Prenatal vitamins: A powerful tool to help improve health outcomes in underserved communities

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(BPT) - Good health is more important than ever when a woman is expecting, yet many struggle to get the proper nutrients and supplements for a healthy pregnancy.

More than 120,000 babies in the United States are born with birth defects each year, but sometimes the simplest solutions can make a big difference. For example, taking a daily prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid before pregnancy and in the early stages of pregnancy can prevent neural tube defects, a birth defect of the spine and brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites that up to 7 in 10 of the 3,000 annual neural tube defects could be prevented entirely by taking a daily prenatal vitamin containing folic acid. Reducing infant mortality with prenatal interventions that result in a normal birth can also save $59,700 in medical expenses in the first year of an infant’s life. Yet 25 percent of pregnant women in the United States lack sufficient access to prenatal vitamins and minerals.

Creating a healthier world for mothers and babies

According to the CDC, 1 in 33 babies in the U.S. are born with a birth defect, like congenital heart defects, cleft lip and palate, which is defined as structural changes that affect one or more parts of the body (e.g., heart, brain, foot). Further, the (CDC) found that infant deaths related to birth defects were 34 percent higher for babies of Black mothers than for babies of white mothers and 26 percent higher for babies of Hispanic mothers than babies of white mothers.

As we approach National Birth Defects Prevention Month in January, here are some steps pregnant women and women considering pregnancy can take to support healthy pregnancies:

  • Before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy, take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in a baby.
  • Eat foods that contain folate, the natural form of folic acid, such as lentils, green leafy vegetables, black beans and orange juice and foods made from fortified grain products and fortified corn masa flour (corn tortillas, tacos).
  • Get a pre-pregnancy checkup. See a health care provider to talk about managing health conditions and creating a treatment plan before each pregnancy, especially about all of the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements that are currently being taken.

“Mothers everywhere want to make a better life for their children, but sometimes location, finances or a lack of information can be the difference between healthy pregnancies and health disparities,” says Robert Tompkins, Group Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Health & Wellness, Walgreens. “It is important for women who are pregnant to understand the benefits of good nutrition during pregnancy to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.”

We all can make a meaningful impact by helping women and children get the vital nutrients they need. For instance, purchasing select vitamins at a local Walgreens and on Walgreens.com contributes to 1 percent of retail sales donated to Vitamin Angels, an organization that supports pregnant women, new moms and children under age five. To date, more than 300 million at-risk women and children in the U.S. and in 65 countries globally have received life-changing vitamins and minerals through the eight-year partnership between Walgreens and Vitamin Angels. The two partners recently announced a new goal: reaching 500 million women and children by August 2025. To ignite this goal, they’re piloting a new program to help expectant moms in Chicago by providing a six-month free supply of prenatal vitamins to pregnant women. The hope is to expand this program in the future, to accelerate access to prenatal nutrition and education.

Prenatal vitamins, a nutritious diet, and regular exercise are key ways to combat high infant mortality and support a healthy lifestyle prior to, and throughout, pregnancy. Sign up at www.vitaminangels.org/walgreens-prenatal-program for the Vitamin Angels newsletter to stay informed and find out how you can help support the health of mothers and children.