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There has never been a scientific study to find out what happens when pregnant don't get vitamin E. There is a lot of experience, however, in how vitamin E can save sight and lives of babies born prematurely.
Vitamin E and premature babies. Normal pregnancies last 37 weeks. A premature delivery is defined as a delivery before the thirty-second week. Every year over 4.5 million babies are delivered prematurely-and there is solid evidence that vitamin E is essential for their survival.
There is no ethical way to set up a clinical trial in which some expectant mothers receive vitamin E and other expectant mothers do not, giving scientific proof of the importance of vitamin E for the survival of mother and child. But Dr. Sushil Jain of the Louisiana State Medical School in New Orleans has found that newborns use about five times as much vitamin E as their mothers.
That's because there is a lot more oxygen in the atmosphere than in the womb. About five times as much, to be precise. Baby's bodies need lots of vitamin E to deal with the shock of breathing air, and premature babies are at a distinct disadvantage because their antioxidant defense systems have not had a chance to develop.
Natural vitamin E is best for prenatal care. If the mother has enough vitamin E during pregnancy, the baby has a fighting chance. But not all kinds of vitamin E are equally beneficial.
It's hard for vitamin E to pass through the placenta to the baby. Researchers conducting a collaborative study at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Eastern Tennessee State University, working a model of the human placenta, have determined that natural d-alpha-tocopherol passes through the placenta from mother to unborn child about three times as fast as synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol.
Why does this make a difference for the baby? A big problem for babies born prematurely is blindness. The retina of most premature babies struggles to make enough antioxidants. When the mother has her own supply of natural vitamin E, the baby is better prepared for this possibility.
Natural vitamin E is best for baby's formula. Breastfed babies usually don't get enough vitamin D, but they do get enough vitamin E. When babies are fed formula, however, it's a different matter.
Many baby formulas are made with synthetic vitamin E, the dl-alpha-tocopherol form of the vitamin. Synthetic vitamin E is a mixture of eight isomers, or chemical variations of E, seven of which are not utilized by the human body.
The one form of synthetic vitamin E that actually does any good at all is a chemical combination of the vitamin E and succinic acid that the baby's digestive enzymes have to break down. Since babies don't have lots of digestive enzymes early in life (and this particular enzyme isn't one you can give a baby as a supplement), natural vitamin E, preferably a mixture of d-alpha-tocopherol, other tocopherols, and tocotrienols, is best.
Natural vitamin E also helps mothers adjust to life after pregnancy. There's another application of vitamin E that many new mothers find very important: Erasing stretch marks.
Some go to extremes to try to erase stretch marks after pregnancy. They may try laser dermabrasion. They may have collagen injections. They get prescriptions for Retin-A, which keep them from breastfeeding their babies. And they try treatment with alpha-hydroxy acids to try to exfoliate stretch marks away.
These treatments are very expensive, and not terribly effective. Prevention is much better than cure. That's why need to know about topical vitamin E and pregnancy.
Stretch marks occur when collagen breaks down. Vitamin E creams and creams with a kind of vitamin C called ascorbyl palmitate can help the collagen in skin stretch out to accommodate pregnancy-related weight gain and then back to normal without breaking down. But it helps to take care of skin both inside and out.
Pregnant can use a cream containing d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate about two months before their due date. And they should take a multivitamin supplement including d-alpha-tocopheryl succinate during pregnancy.
It's not a good idea to take a separate vitamin E supplement during pregnancy unless the obstetrician agrees. A product with at least 10 mg of a palm oil derived complete vitamin E supplement like Tocomin® twice a day is enough. But providing vitamin E and vitamin C directly to the skin greatly reduces the breakdown of collagen that can lead to ugly stretch marks after baby is born. Using the right kind of vitamin E makes sure the skin is well-protected.
You may also be interested in our Vitamin E Benefits for Women page.