Are your prenatal vitamins doing more harm than good?
One of the most common causes of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy isn’t a result of morning sickness at all… Your symptoms may actually be caused by something you probably think are doing nothing but good things for you and your developing baby: your prenatal vitamins.
Many women (including yours truly) are sensitive to the elemental iron contained in most prenatal vitamins. But unless they’ve tried taking high dose iron supplements before getting pregnant, they may have no idea their vitamins are what’s making them sick.
I found out about my sensitivity the hard way in my early twenties… I started taking prenatals in an attempt to get my hair to grow faster and soon was puking every morning before heading out the door to work. It took me a few weeks to connect the two, but once I stopped the vitamins my stomach issues disappeared almost instantly. When I asked my doctor about the reaction she told me that iron sensitivities are extremely common and to look for an iron-free prenatal.
While it’s true that your need for iron increases as your blood volume increases during pregnancy, not all women need to supplement their diets with iron. Many women who enter pregnancy with adequate iron stores have no problem keeping up with this demand through their normal diets.
Additionally, your iron requirement really only increases when your body starts to step up red blood cell production, which doesn’t occur until sometime in the second trimester. In fact, your body’s need for iron actually decreases in the first trimester since you’re no longer losing blood through menstruation. Your body’s ability to absorb iron also increases the farther along you are in your pregnancy, correlating to your increased need for the mineral.
If you’re extremely sensitive to iron, talk to your practitioner about whether or not you really need to be supplementing it. If your red blood cell counts are in the normal range and you’re not having any symptoms of iron-deficient anemia (many of these symptoms can be confused with normal symptoms of pregnancy, such as fatigue, dizziness and headache, but others such as brittle nails, mouth sores, paleness and cold hands and feet should act as red flags), you may not need to take iron during your pregnancy. Increasing your intake of red meat or cooking in a cast iron pan may even be enough to keep your levels where they need to be. If this is the case for you, rather than a true prenatal I’d recommend a high quality food-based supplement combined with extra folate, B6 and B12 (this is the combination of supplements I’ve taken throughout my pregnancy).
If you do need to supplement with iron, wait until your morning sickness symptoms have begun to subside and then try a food-based prenatal that contains a form of iron that may be easier on your stomach. I’m completely unable to take elemental iron in any amount, but have no problem with moderate doses of iron found in food-based supplements. My favorite high quality food-based supplements are made by the brand Innate Response (available online or through health care practitioners), but I also recommend those made by New Chapter which can be easier to find locally and are carried in most natural food stores.
Are you sensitive to iron-containing supplements? What ways have you found to increase your iron intake that don’t irritate your stomach? Let me know in the comments below!