Why prenatal vitamins are important for prenatal development

Stix prenatal vitamins with hand holding a vitamin on an orange background

You’ve probably heard of a prenatal vitamin before and know that it’s considered an important part of a healthy pregnancy for you and the baby. But why is it important? We’ll discuss the role your prenatal vitamin plays in pregnancy and the development of your baby.

The role of prenatal vitamins in prenatal development

When you’re pregnant, your body needs extra nutrients to sustain a healthy pregnancy for both you and the baby. So, prenatal vitamins are designed to provide your body with these extra nutrients that you may not be getting in your diet. Without the proper balance of nutrients, there’s a higher risk of developmental issues. 

Purpose of prenatal vitamins

Your body has different needs in pregnancy and your diet (on its own) may not provide the proper balance of nutrients. Taking a prenatal vitamin is intended to supplement your diet and provide a nourishing environment for your baby to grow. When deciding on the right prenatal vitamin for you, it can be helpful to speak with a nutritional expert or your primary care provider to decide what’s best for your situation.

Which nutrients impact prenatal development most?

A study in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research suggests that folic acid, calcium, iron, and iodine are critical to prenatal development. Folic acid impacts the development of the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects (NTD) such as spina bifida (impacting the development of the spine) or anencephaly (impacting the development of the brain) can occur if you have a folic acid deficiency during critical stages of development. Not having enough of certain nutrients can have an impact. Such as, not having enough calcium may lead to preterm birth, so your baby may not be fully developed. An iron deficiency can lead to preterm birth and/or low birth weight. The physical and mental development of your baby can be negatively impacted by an iodine deficiency because iodine’s a component of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone’s necessary for your baby’s brain development as well as your baby’s physical growth.

How are prenatal vitamins different from general multivitamins?

Prenatal vitamins and other multivitamins contain different amounts of similar ingredients because these supplements have different purposes. General multivitamins are intended to fill in nutritional gaps, whereas prenatal vitamins are designed to support your health and the development of your baby by providing your body with the proper nutrition. There’s usually more folic acid and iron in a prenatal vitamin than a general multivitamin. It can be useful to compare ingredients when you’re deciding which supplement is right for your situation.

What to look for in prenatal vitamins

How do you know which vitamins are best for your situation? If you’re confused, it can be helpful to chat with your primary care provider. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the daily recommended amount of nutrients (coming from both a prenatal and your diet) in pregnancy generally includes:

  • 1,000mg calcium (for women between 19-50 years old)

  • 27mg iron

  • 220mcg iodine

  • 600mcg folic acid

  • 450mg choline

Aiding prenatal development by taking care

It’s important to take care of yourself for a healthy pregnancy. Although some things are out of your control, making sure to provide the proper nutrition for your health and that of your baby is important. Balancing nutrients helps to provide a nourishing environment in which your baby can grow. 

To provide a healthy amount of nourishment for you and your baby, you only need to consume an average of 300 extra calories per day. Each baby is an average of 300 extra calories per day, so if you’re having twins, 600 extra calories per day (and triplets, 900 calories per day). This average changes depending upon where you are in your pregnancy. Your needs change because energy comes from calories and your body uses different amounts of energy in different stages. This is an important conversation for you to have with your primary care provider or OBGYN to ensure your nutrition is optimized for your pregnancy.

Most important vitamins for pregnancy

Your health is the most vital component to consider in terms of a healthy pregnancy because your body provides nourishment and shelter for your developing baby. Certain micronutrients aid in the development process, so you need to be sure you are getting the right amount to keep both you and your baby healthy throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding (if you choose to breastfeed). These vitamins and minerals include:

  • Folic acid for brain and spinal development

  • Iodine for mental development

  • Vitamin D for brain development

  • Iron for neural development

  • DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) for mental development

  • Choline for tissue development

When to start taking prenatal vitamins

It’s beneficial to begin taking prenatal vitamins at least one month before you get pregnant because a lot of development occurs early on in your pregnancy. You can help set up the proper environment for a healthy pregnancy, for both you and your baby, by starting this process early. Of course, people have unique needs and you may need a different breakdown of nutrients for your health and the development of your baby. It’s all about finding the proper balance for your situation.

For questions specific to your situation, have a chat with your OBGYN or primary care provider.

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