Do I need to take a multivitamin tablet?

The multivitamin tablet is one of the most commonly prescribed medications during pregnancy. Given its popularity, pregnant women are often misled to believe that it is compulsory to take multivitamin supplements throughout their antenatal period.

If you consume a healthy, well balanced diet that includes a variety of food groups and meets nutrient recommendations, then there is NO indication for additional multivitamin supplementation throughout your pregnancy1. This is supported by guidelines across Australia.

However given the increased nutritional demands during pregnancy and lactation, this may not be possible in some women. If you find it difficult in meeting the extra nutritional needs, have an overall poor diet, or already suffer from nutrient deficiencies prior to falling pregnant, evidence has shown that you will benefit from supplements.

The average multivitamin tablet is composed of the following:

  • Folic acid – Prevents birth defects, especially neural tube defects, as well as maternal anaemia.
  • Iron – Deficiency leads to anaemia, which can lead to haemorrhage or extra loss of blood after the delivery, and poorer fetal outcomes.
  • Iodine – Required for neuropsychological development of the fetus, especially in development of brain from early gestation to first two years of life.
  • Vitamin C – Important role in collagen synthesis and wound healing, as well as helping prevent anaemia by increasing iron absorption.
  • Vitamin D – Deficiencies can lead to neonatal rickets, a type of bone disease in your baby, and osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin B12 – Important for infant neurodevelopment.
  • Vitamin K – Essential for producing proteins that are used in the blood clotting process.
  • Vitamin B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus

Three nutrients that have a significantly higher requirement in pregnancy and important roles in fetal development include folic acid, iodine and Vitamin D. A major benefit of taking multivitamin supplements is that a daily dose will contain the recommended amounts of all of these nutrients alone. Folate supplements are essential during pregnancy and should be taken regardless; however if multiple vitamin deficiencies co-exist which does occur, then a multivitamin supplement is a better alternative option.

Multivitamin supplements are readily available at your local chemist. Common brands include Elevit, Elevit with Iron, and Swiss Pregnancy Multivitamin. Important points to remember include:

  • The content of the tablets does vary across the different brands, with some containing for example more iron than others. IT is important therefore to work out the most suitable supplement for your diet.
  • There are also supplements that are specific for one particular nutrient such as Megafol for folate and Iron tablets, especially well suited if there is only one particular nutrient you are lacking in your diet.
  • It is also important to choose one that is specifically designed for pregnancy as the general multivitamin tablets will not be specific for the additional requirements you need.
  • The tablet must also be used according to instructions, as excessive intake can be harmful.
  • Ideally you should commence the supplement one month prior to conception and continue for at least 12 weeks of your pregnancy, in order to meet folate requirements.
  • Do not commence supplements without discussion with your midwife or doctor first.

Multivitamin supplementation does play a vital role in achieving good nutrition in pregnancy. However as doctors ideally we would prefer you to be meeting the nutritional requirements of pregnancy through a great diet, and the following recipe is a fantastic way to make a start to this providing all the essential food groups as well as folate, vitamins and minerals.

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