Pregnant women, or women who wish to become pregnant, usually face a sharp learning curve about health do’s and don’ts.
One big “do” is to take prenatal vitamins, even before conception.
“They can be beneficial for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant,” says Lina Wong, D.O., of St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Diamond Bar. “A woman who is trying to conceive will get the benefit of prenatal vitamins from day one of conception. This can be beneficial for both the mom and the developing fetus.”
Prenatal vitamin supplements can be purchased over the counter or with a doctor’s prescription. “They are widely available as tablets of different flavors and sizes, or in chewable form, even as gummy chews,” says Wong. They contain optimum amounts of key vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy.
Most important are folic acid, iron and calcium.
Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that has been shown to prevent neural tube defects (malformations of the brain and spinal cord) in early stages of fetal development—three to four weeks after conception. Dietary guidelines recommend that all pregnant women get a minimum of 400 mcg of folic acid, which is difficult to consume through food alone. “For women with a history of neural tube defects, the recommendation is that they take 4,000 mcg of folic acid per day,” says Wong.
Iron is key for red blood cells, and pregnant women need about double the amount that non-pregnant women do. The recommended 27 mg of iron can be consumed through food, but taking a prenatal supplement will ensure that amount is met.
Calcium helps build the bones and teeth of a developing baby, so this, too, is a key mineral for pregnant women. The recommendation is 1,200 mg daily for pregnant and lactating women.
Prenatal care is critical
Wong sees women of all ages for obstetric and gynecological concerns, and believes prenatal care is critical.
“I encourage women to get prenatal care as early in pregnancy as possible, and to be open with their OB about their medical history and the family’s medical history,” she says. Previous miscarriages or preterm deliveries might mean a woman should be monitored by her doctor more closely than usual. Sickle cell disease and other inherited conditions should also be discussed. “We offer genetic counseling to all our patients,” says Wong.
The letters D.O. after her name indicate that Wong is a fully trained and licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine. “During my medical school training we learned more about the body’s musculoskeletal system, and treatments to ease symptoms associated with that,” she explains. “One component of the training is treating the body as a whole.”
St. Jude provides a fetal diagnostic center for high-risk pregnancies, as well as a neonatal intensive care unit. Practices such as allowing newborns and their parents to bond in the first hour of life, undisturbed by testing, are followed to help babies thrive.
“St. Jude Medical Center is accredited as a baby-friendly hospital,” says Wong. “Part of that is encouraging women to breastfeed, with classes and lactation consultants who meet with new mothers in groups and one-on-one.”
And as for those prenatal vitamins, new mothers can keep taking them. “I recommend continuing prenatal vitamins if a woman is breastfeeding to provide extra nutrients for her recovery from pregnancy,” says Wong.