Prenatal vitamins: I should have been taking them all along?

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Research has shown prenatal vitamins help all women, not just pregnant women. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)
Research has shown prenatal vitamins help all women, not just pregnant women. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)

Half of the BYU student body consists of women, and many are married or hope to get married and have children one day. Many female students, however, do not know the importance of prenatal vitamins or understand when they should start taking them and why.

Prenatal vitamins contain many vitamins and minerals. Their high folic acid, calcium and iron content are particularly important for women who plan on one day getting pregnant. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects that affect the brain and spinal cord and have also been linked to risks of autism and preterm labor.

“Neural tube defects develop in the first 28 days after conception, before many women know they are pregnant,” according to the March of Dimes Foundation for promoting the health of mothers and their babies. “Because about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it’s recommended that any woman who could get pregnant take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily, starting before conception and continuing for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.”

Debra Haas, a certified nurse midwife of 20 years, has a wealth of expertise in the field and recommendations for women everywhere.

“The ideal time to start taking prenatal vitamins is a year before you want to get pregnant because women are usually sick at the beginning of their pregnancy,” Haas said. “Having the buildup of folic acid in your system is helpful.”

Some recent studies even show a strong connection between lack of folic acid and autism.

“They are also finding some interesting information tying folic acid deficiency to risk of autism,” Haas said. “Especially down in Utah Valley where there is a large amount of autism. So it makes me wonder if they are not getting adequate vitamins and nutrient intake.”

Haas pointed out that prenatal vitamins are more important now than ever because women do not have healthy diets of fruits and vegetables, and even if they do, the soil in which the produce is grown is often not nutritious.

“A lot of people don’t eat healthy and drink milk like they used to,” Haas said. “A lot of things we don’t know, but we are generally declining in our health because of poor diets and the soil conditions that affect food, and that is why prenatal vitamins are so important.”

Haas recommends getting prescription prenatal vitamins, but she also explained that because a lot of people have a hard time with insurance many doctors will just ask you to show them the vitamins and they will determine if they will work.

Taking calcium is also vitally important if one plans on getting pregnant because when the baby is developing it uses the mother’s calcium for its bone growth. Calcium can also help prevent a woman from losing her own bone density while pregnant, a condition that could lead to osteoporosis.

“Wow, I didn’t know that women were supposed to take prenatal vitamins a year before they planned on getting pregnant or even if they were sexually active,” said Christina Riley, a master’s student studying sociology at BYU.

Prenatal vitamins can only help a pregnancy be easier and the child healthier. Studies continue to shed light on the benefits and risk prevention tying back to these vitamins. Women are encouraged to consult their doctors about taking prenatal vitamins if they have a chance of getting pregnant.

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