Prenatal Vitamins During Pregnancy.

best prenatal multivitamins

What are Prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements made for pregnant women to give their bodies the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy pregnancy. Your doctor may suggest that you take them when you begin to plan for pregnancy, as well as while you’re pregnant.

Eating a healthy diet is always a wise idea — especially during pregnancy. It’s also a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin to help cover any nutritional gaps in your diet.

Why are prenatal vitamins important?

During pregnancy, you need more folic acid and iron than usual. Here’s why:

  • Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. These defects are serious abnormalities of the fetal brain and spinal cord. Ideally, you’ll begin taking extra folic acid at least 3 months before you become pregnant.
  • Iron supports the development of the placenta and fetus. Iron helps your body make blood to supply oxygen to the fetus. Iron also helps prevent anemia, a condition in which blood has a low number of healthy red blood cells.

What Ingredients to look for in prenatal vitamins

Prenatal vitamins help ensure that you get the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.

Look for prenatal vitamins that have:

  • 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid
  • 400 IU of vitamin D
  • 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium
  • 70 mg of vitamin C
  • 3 mg of thiamine
  • 2 mg of riboflavin
  • 20 mg of niacin
  • 6 mcg of vitamin B12
  • 10 mg of vitamin E
  • 15 mg of zinc
  • 17 mg of iron
  • 150 micrograms of iodine

In some cases, your doctor will give you a prescription for a certain type of prenatal vitamin.

Important nutrients in a prenatal vitamin

The prenatal vitamin nutrients may improve the health of your pregnancy. Your doctor can help you decide if you need to take supplements that include:

Folic acid

If getting pregnant is a possibility for you, you should take folic acid. It can prevent birth defects that affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects develop early in pregnancy before many women know they’re pregnant; half of all pregnancies are unplanned. This is why doctors recommend that any woman who could get pregnant take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily, starting before conception and continuing for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If you’ve had a baby with a neural tube defect you should talk with your health care provider about folic acid. Studies have shown that taking a larger dose (up to 4,000 micrograms) at least one month before and during the first trimester may help if you’ve had a baby with this defect. But talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

Foods that have folic acid include:

Even though you can get folic acid from food, it’s a good idea to take a supplement as a backup.

Calcium

Calcium is also important for a pregnant woman. It can help prevent you from losing your bone density as the baby uses calcium for its own bone growth.

Iodine

Iodine is critical for a woman’s healthy thyroid function during pregnancy. Iodine deficiency can cause:

Iron

Iron helps your body make more blood-red cells. These blood cells carry oxygen to the baby that it needs to develop.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These fats, which include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), come only from food sources such as fatty fish and nuts. Studies show omega-3s can lower your risk of preterm birth and of having a baby with low birth weight. If you don’t eat much food that’s rich in omega-3s, ask your health care provider if a supplement is right for you.

Choline 

Although your body can make some choline on its own, you get most of it from food. Rich sources include beef, pork, chicken, fish, and eggs. Many pregnant women don’t get enough choline, which the baby needs for healthy brain growth.

When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins

The best time to start taking prenatal vitamins is before conception. Folic acid is especially important. You should begin taking a folic acid supplement at least 1 month before you try to get pregnant to prevent birth defects.

Some doctors recommend that all women who could have a baby take prenatal vitamins, even if they don’t plan a pregnancy.

Prenatal Vitamin Side Effects

Some prenatal vitamins can cause nausea in an already nauseated pregnant woman. If that happens to you, talk to your health care provider. They may be able to prescribe a different kind of prenatal vitamin that you don’t have to swallow whole. Options include:

  • Chewables
  • Liquids

The iron in prenatal vitamins may also make you constipated. If you’re constipated it can help to:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet
  • Drink lots of water
  • Exercise if your doctor says it’s safe for you
  • Take a stool softener with your doctor’s OK

Which prenatal vitamin is best?

Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy. Your health care provider might recommend a specific brand or leave the choice up to you.

Beyond checking for folic acid and iron, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains calcium and vitamin D. They help promote the development of the baby’s teeth and bones. It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, and iodine.

In addition, your health care provider might suggest higher doses of certain nutrients depending on the circumstances. For example, if you’ve given birth to a baby who has a neural tube defect, your health care provider might recommend a separate supplement containing a higher dose of folic acids — such as 4 milligrams (4,000 micrograms) — before and during any subsequent pregnancies.

But in general, avoid taking extra prenatal vitamins or multivitamins with dosing in excess of what you need on a daily basis. High doses of some vitamins may be harmful to your baby. For example, extra vitamin A during pregnancy can potentially cause harm to your baby.

Related: Top 10 Best Prenatal Vitamins of 2022

The bottom line

Taking a prenatal supplement is recommended for all pregnant women. A well-rounded prenatal supplement can help you meet your nutrient needs before, during, and after pregnancy.

The prenatal products listed above are trusted by experts and can help ensure you’re getting the recommended amount of nutrients to keep you and your little one healthy.

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