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.
During pregnancy, your needs for vitamins, minerals, and trace elements increase significantly in order to support your health and the health and growth of the developing fetus.
For example, folate needs increase by 50% and iron needs increase by 150%. These and many other nutrients are essential for fetal and placental growth and the general health of the pregnant person, which is why they’re needed in larger amounts during pregnancy.
Taking a prenatal vitamin that contains all the nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy can help reduce the risk of deficiencies and ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need to keep yourself and your baby healthy.
In addition to folate, examples of other nutrients to look for in a prenatal vitamin include iodine, vitamin D, choline, B vitamins, and calcium. It can also be a good idea to choose a product with omega-3 fatty acids.
Ideally, you'll start taking prenatal vitamins before conception. In fact, it's generally a good idea for women of reproductive age to regularly take a prenatal vitamin. The baby's neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops during the first month of pregnancy — perhaps before you even know that you're pregnant.
It’s recommended that you take prenatal vitamins even after your baby is born and while you’re breastfeeding. This is to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need to produce healthy milk for your new arrival.
Folate (Folic Acid)
Folate is a B vitamin that plays an integral role in DNA synthesis, red blood cell production, and fetal growth and development.
It’s recommended to take at least 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid per day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects and congenital abnormalities like cleft palate and heart defects.
In a review of five randomized studies including 6,105 women, supplementing with folic acid daily was associated with a reduced risk of neural tube defects. No negative side effects were noted.
Although adequate folate can be obtained through diet, many women don’t eat enough folate-rich foods, making supplementation necessary.
Iron is critical for oxygen transport and healthy growth and development of your baby and the placenta.
Anemia during pregnancy has been associated with preterm delivery, maternal depression, and infant anemia.
The recommended intake of 27 milligrams (mg) iron per day can be met through most prenatal vitamins. However, if you have iron deficiency or anemia, you’ll need higher doses of iron, speak to your doctor about the recommended daily intake of iron.
If you aren’t iron deficient, you shouldn’t take more than the recommended intake of iron to avoid adverse side effects. These may include constipation, vomiting, and abnormally high hemoglobin levels.
Vitamin D is important for immune function, bone health, and cell division during pregnancy.
Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of cesarean section, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and gestational diabetes.
The current recommended intake of vitamin D during pregnancy is 600 IU or 15 mcg per day.
Many people don’t get enough iodine in their diets; in fact, a large percentage of pregnant women are deficient in iodine.
Iodine is essential for regulating your thyroid hormone function during pregnancy. It’s also key for regulating baby’s metabolism and for the development of your little one’s brain and nervous system. You’ll find iodine in fish, iodized salt, and most dairy products.
Calcium is very important for building your baby's bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your baby develop a healthy heart, nerves and muscles, and a normal heart rhythm.
The best sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Fish with bones, such as sardines, and green leafy vegetables are also a good source. Those who are lactose intolerant may struggle with meeting their calcium needs from diet alone, but many milk substitutes are calcium-fortified.
Zinc is needed for your baby's cell growth and for the production and functioning of DNAt. Zinc is also involved in energy production and is essential for brain development.
Getting enough zinc is especially important during pregnancy because there's so much rapid cell growth. This essential mineral also helps support your immune system, maintain your sense of taste and smell, and heal wounds.
Some studies link zinc deficiency to low birth weight and other problems during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA, EPA)
Fish oil contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two essential fatty acids that are important for baby’s brain development.
Supplementing with DHA and EPA in pregnancy might boost post-pregnancy brain development in your baby and decrease maternal depression, though further research is required.
While a study found that supplementing with fish oil did not affect maternal depression, they reported that fish oil did protect against preterm delivery. The study also reported some evidence that fish oil might be beneficial for fetal eye development.
To get DHA and EPA through food, it’s encouraged to consume two to three servings of low-mercury fish like salmon, sardines, or pollock per week.
Choline plays a vital role in baby’s brain development and helps to prevent abnormalities of the brain and spine.
The current recommended daily allowance of choline during pregnancy (450 mg per day) has been thought to be inadequate and that an intake closer to 930 mg per dayTrusted Source is optimal instead.
If you are looking for prenatal vitamins, be on the lookout for this ingredient as prenatal vitamins often don't contain choline. You might need a separate choline supplement if your prenatal vitamins are missing it.
Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12
Some studies have shown that women who suffer from morning sickness have a lower level of vitamin B6 in their blood. Since prenatal vitamins contain vitamin B6, taking your prenatal vitamin may help to ease these feelings over time. Be sure to check the label and talk to your doctor.
Several studies have reported that women who experience morning sickness
Ensuring that either your prenatal vitamin or your diet includes vitamin b6,
you can potentially ease the severity of your morning sickness.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will need to ensure that you have sufficient amounts of vitamin b12. Mainly found in animal products, vitamin B12 is vital for cell growth.
Together with Folate (Folic Acid), vitamin B12 helps to synthesize DNA and red bloods while metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and proteins to increase energy levels at a cellular level. Vitamin B12 can also reduce the risk of your baby developing any birth defects.
If you do not eat animal products, you can find vitamin B12 in foods like soy, breakfast cereals and meat substitutes.
While taking prenatal vitamins are generally safe to take, you might experience instances of constipation due to the iron content in prenatal vitamins. If prenatal vitamins are taken on an empty stomach, it is possible that you might even experience nausea. It is recommended that you take your prenatal vitamins with a meal to prevent this from happening.
If you do experience any side effects from prenatal vitamins, it is important that you contact your doctor to determine what is causing these reactions.
While taking the necessary prenatal vitamins is an important step in your pregnancy journey, prenatal vitamins unfortunately do not increase your chances of conceiving.. What prenatal vitamins will do is increase the chances of you experiencing a healthy pregnancy and reducing the likelihood of birth defects. As mentioned earlier, prenatal vitamins like folate (folic acid) can help lower the chances of neural tube defects (like spina bifida and anencephaly), miscarriage and low birth weight.
If you are thinking of getting pregnant and would like to increase your chances of conceiving, it is highly recommended that you speak with your doctor and ask to do a pre-pregnancy check-up. During this check-up, doctors will look into any health conditions that might be affecting your chances of conceiving and determine the areas that should be worked on.