Your baby needs an abundant supply of certain vitamins and minerals to develop properly. And you also require additional dietary support while pregnant. Enter prenatal supplements, which help provide those extra nutrients. In fact, not taking prenatal vitamins can potentially leave you at a deficit.
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First things first, a balanced diet is the most critical component of good nutrition during pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That said, most pregnant people also take prenatal vitamins. The main benefit of taking prenatal vitamins is that they can provide you with the nutrients you need to stay healthy and support your baby's development. These extra nutrients can also be especially important for those whose dietary intake is limited by morning sickness or other complications.
But is it bad to not take prenatal vitamins while pregnant? Here are some of the potential effects of not taking prenatals during pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant but not taking prenatals yet, talk to your doctor about the best prenatal vitamins for your unique needs, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Folic Acid Deficiency
Folic acid is a B vitamin present in dark green, leafy vegetables that supports a baby's brain and spinal cord development, per the Mayo Clinic. It's so important, in fact, that it's ideal to start taking folic acid supplements at least three months before pregnancy.
But what if you don't take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy? Every pregnancy is different, so there's no one outcome. But taking folic acid supplements does help prevent neural tube defects, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And even though much of the spinal cord and brain development take place during the first trimester of pregnancy, this doesn't mean you should not take prenatal vitamins in the second trimester, per the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, doctors recommend you only stop taking prenatal vitamins after you're done breastfeeding your baby.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, pregnant people should get 600 micrograms of folic acid per day.
If you’ve already given birth to a baby with a neural tube defect, it is bad not to take prenatal vitamins during subsequent pregnancies, per the Mayo Clinic. Talk to your doctor about what prenatal vitamin is best for you and whether you might also benefit from extra folic acid supplements.
Calcium — a mineral found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables and tofu — is a crucial nutrient for your baby's bone and teeth development, per the National Health Service (NHS). And not taking prenatal vitamins could lead to a lack of calcium, which could hamper bone development.
So what else happens if you don't take prenatals that contain this mineral? Insufficient calcium intake during pregnancy increases your risk for pregnancy-induced hypertension, or preeclampsia, which increases the risk of death for both parent and child, according to an October 2015 study in American Family Physician.
Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily calcium intake for pregnant people is 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams.
Can Not Taking Prenatals Cause Miscarriage?
There's no link between taking supplements before you're pregnant or during early pregnancy and a decreased risk for miscarriage, according to May 2016 research in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
So if you're wondering what happens if you don't take prenatals during pregnancy, there's not enough conclusive evidence to establish a relationship between skipping these vitamins and miscarriage.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D helps your body regulate calcium, which further contributes to your baby's bone and teeth development, according to the NIH. It's naturally found in foods like fish, red meat and eggs, and you should also look for a prenatal vitamin that includes it.
But what happens if you don't take prenatal vitamins with vitamin D? Again, every pregnancy is different. But not getting enough can lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which may deprive your growing baby of this nutrient and contribute to a loss of bone density, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
So instead of not taking prenatal vitamins, make sure to get 600 international units of vitamin D per day from food and supplement sources, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Iron, a mineral found in red meat, fish, poultry and a variety of plant foods, helps your body make blood to supply oxygen to the placenta and fetus, according to the Mayo Clinic. But what if you don't take your prenatal vitamins?
Here's what happens if you don't take prenatal vitamins while pregnant: Insufficient iron intake can contribute to both parental and fetal anemia, which in turn can lead to premature delivery and low-birth-weight infants, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also increase your risk for postpartum depression.
What's more, per the Mayo Clinic, anemia can lead to symptoms like:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Shortness of breath
- Craving or chewing ice
- In severe cases, a rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure and difficulty concentrating
To avoid these issues, it's important to get 27 milligrams of iron a day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may be at higher risk for developing an iron deficiency and it is likely bad to not take prenatal vitamins while pregnant, according to the NHS. Talk to your doctor about how to ensure you get enough of the nutrient.
- Mayo Clinic: "Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- National Health Service: "Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy"
- American Family Physician: "Calcium Supplementation for Preventing Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy: Prevention tips"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Vitamin D Deficiency"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Vitamin supplementation for preventing miscarriage"
- Cleveland Clinic: "When Should You Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?"