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What Are Prenatal Vitamins? [A Guide to Healthy Pregnancy]

What Are Prenatal Vitamins [A Guide to Healthy Pregnancy]

It’s normal to take vitamins on a daily basis to boost our immune system or help with our appetite.

However, there are certain vitamins that are specifically formulated to help us during pregnancy and postpartum.

You might be asking yourself, “What are prenatal vitamins, and how can they help me and my baby?”

Here’s your comprehensive guide to prenatal vitamins and how they can help improve your and your baby’s health.

What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements that provide the daily vitamins and minerals our body needs before and during pregnancy.

Sometimes, our body doesn’t absorb enough nutrients from the food we eat. There are also times when we can’t consume certain food groups for health reasons, like allergies or lifestyle diseases.

By consuming prenatal vitamins along with our daily diets, we can increase the nutrients we already receive from our food. This will ensure you and your baby get enough nutrients to grow healthy and strong.

This is vital, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, because it’s when the most crucial formations and developments in the womb occur.

 During this time, your baby’s organs, spine, and nervous system will form, and they will need all the nutrients they can get to develop correctly.

As your baby grows and develops in the uterus, they will constantly need different vitamins and minerals.

Since the baby relies on their mother for nourishment at this time, having vitamins can ensure that such nutrients are always complete and ready for use as needed.

Types of Prenatal Vitamins

Types of Prenatal Vitamins

Prenatal vitamins can come in different forms. You can usually find them as pills, capsules, gummies, or liquids. They can be organic or vegan to fit specific diets.

Most prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter. However, higher doses will require a prescription. 

Since there’s no specific or standard formula, it’s best to ask your doctor or midwife for recommendations on what would best benefit you and our baby.

While there are different ways to consume these vitamins, the key ingredients are the most important things to look into. You need to determine how they can improve your baby’s health and development.

It’s normal and even encouraged to find the following critical ingredients for prenatal vitamins in any suitable formulation:

  • Iron: During pregnancy, your body will need twice as much iron as usual, or 27 milligrams daily. This helps build red blood cells that bring oxygen throughout your body and to your growing baby.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): Also known as omega-3, this is a fatty acid that can help protect against numerous pregnancy-related complications. When pregnant, you’ll need around 300 milligrams of DHA/day to sustain you and your baby. Otherwise, you may run the risk of DHA deficiency and even risk your baby missing out on the nutrient’s key benefits. If you’re not eating enough foods with omega-3, it may be best to take a supplement, especially during pregnancy. You could also add fish oil or fatty fish into your diet.
  • Calcium: Pregnant women usually need around 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, which you can get from food and calcium supplements. This will help your baby develop strong and healthy bones, muscles, and teeth. However, it’s expected that prenatal vitamins won’t have all the calcium you need, so it’s best to introduce more of this essential mineral into your diet.
  • Folic Acid: When you’re pregnant, you’ll need around 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. This will help prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida. It also helps with your baby’s neurological development and has been shown to positively affect babies as they grow up. Folic acid also has more benefits that can help your baby grow strong.
  • Choline: This nutrient helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, lower circulating cortisol or stress hormone levels, and improve your baby’s cognition. Overall, it decreases the likelihood of a difficult pregnancy and birth-related complications. It’s typically recommended for pregnant women to get 450 milligrams of choline per day, which they can get from food or in supplement form.

Besides these key ingredients, prenatal vitamins can also serve as a multivitamin that provides more nutrients to you and your baby in a single tablet. These are the usual vitamins and minerals they can contain:

  • Iodine: This helps develop your baby’s brain and nervous system.
  • Vitamin A: It helps give your baby healthy skin and eyes. However, it can also cause birth defects if you consume too much of it. Make sure your multivitamin or prenatal vitamin has under 10,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C: Not only does Vitamin C help boost your immune system during pregnancy, repair tissue, and heal wounds, but it also helps your baby develop strong and healthy bones and teeth.
  • Vitamin D: This helps the body absorb the calcium you’re taking in and build strong bones and teeth for your baby.
  • Zinc: This helps reduce the chances of preterm births.

Are Prenatal Vitamins Important?

Yes, prenatal vitamins are very important.

They serve as a nutritional safety net, especially during your pregnancy, ensuring that both you and your baby get everything you need.

Despite their benefits, however, they’re still NOT a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet. In fact, it’s recommended to use this as a supplement to a healthy diet.

Since the body has different needs, these vitamins will add to the vitamins and nutrients we already get from the food we eat. At the same time, they can also provide the nutrients we might lack in our regular diets.

However, since more than half of pregnancies are unplanned, experts advise taking prenatal vitamins, as they can act as multivitamins for women who may currently lack nutrients for child development, especially folic acid.

These can be used by all women of childbearing age, even if they’re not getting pregnant. It has the daily vitamins any woman needs to stay healthy and prepared for anything in life, not just pregnancy.

Tips for Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Tips for Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Side effects and benefits can depend on the type of prenatal vitamins you plan to take. Some vitamins can have undesired effects, which any expecting mom would want to avoid.

Here are a few tips you can try to help you get the most of prenatal vitamins and how you can avoid any undesired side effects:

  • Follow the manufacturers’ instructions and dosage recommendations. If your physician prescribes your vitamins, do your best to follow their instructions accordingly.
  • Eat before taking the prenatal vitamins to help reduce nausea, especially with morning sickness.
  • Accompany your prenatal vitamins with a healthy diet to stay healthy and get the most out of their nutritional value.
  • Ask your doctor for advice and/or recommendations regarding which prenatal vitamins are ideal for you and your baby and how to reduce their side effects. For example, if you have PCOS or diabetes, your doctor may prescribe specific prenatal vitamins.

When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins

The best time to start taking prenatal vitamins is when you’re actively trying to get pregnant. Start taking the vitamins as soon as you begin trying to have a baby or from your last menstrual period.

It’s normal to only find out that a woman’s pregnant when they’re 4 to 6 weeks into the pregnancy. By taking the vitamins before the date of conception, your fetus will already start getting the nutrients they need, even if you’re unaware.

If the pregnancy is unplanned, you can start taking the vitamins as soon as you find out about your pregnancy.

Mothers who breastfeed are also encouraged to take these prenatal vitamins. This will help the baby get the nourishment they need through their mom’s breast milk.

When it comes to prenatal vitamins, it’s never too late to start

While those who start earlier can make the most of the vitamins, development is a continuous and ongoing process, and your fetus or baby will continue to make use of those vitamins as they grow in the womb.

How to Choose Good Prenatal Vitamins

How to Choose Good Prenatal Vitamins

When choosing your prenatal vitamins, there are several factors to consider. These vitamins, ingredients, and side effects can significantly affect how you’ll go about your pregnancy.

Any mom would want only the best for her baby and her body. You’d want to ensure that the prenatal vitamins you buy and consume are safe and effective.

By choosing the best prenatal vitamins, you can rest assured knowing you and your baby will be well-nourished throughout and even after the pregnancy.

Here are the critical factors to look into when choosing a good prenatal vitamin for you and your baby:

  • Undesired side effects. You might have to try a few different types before finding one that doesn’t negatively affect you. Take note of side effects when consuming these vitamins, like nausea or constipation. If you’re feeling any side effects, it’s best to ask your doctor or midwife for alternatives. I’ll discuss more about the possible side effects you’ll have to watch out for in later sections.
  • Type of prenatal vitamin. As mentioned, there are many kinds of prenatal vitamins. Some can function as a multivitamin, while others focus on a specific vitamin or mineral your body needs more of. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider regarding the different vitamins and minerals you might need more of during your pregnancy, as these are different for every mother and child. Just make sure to check if the key ingredients are what your body needs.
  • Prescription vs. over-the-counter. You usually need a prescription for prenatal vitamins with a higher dosage than what over-the-counter ones offer. This means drinking less of each vitamin, but increasing the risk of side effects. While over-the-counter vitamins are more accessible, they can also be less regulated, and dosages on the label might not be as accurate.
  • Seal of approval. Ensure your prenatal vitamins are approved by authorized organizations and are FDA-approved to ensure they don’t have any harmful levels of contaminants. Doing further research regarding the labels and ingredients list on top of checking which organizations approved them is best.
  • Cost. One of the common reasons why moms tend to skip out on prenatal vitamins is the cost. You can ask your doctor or midwife for recommendations that fall within your budget but won’t compromise the benefits these vitamins can bring. You can also check if your insurance can help you cover these vitamins.

If you’re having trouble looking for a reliable prenatal vitamin, consult your doctor or midwife for any recommendations and professional advice.

Possible Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins

Possible Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins

Like any other drug, it’s possible to experience a few side effects when taking prenatal vitamins. It can manifest in different ways, depending on the dosage and what your body can take.

Some women can feel nausea when taking prenatal vitamins.

Eating before taking your vitamins is often advised to help ease that nausea. Others might drink the vitamins before bed so that they don’t feel the side effects.

Another common side effect is how the body reacts to added amounts of iron, which can contribute to constipation

In these cases, you can try the following to help ease that side effect:

  • Drink more water to help regulate bowel movement.
  • Add more fiber to your diet to help with digestion.
  • Make sure to include a little more physical activity throughout your day. You can also do light exercise, as recommended by your physician.
  • Inquire with your physician about the possibility of having a stool softener.

You can also ask your physician about the available options to help you with the side effects, especially if they’re persistent. 

They will also be able to address your other concerns, like whether prenatal vitamins help you get pregnant or what happens if you don’t take them.

FAQs

You may have more questions about prenatal vitamins.

I’ve gathered the most common ones to help supplement your research.

Can I Take Prenatal Vitamins When I’m Not Pregnant?

Yes, you can take prenatal vitamins even if you’re not pregnant.

In fact, it’s encouraged for all women of childbearing age to use prenatal vitamins instead of their usual multivitamins.

This will help ensure that the fetus will still benefit from these vitamins early in their development.

Prenatal vitamins are also a healthy substitute for your usual multivitamins because they have everything our bodies need to stay healthy and remain prepared for our daily activities.

Is Folic Acid a Prenatal Vitamin?

Yes, folic acid is considered a prenatal vitamin. In fact, it’s encouraged for women of all childbearing ages to consume folic acid in their daily diet.

Studies show that these can prevent neural tube defects. These defects can cause serious abnormalities of the fetal brain and spinal cord, ultimately affecting the fetus’ development in the womb.

It’s advised that women should begin taking extra folic acid AT LEAST 3 months before they start trying for a baby. However, since many pregnancies are unplanned, it’s good to add them to your routine as soon as possible.

The other benefits that can help you and your baby include the following:

  • Iron deficiency anemia – From low levels of iron in your body
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate – Birth defects when the baby’s mouth and lip don’t form properly early in your pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia – A pregnancy complication affecting the blood pressure and other organ systems
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Preterm delivery
  • Low birth weight

When Is it Too Late to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

It’s never too late to start taking prenatal vitamins. You can still take them even if you’re already in your second or third trimester.

While it’s best to start as early as possible, not everyone may have access to these vitamins. If you start later, your baby will have fewer benefits than those who get the vitamins early during the pregnancy.

However, this is when the statement, “Better late than never,” will apply best.

Even in the later stages of your pregnancy, your baby continues to grow until birth. These vitamins can still have a positive impact on your baby’s current growth and development. Your baby will find a way to make use of that additional supplement.

Should I Stop Taking Multivitamins When Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

Yes, you should STOP taking your multivitamins when you start taking prenatal vitamins.

Taking both simultaneously might make you exceed the recommended dosage for different vitamins and minerals.

While most of them can be harmless in moderation, they can have lasting effects on your body. It would have to process the presence of these excess vitamins, which can exhaust some functions in your body.

Some vitamins, like Vitamin A, can be dangerous in excess. They can even cause complications in your body if you have too much of it.

If you’re unsure about your intake and how much is safe for you and the baby, you can double-check with your healthcare provider regarding the dosages.

NOTE: Due to the risks of excessive nutrient supplementation, remember to plan out the duration of your prenatal vitamin consumption for safety.

Conclusion

Prenatal vitamins have been proven to help moms and babies during and after pregnancy. You can think of them like an investment in your baby’s health and development.

You can consult your healthcare provider for professional advice on what prenatal vitamins can help you through your pregnancy.

Sky Bustillo
Sky Bustillo

Hi, I’m Sky!
As a Filipina in her mid-20s, a sister to young ones, and a tita to my nieces and nephews, I somehow share the same sentiment as other parents. I have a growing aspiration of becoming a mom someday!
But there also comes a worry that you won’t be able to give the best to your children, especially with the food they eat, the products they use, and the new habits and hobbies we introduce to them.
Your kid’s safety and welfare are your top priority, that’s why I always make it to a point to learn from the stories and experiences of other moms.
It’s a delight to share what I learned and know to help the moms close to my heart, and this time, I’m writing to relay advice to you from the insights of other moms and my experience around kids, too.
I’d love to be a part of your journey, and I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful for you and your young one!