When I coached my clients I got these questions a lot: "Do I really need to take supplements?" or "I eat a healthy diet, why do I need to supplement?" I don't blame them because before I became a nutritionist, I was thinking the same thing!
While eating nutrient-dense foods is always the best way to get your daily nutrients, this is most often not enough. Especially considering how being a mother impacts your nutrient stores and ability to replenish them. It is extremely difficult for the average mother to be able to plan, cook, and eat perfectly balanced, nutrient-rich meals every single day. Having that expectation is simply unrealistic, and places an unnecessary burden on ourselves and mothers in general. After extensive research on the nutritional status of mothers before, during, and after pregnancy, it is clear that mothers need more than just "healthy food." That is why I created my line of supplements, probiotics, and superfoods so that mothers can get help replenishing their depleted nutrient stores and can feel better and not have the nagging worry that they are not "getting enough" to provide for their babies and themselves.
When people ask me why they should take a supplement, I usually respond with these reasons:
1. Mothers go through incredible physical, emotional, and mental transformations during pregnancy that leaves them nutritionally depleted.
In fact, over 80% of mothers are considered to be nutrient depleted as a result of pregnancy, birth, and lactation. It's no surprise that as a woman grows an ENTIRE little human (sometimes more than one!) inside of her body, she needs many more nutrients compared to the pre-pregnancy period. It takes a LOT of energy to not only grow a baby, but also to birth a baby and create breast milk to nourish your baby and to reverse all the changes of pregnancy back to a non-pregnant state. While many pregnant and postpartum women try their best to eat nutritious foods, unfortunately, the vast majority of people are unable to meet the nutritional demands of pregnancy and lactation without supplemental support. Take iron, for example. In the U.S., over 24% of women experience anemia during pregnancy, often due to the fact that many women have insufficient stores even before their pregnancy begins (WHO, 2010, Turner, 2003). An iron-deficient diet, an increase of 50% in iron needs, poor iron absorption in the gut, and blood loss from menstruation before pregnancy are some common reasons why women can't keep up with the increase in demand for iron during pregnancy (Abbaspour, 2014).
Another example is folate, an essential nutrient required for cell division during pregnancy and the synthesis and secretion of breast milk during postpartum, which leads to a decline in its concentration from mid-pregnancy until 3-6 months after birth. In fact, 20% of women in developed countries have been reported to have low serum folate levels 6 months after delivery (King, 2003).
Like iron and folate, many of the nutrients required for pregnancy and lactation are mobilized from maternal stores. So when you start from an already depleted state, it becomes nearly impossible to increase your nutrient intake without taking supplements, especially as the nutritional demands increase throughout your pregnancy and continue to remain high during lactation.
The changes that occur to your body during and after birth can also contribute to your nutrient depletion. Your entire digestive system shifts and as a result, your microbiome is affected and the digestive process (and therefore the absorption of nutrients in your gut) can be slow and inefficient. While many people view the postpartum period to sometimes be as short as 6 weeks after delivery, the truth is, nutrient depletion can last for much longer. A study by Janet King concluded that it takes approximately 18 months to replete nutrient stores after pregnancy and therefore that mothers with closely-spaced pregnancies are at increased risk of adverse maternal and baby outcomes (King, 2003).
Pregnancy and postpartum is a truly unique time that places extra stress on your body, so you want to make sure that you are getting the most important nutrients to support your pregnancy and birth, including folate, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, choline, B-vitamins, iron, and collagen. Taking a multivitamin in addition to single nutrient supplements is often the best way to meet the elevated nutritional requirements during this time.
2. Many health issues are linked to nutrient deficiencies.
When we don't have the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that our body needs, the biochemical processes in our bodies are unable to work efficiently, which applies chronic stress on our bodies. For example, we all know that omega-3s are key in baby's brain development, but it does a lot more than that. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA have been linked to auto-immune conditions, postpartum depression, anxiety, and pregnancy complications like preterm labor and hypertension. Low folate during pregnancy has been linked to higher risks of neural tube-related birth defects. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, and data from the CDC Nutrition Report shows that almost 90 million people do not meet the standard required levels of vitamin D (Serrallach, 2018, Nichols, 2018, CDC). Vitamin B12 deficiency, which has been reported in 3.4 million women in the U.S., can lead to anemia, depression, nerve damage, dementia, and increased risks for neural tube birth defects, preterm delivery, and miscarriage (Nichols, 2018, CDC).
For mothers, many of these health risks can have serious consequences for their health and the health of their babies. Conditions like postpartum depression, which is diagnosed in 10-15% of mothers, can be especially crippling (NIMH). While there are many factors that result in mental health struggles, for many mothers, there's often a nutritional component that compounds the issue. Aside from Omega 3's, deficiencies in vitamin D, calcium, iron, selenium, and zinc have also been linked to negative impacts on mood (Leung, 2009).
Addressing nutrient deficiencies through supplementation can be the first step towards feeling better, both physically and mentally.
It makes sense, doesn't it? The more nutrients we can fuel our body with, the more enzymatic processes go smoothly, and the more energy we can get and have.
3. The nutrient content of the soil in the U.S. has declined greatly over the last few decades.
Due to modern farming practices, which greatly impacts the soil's natural processes, the soil in the U.S. has lost almost half of its original mineral and vitamin content over the last few decades. A 2004 study which looked at over 40 crops from 1950-1999 found that nutrients including protein, calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin C and riboflavin have all declined significantly, some by up to 38% (Davis, 2004). The decline in nutrient-dense soil has a negative impact on the nutrient content of food, which decreases the amount of bioavailable nutrients for us to absorb into our bodies.
That means that compared to a decade ago, the same vegetables are providing us with less nutrients, so we need to get the extra nutrients elsewhere to make up for it.
4. The longer you supplement, the better your long term health is.
One study comparing supplementation of mothers for 2 months vs. 5-7 months after birth between consecutive pregnancies concluded that the group that supplemented for longer had a higher mean hemoblogin status at the onset of their second pregnancies. Their babies also had higher birth weights and lengths and a lower risk of low birth weight compared to the 0-2 month supplementation group, demonstrating that longer supplementation periods between pregnancies can improve the outcome of subsequent pregnancies even among reasonably well-nourished women. We also have to keep in mind that as we age, our bodies naturally decline in nutrient stores. This is especially true for collagen, which declines to about 50% by the time we are 40. While many consider collagen to be helpful for skin health, it is also an important nutrient for your pelvic floor, gut, joints and scar healing.
5. Your babies benefit from your supplementation
You're not the only one who benefits from the nutrients your body absorbs from supplementation, especially if you breastfeed your baby. In a 2012 study on probiotic supplementation, women who were given probiotics during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy and throughout lactation produced breastmilk with double the levels of immunoprotective
compounds. The rate of eczema in their infants during the first 2 years of life was also
decreased for that group of women (15%) compared to 47% for those who did not receive the probiotic supplement (Pelucchi, 2012). Other studies have shown that probiotic supplementation can protect against infant colic, spitting up and overall digestive discomfort. (Nichols, Lily. 2018).
The effects of Omega 3 supplementation in breastfeeding mothers' babies has been studied in depth. Getting enough DHA during pregnancy and lactation can improve behavior, attention, focus, and learning in children. Other benefits that have been found by having adequate DHA during pregnancy is a reduced risk of allergies in infants and a positive influence on immune development.
It's clear that to support the high nutritional demands of pregnancy, birth, and lactation, and recovering postpartum, mothers need the help of supplements.
But knowing what kind of supplements to take can be incredibly overwhelming, especially in a market that is saturated with choices.
Here are a few things to remember:
Getting your levels tested by your primary care doctor is crucial to knowing exactly which nutrients you are deficient in. Having hard data on how deficient you are can help you make decisions on what to supplement with.
What matters is the quality and form of the supplements, in addition to the dose. It is a waste to take supplements if they provide nutrients that are unable to be absorbed by our bodies. That is why looking at the specific forms of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is important and why all of our supplements were created using bioactive forms (like folate, D3, chelated iron) that are most easily absorbed by the body. Many of our supplements also include ingredients that enhance absorption, like our Organic Ashwagandha with black pepper, and our Vitamin D3 with K2. Sourcing from pasture-raised and organic animals also ensures that the nutrient content is as high as possible.
In addition to single nutrient supplements, look for a multivitamin that contains vitamin A, all the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, Alpha Lipoic Acid, choline, inositol, boron, calcium, chromium, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Not sure where to start?
Take our free Wellness Quiz to get a personalized nutrition report based on your answers about your pregnancies, diet, lifestyle, symptoms and other areas of concern. In your results, you will find out what supplements you could benefit from taking.
For high-quality products that use the most bioavailable forms of nutrients, explore our online shop. You can find a wide range of products, from prenatal and postnatal multivitamins, potent probiotics for women, to a delicious golden milk mix with collagen (Golden Collagen)!
Did you take supplements during your pregnancy and postpartum? What was recommended to you to take? Tell me in the comments!
De Benoist B, McLean E, Egli I, Cogswell M, editors. Geneva: WHO Press, World Health Organization; 2008. WHO/CDC. Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. Worldwide prevalence of anaemia 1993-2005: WHO global database on anaemia; p. 40.
Turner RE, Langkamp-Henken B, Littell RC, Lukowski MJ, Suarez MF. Comparing nutrient intake from food to the estimated average requirements shows middle- to upper-income pregnant women lack iron and possibly magnesium. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103:461–6
Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(2):164–174.
King JC. The Risk of Maternal Nutritional Depletion and Poor Outcomes Increases in Early or Closely Spaced Pregnancies. The Journal of Nutrition. 2003;133.
Serrallach, O. (2018). The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers, and Young Children. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Nichols, L. Real food for pregnancy: the science and wisdom of optimal prenatal nutrition. United States: Real food for Pregnancy; 2018.
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Leung BM, Kaplan BJ. Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Risks, and the Nutrition Link—A Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:1566–75.
Davis DR, Epp MD, Riordan HD. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23:669–82.
Pelucchi C, Chatenoud L, Turati F, Galeone C, Moja L, Bach J-F, Vecchia CL. Probiotics Supplementation During Pregnancy or Infancy for the Prevention of Atopic Dermatitis. Epidemiology. 2012;23:402–14.