Anna Soref

April 24, 2008

7 Min Read
Picky about prenatals

Chances are that every pregnant woman who enters your store is taking a prenatal vitamin, or is heading to your supplements aisle to pick one up. It's one of the first things a woman does when she finds out she's pregnant, or maybe she began taking one when she decided she wanted to become pregnant. Either way, it's important to stock a quality selection of prenatals for your expecting or nursing customers—and it may bring you some crossover consumers looking for the best-quality vitamins they can find.

Importance of prenatals

The standard American diet tends to lack vitamins that are vital to fetal development, says Mary Bove, N.D., midwife and author of An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (McGraw-Hill, 2001). "You'd have to spend a good amount of time eating [to get the nutrients you need], and today's lifestyle just doesn't allow us to always get quality food or have time to prepare it—just ask a woman how many times a week she eats leafy green vegetables."

Add to this the lack of appetite a pregnant women often has due to nausea, and chances are she's missing some nutrients, Bove says. Not only can a daily prenatal ensure she's getting those nutrients, but some of the vitamins it includes, like the B family, can even help lessen the nausea, Bove says.

Taking a prenatal vitamin not only ensures vital nutrients for the developing fetus, but for the mother as well. "Prenatals benefit both baby and mother; the baby takes what it needs from the mom, so if her [nutrient] stores are good and she's getting adequate daily input, the baby has what it needs. But if the baby is not getting enough, it will take what it needs. For example, the mother's bones will lose density and so will her teeth," Bove says.

A prenatal also provides insurance for the fetus during certain gestational periods when extra nutrients are required. For instance, around the 28th or 30th week of pregnancy, iron stores run low and additional magnesium and calcium are needed. "By taking a prenatal, you're building the nutrient stores and will have them available; you avoid issues since you always have that little bit extra," Bove says.

Although a lot of attention is given to the nutrition of a pregnant woman, it's also very important for a nursing mother to ingest additional calories (500 a day extra versus 300 a day when pregnant) and to get extra minerals and vitamins, so she should continue to take a prenatal.

Picking a prenatal

Your pregnant customers may be among your pickiest—they want to ensure they are providing the best possible start for their growing baby. Naturals manufacturers supply you with a wide variety of quality prenatal products to stock your shelves. "Many of the pharmaceutical vitamins are byproducts with dyes and fillers that you don't really want the fetus to be exposed to, and really poor forms of minerals that we don't assimilate well; if you choose the right form of iron, you won't be constipated from it," Bove says.

Many natural prenatal manufacturers go beyond the Food and Drug Administration's daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals for pregnant women by adding extra nutrients and unique forms. Brattleboro, Vt.-based New Chapter uses "cultured" vitamins, minerals and herbs in its prenatal vitamins. This process, which blends a small amount of the nutrient into non-genetically modified soymilk and yeast, makes the nutrient more bioavailable, easier to digest and rich in probiotics including Lactobacilli acidophilus and bifidus, says New Chapter President Tom Newmark.

The company adds 13 herbs to the formula's 23 vitamins and minerals. "The herbs are also cultured, but in a more extensive two-stage process so that they are gentler on the stomach and in a more enlivened state," Newmark says. "We are trying to make everything as safe and gentle as possible for the mother and the child." When creating the prenatal formula, New Chapter sought the counsel of midwives to make sure it would cover the concerns of both experts and pregnant women. "They helped us to determine which herbs to include," Newmark says. The botanicals are all certified Class I by the American Herbal Products Association, meaning that they are safe for pregnant and lactating women.

Paul Schulick, founder and chief executive officer of New Chapter, also added detoxifying herbs such as the company's proprietary Broccolive sprouted seed blend that includes broccoli, cauliflower and radish sprouts. "Research shows that broccoli sprouts increase liver detoxification, and growing a baby increases oxidative stress, which puts more demand on the liver to process," Schulick says.

Many prenatal vitamins require a daily dose of four to six vitamins, a heavy load for a woman carrying a baby. Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems in Santa Cruz, Calif., is experiencing tremendous success with its once-daily Prenatal One, making it the No. 1-selling prenatal in the naturals channel, according to Marci Clow, the company's director of research and information.

Each Prenatal One pill packs in all the nutrients and minerals offered in most prescription prenatals, with added herbs in a whole food base. "The spirulina base makes it easier to digest than mass products with no base—just synthetic nutrients, additives and preservatives," Clow says. "It's good for people who aren't pill takers, and contains ginger for nausea."

The company's Prenatal Pack combines a bottle of Prenatal One with a bottle of DHA derived from fish oil. "The fetus experiences the most rapid brain growth during gestation, and studies show that DHA can raise IQ levels," Clow says. The fish oil capsules are infused with orange oil to help minimize the fishy flavor, she says.

MegaFoods' Baby and Me Daily Foods prenatal also uses a culturing process in its 100 percent food-based vitamin prenatal. "Each one of our vitamins and minerals has its own growth medium and goes through its own individual process to bind with a fruit or vegetable concentrate so that it's more bioavailable," says Cynthia Pileggi, certified herbalist and formulator for the Derry, N.H.-based company. When cultured, the iron is easier to digest, according to Pileggi. "Many women are afraid of iron, but pregnant women need it to build blood, and when iron is in a food state it doesn't cause constipation or nausea," she says.

To the Baby and Me formula Pileggi added red raspberry leaf, a uterine toner, chamomile, "a gentle carminative herb that dispels gas, and dandelion leaf, which functions as a mild diuretic and liver tonic," she says. There's also an herb-free Baby and Me formula for women who are uncomfortable taking herbs. In addition, MegaFoods makes Pre-Natal FoodBased Minis—mini pills taken in a dosage of nine a day for women who don't like swallowing large pills.

With a little knowledge and a prenatal section stocked with a range of choices, your prenatal supplements sales should be consistent and may earn you dedicated customers.

Necessary nutrients

Following are some of the key nutrients you'll see on a prenatal vitamin label.

B complex
Maintains healthy nerves, skin, eyes, liver and mouth and offers mood support. It may reduce nausea in some women.

Can prevent high blood pressure and leg cramps in pregnant women, and is essential for fetal bone development.

Folic acid
Folate is the only vitamin whose requirement doubles during pregnancy (800 micro?grams daily) and is critical in preventing neural tube defects, which can occur in the first month of pregnancy.

Crucial for red blood cell manufacture; if there is not enough available, the fetus will draw upon the mother's stores, possibly causing anemia.

Critical for energy and DNA and RNA cell replication; deficiency of magnesium is related to preeclampsia (a toxic condition in pregnancy) and preterm labor, and it is crucial in the first trimester for optimal birth weight.

Vitamin A
Critical for vision, cell membranes and growth and development; taking more than 10,000 IU daily may cause birth defects, so limit dietary and supplement intake to 8,000 IU a day.

Vitamin C
Key in the formation of collagen; found in connective tissue, cartilage and bone.

Vitamin D
Crucial for calcium absorption.

Vitamin E
Plays a role in immune system function, cell integrity and is a key antioxidant; low levels may be associated with preeclampsia and low birth weight.

Vitamin K
Helps manufacture clotting factors. In most U.S. states, a shot of vitamin K will be given to newborns to prevent blood disease.

Information provided by Marci Clow, M.D., R.D., director of research and information for Rainbow Light Nutritionals.

Anna Soref is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 3/p. 48

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