Most women know that when trying to conceive; or more commonly thought about once pregnant, is that they should take a prenatal multivitamin. However how do you choose your prenatal with so many on the market? I mostly see pregnant mothers choosing a prenatal based on:
– What their friends take
– What the Ob or Midwife advises them.
However; would it shock you to know that in a postgraduate midwifery degree (Australian registered midwife) that prenatal multivitamins and what nutrients to look for ARE NOT EVEN MENTIONED ONCE. So, it would be pretty safe to say, that most midwives know just as much as you do about prenatal’s. (I am not an OB, so they may learn more)!
Unfortunately, the most commonly advised prenatal multivitamins are made from synthetic ingredients, which aren’t readily absorbed by the body and can have some unwanted side effects. Theres also not enough emphasis placed on the other supplements and nutrients you should consume ALONGSIDE the prenatal multivitamin. A prenatal is NOT and should not be a replacement to a balanced nutrient dense diet; it is an addition to ‘fill the gaps’.
My lovely friend, Sheridan Austin, a qualified holistic nutritionist and a gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) practitioner, has recently released a beautiful prenatal multivitamin made from REAL foods called Mothers Blend. This beautiful prenatal is made from ingredients such as: Fermented blend (all organic and naturally fermented red lentils, camu camu, broccoli, chlorella, spinach, pepitas, beetroot, molasses), organic beetroot juice, freeze dried grass fed and free range beef liver, organic Atlantic kelp, organic stevia leaf.
I have been taking the Mothers Blend for a couple of months now, as we would like to welcome another little babe into our family sometime in the near future and even though I have a healthy balanced diet, this is meeting some of those extra nutrient requirements my body requires to carry a pregnancy well. I have also had preconception bloods taken to check if I need any extra supplementation and nutritional support, and I eat fermented foods, take cod liver oil, magnesium and vitamin D3 (all of which Sheridan outlines the importance of in her blog below.)
I asked Sheridan to write a blog for you all to read, to empower, educate and inform you about what is in your typical prenatal multivitamin, what we should be looking for when purchasing a prenatal, what ingredients to avoid, and what other nutrients we should be considering for a healthy pregnancy.
Choosing a prenatal multivitamin – by Sheridan Austin
Whilst optimal nutrition is ideal throughout your entire life – pre, during and post pregnancy is of course such a demanding time and therefore critical to begin nourishing yourself more than ever. It didn’t help with pre-pregnancy planning that both of my pregnancies were beautiful little surprises, however due to the way I have eaten for many years and continue to support my gut health, I was lucky that I had been putting in the work already. Nutrients that are of utmost importance include iron, iodine, folate, zinc, choline, omega 3 fatty acids particularly for DHA, Vitamin K, Vitamin D and magnesium. Nutrients are absorbed and function far more optimally when consumed from their food source due to the abundance of other nutrients that surround it. It is always my recommendation that when an individual nutrient is consumed, to also consume the food source along with it within one’s diet as much as possible. Yes, individual nutrients are commonly required, however it is critical to ensure that a) to ensure it is the best source of the synthetic nutrient, and b) it is ideally increased within your diet as well through its natural source. Nutrients from food contain minerals, enzymes, coenzymes, co-vitamins and more that work together to support digestion, absorption and carry through with its function safely.
When should I start taking a prenatal?
If you are able to plan your pregnancy, then ideally you will want to focus on preparing for your pregnancy 1-3 months (or more in some cases) in advance of conception. This is of course an ideal situation, and some people do not have that luxury. Preparation would ideally not only consist of optimising the nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy, but also to start lowering your overall toxin exposure, support your gut health, and work on your personal health issues or deficiencies so you can best support you and your little one. Before and throughout your pregnancy, consider regular blood and urine testing, including (but not limited to); vitamin D, iron, iodine (urine test), zinc, folate and B12. This will help tailor your needs throughout your journey.
If taking Mothers Blend, should I take anything else?
There is no one pop wonder out there that will cover your entire needs for your journey, synthetic or natural. So yes, let’s consider those other things! What you eat and supplement with depends on your personal requirements, your dietary philosophy, your budget and current state of health. Mothers Blend contains naturally occurring food sources of iron, iodine, zinc, folate, choline, vitamin C and much more. However, here are some general additional foods you may like to think about;
Omega fatty acids; these are critical for healthy foetal brain and retina development and much more. My preferred source of omega fatty acids is cod liver oil, however there are also some plant sources including algae oil and inca inchi oil. Other foods to incorporate in your diet alongside your preferred supplement include chia seeds, flax seeds (however only contain a small amount). Eating sustainable fish 3 times a week will also help contribute to your levels, so keep this in mind when nourishing yourself. Also, listen to those cravings. Many women seem to crave fatty fish, like salmon, at different times in their pregnancy.
The cod liver oil we recommend can be found here
Magnesium; pregnant women often need a tonne of magnesium! This helps to support lowering restless sleeps, leg cramps, support your mental health and remaining calm. You may want to consider a magnesium supplement through your preferred practitioner or to regularly have magnesium salt baths with 2 cups of the salts added, and ideally soaking for a minimum of 20 minutes. Enjoy it!
Greens! Whilst there is a beautiful combination of greens in the Mothers Blend, make sure your diet contains an array of greens for the fibre, detoxification support and even more natural folate. This is EXTREMELY challenging if you’re suffering debilitating nausea (I have been there!), however, we can only do the best we can do! Before the nausea begins and once (or if…) your nausea passes, make the most of your ability to sneak in an abundance of greens.
Whilst there is a little in Mothers Blend, make sure you are incorporating saturated fats in your diet from foods like coconut oil, ghee, butter if tolerated and animal fats. These will assist with the continual absorption of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K, and assist with your skin, gut and hormonal health.
Methyl folate/activated folate; some women choose to have the activated folate or methyl folate which is much better tolerated than folic acid. Unlike folic acid, you do not require the enzyme that many people are lacking to convert it into usable folate within the body. This is to be considered particularly if the mother has a known deficiency in folate or has the MTHFR gene mutation which can be tested for and catered to individually. Some women may choose to just have this whilst they are extremely nauseous and struggling to eat greens and other folate rich foods, or may never have it and trust that they are eating a nutrient rich diet.
Are there any cases where wholefoods wouldn’t be completely sufficient?
Certainly! This is why testing is crucial. For example, iron can become extremely depleted in some women, where not even a synthetic iron supplement will lift levels and the woman is left considering whether an iron infusion is required. Whilst all of that is a last resort, it can certainly be needed. In these cases, source the highest quality of the supplement you can. This is why I often have an issue with multivitamins (including prenatal vitamins), because it is difficult to ensure that each individual synthetic nutrient is the highest quality source. If you open my cupboard, I have liquid zinc (much better than tablets), magnesium that I will occasionally have depending on my symptoms, and for postpartum I required iron glycinate that I had for 1-2 months among my Mothers Blend ingredients. These have been my personal needs on and off throughout my journey. It doesn’t mean at all that you need these things – and so far Mothers Blend has topped up many women’s iodine, iron and zinc status, which is so exciting.
Why doesn’t the Mothers Blend have added synthetic folic acid or folate?
Before I express my fury around synthetic folic acid, the idea of Mothers Blend is to remain, and always remain 100% food, and the highest quality of that food. With synthetic nutrients, there is always a risk of an individual not tolerating one or more of those nutrients – without knowing how each are manufactured, where they come from and whether they respond well with the body. For example, there are no common complications with natural folate in food, however folic acid or synthetic forms of folate may cause nausea, appetite loss, bloating and if one’s genetic makeup (20-40% of the population) doesn’t have the ability to convert folic acid into folate within the body, than there can be further known complications. For example, folic acid supplementation has been linked with higher rates of tongue tie and autism. Whilst folate is extremely important, and required to prevent midline birth defects, it is also exceptionally important to avoid the synthetic form of folic acid. Unfortunately, when the synthetic folic acid is left unmetabolised in the 20-40% (or more, just undiagnosed) of the population (known as the MTHFR gene mutation), the folic acid is left floating in the blood stream and may take up the receptor sites of folate, leaving you more deficient then previously, resulting in the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. More explanation and research can be found here, and if you would like to read it in more simple terms, I urge you to further read this article. Among this article there is also a discussion of recent research linking high doses of synthetic folic acid to particular cancers and cognitive decline.
There is certainly more research required. However, I am not prepared to take anything that has the potential to create unnecessary side effects. Food is always best. Always. It’s been around for a lot longer than anything synthetic.
Should I take anything like a prenatal postpartum?
Your nutrient needs are just as important, and in some cases even more important, to maintain post pregnancy. You enter the phase of breastfeeding (if possible), much less sleep, hormonal changes, healing from the birth whether that be caesarean or natural, and simply more physical and mental demand. So yes! Continue to nourish yourself as much as you can. I suggest to get some blood tests to evaluate your current nutrient status. Tests to consider include (but aren’t limited to); vitamin D, iron, iodine (urine test), zinc, folate and B12. Whilst I would certainly recommend continuing something like the Mothers Blend during this time (or any period where you feel like you need an extra dose of nourishment), sometimes we need to cater to those specific deficiencies just for a period of time before you are topped up. Test results will give you an idea of what foods to increase, and whether you need to take an individual nutrient supplement to increase your levels.
The best part of all this, is that you get to nourish YOU and not just your bubba. Your health is just as important as the development of your little one. It’s time to start prioritising your health so you not only feel the best you can feel, but also nourish your family. Because really, nothing else matters.
Sending so much love and strength your way beautiful Mumma’s.
Sheridan Austin xx