Dr Van Rensburg. Sydenham recommends that women keep an eye on how they’re feeling. “Omegas are important, but they can make nausea worse so if this is the case, they can be taken from the second trimester onwards.”
Vitamin D and calcium
Taking vitamin D3 before pregnancy aids the metabolism of calcium, which in turn helps to prevent osteoporosis and can help build up immunity to certain cancers. In addition, a recent Spanish study published in Paediatrics of 1 820 mother-infant pairs discovered a strong link between sufficient vitamin D intake during the second trimester and higher development scores in infants at 14 months.
Calcium has been connected to everything from muscle contractions to the clotting of blood, and regulation of heart rhythm. It’s important for the formation of your baby’s bones and teeth. The Mayo Clinic recommends that all healthy adults, regardless of pregnancy or gender, need between 1 000 to 1 200mg of calcium per day. Since vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, you can take them together.
“Folic acid is an absolute must while trying to fall pregnant and during pregnancy too,” says Sydenham. A study conducted last year at the UC Davis MIND Institute found that women who consumed the recommended daily allowance of folic acid (400 micrograms) reduced their risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorders.
Some doctors advise against taking an iron supplement during the first trimester as they can worsen both nausea and constipation. However, Sydenham recommends taking iron while breastfeeding since it gets depleted quickly. “Your baby develops iron stores while still in your womb to last for the first six months of their lives. However, this means you may need to replenish your stores again.” Iron is used in many cell functions and forms part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to our lungs.
Keeping clear of vitamin A during pregnancy is essential since it’s commonly linked to birth defects. However, Dr Van Rensburg stresses that there’s no need to become paranoid about vitamin A, “It’s not a total no-no and depends on the supplement, but you must be sure to never exceed the recommended daily allowance.”
Marianne is a freelance content creator and copy editor. She has been part of the Living and Loving team in various capacities over the last six years, but since becoming a mom to a boisterous boy, she has found a special interest in parenting issues including discipline, education and early childhood development. When not running after, and negotiating with, her three-year-old, you’ll find her experimenting in the kitchen.