It's a long-held belief that all expecting mothers should take a prenatal vitamin formula to reduce the risk of birth defects, nutrient deficiencies and other health problems. However, there are always skeptics who chime in as to why supplementing with extra nutrients may not actually be necessary while pregnant. If you're on the fence, here is some of the latest information supporting the importance of supplementing with a prenatal vitamin while pregnant.

Folic Acid Is Crucial

Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B9. This vitamin is needed for the synthesis and creation of DNA, the production of red blood cells, the metabolism of amino acids, and for the growth of the placenta and fetus. A woman's need for folic acid increases during pregnancy. Although the United States started fortifying grain products with vitamin B9 in 1998, most women still don't get enough of it.

Taking folic acid is essential for reducing the risk of neural tube defects. This type of birth defect can be very severe,and some of these defects have a very low survival rate and life expectancy. One well-known neural tube defect is spina bifida, which occurs when the membranes around the spinal cord do not close completely. Spina bifida usually requires after-birth surgery and periodic medical attention throughout life. Another example of a neural tube defect is anencephaly, in which the baby is born lacking a cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain.

Although neural tube defects are a terrible thing for a mother to experience, it's also easy to greatly reduce your unborn child's risk. In countries where flour is fortified with folic acid, there is a 46 percent lower rate of neural tube defects. You can bring the number down even further by simply taking a prenatal supplement with folic acid every day.

Folic acid may also help prevent other birth defects including heart defects and cleft palate, though more research is needed to confirm this. Additionally, because neural tube defects take place before most women even know they are pregnant, it's important to start taking a prenatal vitamin formula with folic acid as soon as you start trying to conceive.

Other Benefits of Prenatal Supplements

Prenatal Vitamin: Pregnancy Necessity or Not? 1Folic acid is arguably the most important prenatal vitamin that you should take. However, there are a few other nutrients with pregnancy benefits that you should learn about.

It is prudent for expecting mothers to take a supplement with vitamin D. Although vitamin D is obtained through sunlight, fortified dairy, fatty fish and egg yolk, most Americans still don't get enough of it. Being deficient in vitamin D may increase your risk of preeclampsia, intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, low birth weight, preterm birth, gestational diabetes and the need for caesarean delivery.

Calcium is one of few nutrients that your body takes from its own stores in order to help your baby grow. This means that if you aren't getting enough calcium in your diet, your body will take it from your bones and teeth. You can reduce your risk of lifelong bone density problems by taking a prenatal vitamin formula containing calcium.

Some of the other most important nutrients to look for in a prenatal supplement include iron, iodine, choline and omega-3 fatty acids.

So, Do I Need a Prenatal Vitamin?

There remain some people who argue against the benefits of taking a prenatal vitamin formula. Skeptics raise some good points, such as the fact that you don't necessarily need to supplement every single vitamin and mineral. However, the reality is that most Americans fall short when it comes to many key nutrients and that your need for certain vitamins like vitamin D and folic acid do rise during pregnancy. What's more, nutrient deficiencies in the mother have more severe effects in babies. Ultimately, research supports incorporating a comprehensive prenatal vitamin formulation into your prenatal care program during pregnancy and beyond, while breastfeeding.

One study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility called the "Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment Study" found that women who take a prenatal multivitamin daily during pregnancy have a 55 percent lower risk of losing their baby. Other studies have found consistent reductions in the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm birth.

Some people are more likely to highly benefit from taking a prenatal multivitamin formula than others. Supplementation during pregnancy is even more crucial for teenage mothers, women who smoke or have a history of using other substances, women who have suffered from eating disorders, women who take certain medications, vegetarians and vegans and women who are carrying twins, triplets, or beyond. However, taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin formula is a necessity for all women who are expecting or trying to conceive. This is confirmed by several health authorities: the Endocrine Society, the American Thyroid Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend multivitamins during pregnancy. Despite what the skeptics say, most OBGYNs and family doctors also recommend supplementing with a prenatal vitamin formula.