Prenatal vitamin facts

Prenatal vitamin facts


6 minute read

Prenatal vitamins, in addition to a well-balanced diet and exercise, are an essential part of a healthy pregnancy for both you and the baby. There are so many different prenatal vitamins on the market, how do you know which one is right for you? Let’s get into everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins so you can feel confident about your health. 

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements designed to provide the extra vitamins and minerals your body needs for a healthy pregnancy. The main difference between prenatal vitamins and regular multivitamins is the percentage of certain nutrients that are vital before, during, and after pregnancy. So, only take prenatal vitamins if you are planning on getting pregnant, are already pregnant, or are breastfeeding. Prenatal vitamins have more iron, calcium, and folic acid to promote proper development.  

We recommend talking to your primary care provider about which prenatal vitamin they think is right for you and your pregnancy based on your specific needs. Some options may require a prescription while others can be found over-the-counter. Each prenatal vitamin is different, so make sure to follow directions when it comes to how many prenatal vitamins you take. Taking too many can be harmful to your health and your pregnancy. 

Prenatal vitamin facts

When selecting a prenatal vitamin, you’ll want to keep four things in mind: the ingredients in the prenatal, when to start taking it, the potential side effects, and the impact it will have on your menstrual cycle. We’ll go through general information for all of these, however, please keep in mind that each prenatal vitamin is different and you should discuss what is best for you and your pregnancy with your primary care provider.

What’s in prenatal vitamins?

It is important to look for prenatal vitamins that contain the following: folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin E, zinc, iron, and iodine.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides a list of recommended vitamins and minerals to take for a healthy pregnancy. This list includes the best food sources for these nutrients. 

Iodine and folic acid are important for brain development. Foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, beans, soy, eggs, dairy, and seafood contain some of these nutrients.

Calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D promote healthy bones and teeth. You can find these nutrients in foods like dairy, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and fatty fish.

Iron helps make more blood cells that carry oxygen to the baby. Poultry, fish, and lean red meat are good food sources with iron.

Should you take prenatal vitamins before getting pregnant?

Taking prenatal vitamins will not make you more fertile. There is, however, a correlation between taking care of yourself and fertility. Things like lower stress levels and better sleep may be helpful when you are trying to get pregnant. 

It is suggested you begin taking prenatal vitamins at least three months before conception because a lot of development occurs in the first trimester and to continue to take prenatal vitamins through breastfeeding. The extra vitamin D helps calcium absorption as the baby’s bones continue to develop.

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Prenatal vitamins side effects

Taking prenatal vitamins has mostly minor side effects if any. Possible side effects include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. 

If you experience nausea when taking your prenatal vitamins, there are a few things you can try: 

  • Chew gum or suck hard candy after taking the vitamins

  • Take vitamin at night rather than in the morning 

  • Eat something directly before or after taking the vitamin

If you experience constipation, try:

  • Getting more physical activity (make sure to get the okay from your primary care provider)

  • Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet

  • Drinking more water

  • Asking your primary care provider about stool softeners

Can take prenatal vitamins to change your menstrual cycle?

Studies suggest that vitamins you take can change your menstrual cycle. Folic acid might contribute to lengthening your cycle. Your body will use the nutrients available to function as effectively as it can. 

Is it okay to take prenatal vitamins when not pregnant?

It can be more harmful than beneficial to have more than the recommended amounts of certain nutrients. Too much folic acid can mask symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency, delaying diagnosis and treatment. Too much iron can build up and lead to constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and (in the worst cases) death. Speak to your primary care provider if you have questions about when it is appropriate to take prenatal vitamins.

Other supplements

It is important to make sure that the prenatal vitamin you take has appropriate amounts of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. If it doesn’t, you might need to take other supplements alongside your prenatal vitamins as vitamin D regulates calcium necessary for bone development and omega-3 fatty acids help with brain development. Speak to your primary care provider if you have concerns about which supplements to take during pregnancy.

What to avoid in prenatal vitamins

Prenatal vitamins are supplementary to taking care of yourself properly to promote a healthy pregnancy. Too much of certain nutrients can be harmful. Avoid supplements with too much vitamin A (retinol) because it can cause birth defects such as central nervous system or heart abnormalities. 

Why take prenatal vitamins?

Research suggests that prenatal vitamins can reduce the risk of a baby being born at low birth weight. Calcium promotes strong bones and helps maintain nervous, muscular, and circulatory systems. Folic acid helps prevent serious brain and spinal cord deformities caused by neural tube defects. Iron enriches the body with blood and muscle cells, helping these cells develop.

Prenatal vitamins are helpful supplements if you're planning to get pregnant. They are designed to provide the extra nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Since much of the development occurs in the first trimester, it is important to begin taking prenatal vitamins at least three months before your pregnancy begins. Continue to take prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy and through the time you choose to breastfeed. 

For questions specific to your situation, speak with your primary care provider. 

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