Can women get all of the nutrition they need from their daily diet?

Quick notes:

  • A healthy diet can provide most of what women need to support a healthy pregnancy

  • Most experts agree that women need supplements for folic acid and vitamin D

  • Several vitamins and minerals may not be required if a woman is already eating well

Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant know that proper nutrition is crucial to their health and the health of their unborn baby. Babies are growing at an unbelievable rate, and without the right vitamins and minerals, their growth may not happen the way that it should.

To make sure that they’re receiving the appropriate amount of nutrition, women are advised by doctors to take a prenatal vitamin in addition to upping the vitamins and minerals present in their daily diets. But is this added supplement really necessary? Some experts say that it may not be.

The case against taking prenatal vitamins: Are they overkill?

While no doctor or medical professional is questioning the robust nutritional needs of a pregnant woman, a few are wondering if the content in a traditional prenatal supplement isn’t a bit of overkill. Some supplements include more than 20 individual vitamins and minerals. They wonder if each of these really plays a role in giving baby the best start in life.


Vitamins and minerals in most supplements that women do need

There are two things in every prenatal vitamin that doctors and healthcare workers agree women need: folic acid and vitamin D. Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate and helps to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida or anencephaly. Vitamin D is crucial to a baby’s bone development and has been linked to a lower risk of preterm birth and a reduced risk of preeclampsia. These are both so critical that virtually all professionals agree that it is a wise idea for anyone who is or may become pregnant to take these two supplements.

These components in supplements may not do much for mom or baby

Aside from folic acid and vitamin D, doctors aren’t entirely convinced of the health benefits of the other components of prenatal vitamins. One of the most marketed components in prenatal vitamins is iron. With their increased blood flow, coupled with baby’s other needs during pregnancy, some women become anemic and need extra iron. However, not all pregnant women become iron deficient. While iron is included in most prenatal vitamins, for most women, it is unnecessary.

One of the most marketed components in prenatal vitamins is iron

There are other nutritional components included in prenatal vitamins that also may not provide any benefit to pregnant women either. These include vitamins A, C, and E, B-complex vitamins, and minerals like magnesium, copper, and selenium. Generally, experts have found that when women are well-nourished from the food in their diets, the extra boost from these vitamins and minerals is not something that they need.

How women can get the nutrition they need from their diet

Health care professionals agree that the best way for women to get the nutrition they need is the old-fashioned way, through their food. Folate is fully present in leafy, dark green vegetables, and whole grains. Vitamin D is present in milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, and leafy green vegetables. Iron can also be found in leafy green vegetables, in proteins, and unexpected places like bootstrap molasses. A variety of fruits and vegetables contain B-complex vitamins and other minerals.

Want to be sure? Keep a journal

Yes, there are ways to make sure you’re hitting your nutritional targets.

Women who want to make sure that they’re meeting their nutritional requirements should talk to their doctor so that they completely understand what their body and their growing baby needs. The next step is to track their food based on the amount of nutritional content in what they’re eating. After a short period, they’re likely to become more confident that they’re eating well enough to give their baby the best possible start in life.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

What to avoid when you’re pregnant | Parenting 101
Here are some things you may want to stay away from if you’re expecting. 

How to safely exercise during pregnancy | Parenting 101
Exercise is an essential part of pregnancy. Here are some ideas to make it safer and easier.