Pregnancy is an exciting and enjoyable time in life, but it can also make you worry about whether you’re doing enough to protect your unborn baby. Taking extra nutrients and supplements can help prevent birth defects.
Folate is the best-known supplement that pregnant women need to take. It’s also known by its synthetic form, folic acid. It has the biggest benefits before conception and in the early weeks of pregnancy, but it should be taken through the entire pregnancy. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects, which are defects that affect the brain or spinal cord. Two of the more serious neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida occurs when the spinal cord does not completely develop or the neural tube does not completely close, leaving part of the spine exposed. The risk of spina bifida can be lowered by 75 percent if mothers take folic acid supplements before conceiving. Anencephaly happens when the cephalic end of the neural tube doesn’t close; as a result, the majority of the brain does not develop. To minimize the risk of neural tube defects, it’s a good idea to take folic acid supplements before trying to conceive.
Neural tube defects may also be prevented by taking selenium, although its effects are not as studied or well-documented as folate. However, there is one study that showed that women who gave birth to infants with neural tube defects tended to be deficient in selenium when compared to women who gave birth to healthy babies. Additionally, cystic fibrosis may be related to a selenium deficiency. Selenium is not found in most prenatal vitamins, so talk to your doctor about supplements.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, like selenium and folate, protects against neural tube defects as well as other birth defects. This effect has been documented in animals for many years, and recently, research has also demonstrated that vitamin A can prevent birth defects in humans. Vitamin A aids in communication between cells and cell growth; the enormous amount of cell production and growth during pregnancy means that vitamin A is very important. However, most prenatal vitamins have the vitamin A you need, so unless your doctor says otherwise, another supplement is probably unnecessary.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
To support a growing baby’s eye and brain development and prevent birth defects in this area, pregnant women should make sure to get enough omega-3 fatty acids. They are mainly found in organ meats and certain fatty fish. Since large amounts of fish are discouraged in pregnancy, supplements may be the best way to get omega-3 fatty acids. Some prenatal supplements include it; if yours doesn’t, fish oil capsules may be beneficial.
Preventing birth defects starts early, even before conception. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, start a prenatal vitamin and other supplements to prevent birth defects. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding supplements to your diet—an excess of a nutrient can be just as unhealthy as a deficiency. By taking the right vitamins and getting the right nutrients, you can give your baby the best possible start in life.