As a doula, you are likely to receive many questions about what is and is not safe during pregnancy. Questions about supplements are common. “Is a vitamin C supplement safe during pregnancy?” is a common question you may be asked.
Doulas cannot give specific medical advice. However, having general knowledge about common questions, supplements, and alternative health, can be helpful in supporting clients.
During pregnancy, parents are often told what they need to avoid.
We know they should not drink alcohol and they should check cheese labels to be sure it’s pasteurized.
But what are moms supposed to consume while pregnant?
Pregnant mothers need adequate calories and protein. But they also need many vitamins and minerals to have their healthiest pregnancy.
Many of us think of vitamin C when we’re fighting a cold virus. However, it’s an important part of a healthy diet, not just a supplement during illness.
#1: What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is also known as L-ascorbic acid and is a water-soluble vitamin. It’s naturally present in some foods, is added to some foods, and is available as a supplement.
The human body does not produce vitamin C, which makes it a necessary part of our diet.
Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body like fat soluble vitamins. This means we must consume these vitamins daily to be our healthiest.
The basics of what vitamin C is, is something we as doulas can share with our clients.
#2: Why Is Vitamin C Important?
As mentioned, our bodies do not produce this vitamin. However, our bodies do need it to properly function.
Not consuming enough of this vitamin can cause tooth, bone, skin and immune system issues. Severe deficiency leads to scurvy.
Thankfully, this is extremely rare as most of us have access to nutritious fruits, vegetables, and fortified foods containing vitamin C.
It plays an important part in many metabolic processes, including:
- Iron absorption – vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron which is an essential nutrient
- Brain health – Vitamin C produces brain chemicals know as neurotransmitters.
- Antioxidant function – when our body metabolizes oxygen, we release molecular compounds called ‘free radicals’. Vitamin C is one of several antioxidants that destroy these free radicals. This makes it essential for our body at the cellular level.
- Immune system function – lymphocytes, an important part of our immune system, requires vitamin C to function. It’s best to regularly consume adequate amounts for immune system function than attempt to load up once you’re ill.
- Collagen formation – our body relies on collagen to strengthen skin, bones, connective tissue, and blood vessels. Collagen is also necessary for wound healing
Vitamin C is essential for our overall health, making it essential during pregnancy as well.
#3: Why Is Vitamin C Important During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, one provides all the nutrition for their growing baby through diet and nutrition stores. As vitamin C cannot be stored, it’s vital one gets enough in their diet to help their growing baby.
All the things mentioned above that vitamin C does for the body, it also does for the growing baby.
Pregnant women can be prone to illness and infection due to immune system changes. Consuming enough of this essential vitamin is one thing they can do to help their immune system prevent and fight infections.
Studies have also found adequate vitamin C intake, including via supplements, can improve pregnancy outcomes.
One study found pregnant mothers who took a vitamin C supplement were less likely to experience their water breaking prior to 37 weeks.
This is known as preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) which is a leading cause of premature birth.
Vitamin C aids in immune system function which may help prevent infections associated with PPROM. However, the role it plays with collagen is likely to aid in creating a strong amniotic sac.
A study in Uganda found pregnant women who took a vitamin C supplement were less likely to be hospitalized during pregnancy.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common pregnancy condition affecting 15-25% of pregnant women. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron making it a vital part of your pregnancy diet.
#4: How Do I Consume Enough Vitamin C?
Many are aware citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, contain high levels of vitamin C. However, many other fruits and vegetables are great sources too, including:
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens
- Some herbs such as thyme and parsley
Many fruit juices contain natural and added vitamin C. While juice can be a source of vitamins, it’s also high in sugar (even if all-natural sugar) which should be consumed only in moderation. Even natural sugars in high quantity can increase the risk of gestational diabetes.
As mentioned, doulas cannot give specific advice about supplementation or medical conditions (such as GD) but we can provide generalized information. Sharing about consuming whole fruits versus juice can be a helpful way to educate your clients.
The daily recommended intake of vitamin C during pregnancy is:
- Aged 18 and under – 80 mg
- Over 18 – 85 mg.
The studies mentioned above included supplementation and had a dose of at least 100mg. One thing to keep in mind, the Uganda study included women who may have limited access to foods containing vitamin C during off seasons. In many places, there is a lot of international fruit trade as well as fortified foods.
#5: Should Pregnant People Take A Vitamin C Supplement?
Which supplements one takes during pregnancy can be a combination of personal preference and directions from their midwife or doctor.
As a doula, you should encourage clients to speak with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement. Generally, vitamin supplements are not dangerous during pregnancy. However, there may be underlying health conditions or medication contradictions. Checking with a provider reduces the risk of accidental complications.
Many people can consume enough of the vitamin via a balanced diet. Our bodies tend to absorb nutrients best in their closest to natural state. Unprocessed and whole food is often our best source of nutrients.
When supplements are needed, a supplement made from foods is usually better absorbed by the body.
If your client has morning sickness, heartburn impacting what they eat, or anemia, their midwife or doctor may recommend a supplement. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so an increase is often recommended with anemia.