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Prenatal Supplements

Is there a need to take these pills?

6473226_xl‘Congratulations you’re pregnant!’

You’re excited! After all, this is your first pregnancy. There’s a life growing inside of you. You are filled with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Perhaps you’re even choked with emotion. As parents-to-be, you want to give your children the best! You want to give them the best opportunities you can afford, to help them grow and develop to the best of their ability.

When you learn that you’re pregnant, you gulp pills, drink health tonics, and eat the ‘special dishes’ prepared by your mother or mother-in-law. You or your spouse read different blogs, talk to your friends, and gather information on some of the tried and tested methods of other parents. You meticulously follow the instructions given by your gynaecologist or trusted ‘kakis’.

You’re told that prenatal supplements are vital, and determined to give your unborn child the best, you stop by the drug store on your way home. You gaze at the shelf stocked with several varieties of prenatal supplements. Confused, you stare at the shelf, curl your lips, and perhaps even sigh.

What’s the buzz about prenatal supplements?

At times, or should I say, most of the times, pregnant women find it tough to get all the nutrients their growing baby requires. Before we dwell into the nuances of the matter, let us first understand what constitutes a dietary supplement?

A ‘Dietary Supplement’, as defined by the U.S. Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which became law in 1994, is a product that:

  1. Is intended to supplement the diet
  2. Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances), or their constituents
  3. Is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid

Prenatal supplements are dietary supplements specifically designed for pregnancy and are to be taken in addition to a balanced healthy diet.

Commonly Prescribed Prenatal Supplements

Folic acid and iron are the most commonly prescribed prenatal supplements.

Folic Acid

It is widely accepted that folic acid can help prevent birth defects known as neutral tube defect. Neutral tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. This normally happens during the first 28 days after conception (often before a woman knows that she is pregnant). The exact cause of neutral tube defect is unknown, though genetics and environmental pollutants are thought to have a strong impact.

Ideally, folic acid should be consumed before conception and continued for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The National University Hospital, Singapore, recommends that folic acid is consumed at least three months prior to conception. The daily dose could differ depending upon an individual’s risk classification and family history.


Iron is another important supplement for pregnant women. Iron-deficiency can lead to anaemia. The Health Promotion Board, Singapore defines anaemia as ‘a blood condition in which there is a deficiency of haemoglobin’.

A growing baby needs iron. It absorbs this from the mother. Hence, anaemia is not uncommon in pregnant women. A woman is more likely to develop anaemia if her diet has little iron. Iron supplements help avert anaemia, which in turn cuts the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and infant mortality.

Risk of Overconsumption 

If you choose to take prenatal supplements during your pregnancy, make sure you take those vitamins that are essential for your pregnancy. Overconsumption of vitamins can be harmful to both the mother and baby. Never take more than the recommended dose.

For instance, retinol, the animal form of vitamin A, can be toxic to unborn babies in large doses. On the other hand, vitamin A that occurs in plants known as beta-carotene is safe for your baby.

Speak to your gynaecologist for more information on daily recommended doses and the types of supplements you should and should not consume during pregnancy


While pregnant women and nursing mothers often require more nutrients than other women, this rarely equates to eating double your normal food intake. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is important. Consuming food which is rich in folic acid and iron, like green leafy vegetables, dried fruits and nuts, is beneficial. A diet rich in fruits, a colourful variety of vegetables, whole grains, lentils, and plenty of water, will also help nourish your body.

So, when you hear the words ‘congratulations you’re pregnant’, take a step back and ask yourself, ‘what supplements will truly benefit my body and that of my growing foetus?’

References and Further Reading:



Kavitha Mallavarapu
Posted by ezyhealth on May 12 2014. Filed under Medical Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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