The Ins and Outs of Pregnancy Supplements

While there are many different pregnancy supplements - teas, vitamins, herbal supplements, and more! - out there, it's important to know what you're putting into your body and how it may affect your growing baby.

Learning About Pregnancy Supplements and What’s Right for You

It may seem as though there’s a million different types of pregnancy supplements, vitamins, herbal options, and teas out there, all of which claim to provide exceptional benefits to you and your growing little one. It’s important to understand exactly what you’re putting into your body during this time, and how it might affect you and your baby. With that in mind, learning about these supplements, what might give you a boost, and what should be strictly avoided is critical to ensuring the safest and most comfortable pregnancy. Maintaining an open dialogue with your healthcare provider and asking questions during your appointments is the best way to address concerns, learn what to expect during your pregnancy, and receive professional recommendations and guidance for vitamins, supplements, and other prenatal essentials.

During your pregnancy journey, your body’s need for certain nutrients spikes – that’s because your body is working overtime to provide everything your growing baby needs to develop while also keeping you as well as possible. Chances are, you’ll undergo blood tests at certain points during your pregnancy, so your healthcare provider can quickly identify if you’re experiencing a vitamin or mineral deficiency. This is common, and usually just means that your doctor will recommend or prescribe a specific supplement to be taken in addition to your regular prenatal vitamin. If you’re considering taking over-the-counter or herbal pregnancy supplements or drinking a tea designed for prenatal moms, be sure to run it by your healthcare provider first! Ensuring your supplements are from a reputable brand with high quality standards is especially important now, and they can advise whether certain options are most optimal for you.

Common Pregnancy Supplements and What They Do

Check out our list below of some common pregnancy supplements, teas, and vitamins. Your prenatal vitamin should have everything your body needs for your growing baby, but occasionally some parents-to-be wish to take additional supplements. Introducing new vitamins can be tricky and sometimes too much of a specific vitamin or mineral – remember, your prenatal vitamin and foods are chock-full of them too! – can have the opposite effect, and actually become harmful. Always make sure to chat with your doctor before considering any extras, such as:

  • Folate: Folate, or folic acid, is an integral component of fetal growth and development while also helping support the placenta. It should also be an important part of any prenatal vitamin. This component can be found in many foods, such as leafy green vegetables – think kale and spinach – and broccoli, fortified cereals, oranges, orange juice, cauliflower, and more. Push to include these foods in your diet often and ensure your prenatal vitamin includes the recommended daily amount of folate or folic acid. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned that you may not be getting enough, so you can discuss switching your prenatal vitamin or adding a supplement to your diet.
  • Iron: Expectant women have a significantly increased need for iron, especially as pregnancy progresses, due to major increases in blood volume. Iron helps transport oxygen through the bloodstream, supports your placenta, and helps with fetal growth and development. Prenatal vitamins also have iron in them. However, if you do not have a noted iron deficiency (which will show up in your blood work) then you do not need to consume additional iron, as this can be toxic and lead to adverse effects like constipation, abdominal pain, digestive issues, joint pain, and liver damage.
  • Vitamin D: Be sure to understand how much Vitamin D is in your prenatal vitamin and talk to your doctor if you feel that you aren’t getting enough of the recommended daily amount. Vitamin D supports immune function, bone health, and is essential for helping your body absorb calcium and other nutrients. It also supports bone development and growth in your baby. According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 40 – 60% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D – including pregnant women. Fortified foods like milk contain Vitamin D, but you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider specific supplements that are safe for pregnancy and can be taken in tandem with your prenatal.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea: Some moms-to-be swear by the benefits of red raspberry leaf tea and claim that drinking it regularly before delivery helps ripen the cervix, strengthen the uterine walls, tone the pelvic area, shorten labor, and improve and quicken postpartum healing. While this tea is an excellent source of additional nutrients and antioxidants, such as Vitamin B, Vitamin C, potassium, zinc, and polyphenols, it should only be consumed late into your third trimester and you should stop immediately if you experience Braxton-Hicks contractions and/or spotting prior to your due date. Research shows that the most optimal time to begin drinking red raspberry leaf tea is at about 32 weeks pregnant, though it’s important to discuss with your doctor how many cups per day you may drink and if red raspberry leaf tea is recommended for you at all. Remember, every pregnancy is different and what may be great for some is not always best for your unique prenatal experience!
  • Fish Oil: Comprised of DHA and EPA, two essential omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil has profoundly positive effects on your baby’s early visual and brain development, as well as supporting a healthy pregnancy. Omega-3 fatty acids are also a key component of breast milk, which is designed specifically by your body for your newborn and his or her needs. Because the best sources of fish oil are through consuming cold-water fish and moms may understandably be concerned about eating seafood while pregnant, many opt to add a fish oil supplement from a reputable brand to their daily routine. Speak to your healthcare provider to find out which fish oil capsules they recommend!
  • Vitamin B6: Studies show that taking Vitamin B6 significantly improves symptoms of nausea for many pregnant women experiencing morning sickness. It also contributes to your baby’s brain and nervous system development and can help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels during your pregnancy. While this vitamin can be incredibly beneficial in these regards, there can be too much of a good thing. Consuming too much Vitamin B6 can have adverse effects, so be sure to know how much is present in your prenatal vitamin, what foods are high in this vitamin, and what the recommended daily amount is during pregnancy. Chatting with your doctor or healthcare provider can help you figure these things out!
  • Calcium: A calcium deficiency can often mean that your body will take calcium from you to ensure your growing little one has the amount that they need to thrive. Because the body doesn’t generate calcium, it’s important to ensure you’re getting it from outside sources like supplements or foods – particularly while expecting! Dairy products, like milk, yogurt, and cheese, have some of the highest levels of calcium, though it is also found in dark, leafy green vegetables. If you’re concerned that there is not enough calcium in your diet, you can also find calcium-fortified orange juice, cereal, and bread – but be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or doctor if you’re worried about a potential deficiency.  

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are also several vitamins and herbal supplements that are not considered safe for pregnancy and are strongly recommended to avoid. These include:

  • Saw palmetto
  • Goldenseal
  • Dong quai
  • Ephedra
  • Yohimbe
  • Passion flower
  • Pay d’arco
  • Black cohosh
  • Blue cohosh
  • Pennyroyal
  • Roman chamomile
  • St. John’s wort

In addition to the list above, take caution with Vitamin A and Vitamin E – though these vitamins are both very important for overall wellness and may provide some prenatal benefits, supplementing with or consuming too much of these vitamins can be harmful to your baby and increase your risk of pregnancy complications. Between your prenatal vitamin and diet, you’ll get exactly the amount of Vitamin A and Vitamin E that your body needs so you should not consider additional supplements for either.

Pregnancy is an important time to be especially mindful of your wellness, what you are consuming, and how it affects both you and your little one. Consult with your doctor or healthcare provider prior to beginning any pregnancy supplements – vitamins, herbal, or otherwise – and if you have any concerns about your prenatal health. Be sure you’re getting plenty of the rest you deserve and keep focusing on your growing baby – You’re doing a great job!