If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant — or if you already have a bun in the oven — you’ve likely studied just about every book, listened to every podcast, and read every blog post on growing a healthy newborn.
One piece of advice you’ll often hear is to eat a balanced, nutritious diet to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs to create life (and avoid constipation). Still, it’s also essential that moms-to-be take vitamins — specifically prenatal vitamins.
In fact, most OB/GYNs even recommend it. Why? Because a good prenatal can help fill in any nutritional gaps while supporting both your body and your newborn baby’s growth and development.
Read on to discover everything you need to know about prenatal multivitamins, including what they are and when you should start taking them.
First Things First, What Exactly Are Prenatal Vitamins?
A prenatal vitamin is a blend of supplemental vitamins and minerals crafted specifically for pregnant moms, whether they are in the first trimester or the third.
A good prenatal vitamin can help keep you and your growing newborn healthy, ensuring that you’re getting all the essential nutrients you need to make it through 40 weeks of pregnancy.
Can’t Pregnant Women Get the Nutrients They Need From Food?
In a perfect world, yes, pregnant women would be able to get all of their nutrients from a healthy diet. But let’s be honest — while pregnant, that’s not exactly realistic as no one eats perfectly 100 percent of the time.
In fact, according to recent research, a whopping 90 percent of Americans have a nutritional deficiency. Needless to say, supplementation is critical for most people.
How Is a Prenatal Different From a Normal Multivitamin?
Good question! Prenatal vitamins and women’s multivitamins may contain some of the same general nutrients— like B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc — but prenatals may contain other vitamins and minerals recommended for pregnant women, such as folic acid, DHA, and iodine.
A recent study revealed that 90 percent of women don’t get the recommended amount of folic acid — or its naturally occurring twin folate — needed to support a healthy pregnancy. This is where a good prenatal vitamin can help with wellness.
What Are Key Nutrients in Prenatal Vitamins?
A good prenatal contains just the right combo of essential nutrients to meet the nutritional demands of a pregnant woman and what the baby needs. When selecting a supplement for you, the key nutrients that you should keep in mind include:
Folate (aka folic acid or methyl folate): An absolute must for expecting moms, this B vitamin helps to nourish a baby’s developing nervous system while protecting them against certain congenital disabilities, including spinal cord and brain abnormalities.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that pregnant women take 400 milligrams of folic acid daily to support a healthy pregnancy.
Iron: Pregnant women are vulnerable to iron deficiency, so supplemental iron via a prenatal vitamin is of the utmost importance. Adequate iron intake may prevent iron-deficiency anemia in moms-to-be and support healthy oxygen transport from mom to baby.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the recommended amount of iron for pregnant women is 27 milligrams.
Vitamin D: An essential nutrient that supports the immune system in addition to healthy bones and teeth, the sunshine vitamin helps the body absorb other nutrients, making it a must during pregnancy.
Experts recommend at least 15 mcg (600 IU) daily for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Including DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), omega-3 fatty acids are essential for reducing inflammation in mom while aiding baby’s brain development.
Research shows that an increased intake of DHA and EPA may prevent preterm labor, lower the risk of preeclampsia, and support a healthy birth weight.
Calcium: Used to build baby’s bones and teeth, calcium is imperative during pregnancy. If mom doesn’t get enough calcium, her body could experience side effects: the essential mineral will be drawn from her own body to provide for her growing baby.
This can lead to temporary bone loss during the baby’s development. The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant, and nursing mothers get 1000 milligrams of calcium per day.
In addition to the key nutrients listed above, other vitamins and minerals that pregnant women should look for in a prenatal include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Of course, be sure to get with your OB/GYN before taking anything new. Your healthcare team can evaluate your diet and supplemental needs to help guide you in the right direction when shopping for a prenatal vitamin.
So, When Should You Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?
Believe it or not, growing a healthy tiny human starts before becoming pregnant. Yup, it’s true — the recommended time to start taking prenatal vitamins is three months before conception. Here are a few reasons why:
- It takes three 90 days for your egg to mature, and seeing as healthy eggs are key to a healthy pregnancy, it makes perfect sense why women should start taking prenatals the moment they make the decision of adding a new addition to the family as opposed to after testing positive on a pee stick.
- Taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception has been shown to reduce the risk of irregularities, such as heart and neural tube defects, limb deformities, and cleft palate.
- As mentioned earlier, virtually no one eats a perfectly balanced diet every day — so a prenatal vitamin is a great way to fill in the nutritional gaps on those days when reaching the optimal daily intake of pregnancy nutrients is just not going to happen (food aversions, anyone?).
Should Prenatal Vitamins Be Continued After Delivery?
Yup, it’s recommended to continue taking prenatal vitamins after childbirth — especially if you plan on breastfeeding, have a vitamin deficiency, are a vegetarian, live in an area where there’s a lack of sunlight (vitamin D deficiency), or plan on having another baby.
Your OB/GYN may suggest swapping from a prenatal vitamin to a postnatal vitamin as these supplements are crafted specifically to support a woman’s body after giving birth. A good postnatal vitamin can help to boost milk supply, enhance energy, stabilize mood, and more.
If you have specific questions about how long you should continue taking your prenatal vitamins, consult your healthcare provider.
So, when is the best time to start taking prenatal vitamins? The answer: three months before trying to conceive.
If you’re thinking seriously about expanding your family with a new small bundle, starting a good-quality prenatal vitamin should be at the top of your preconception to-do list.
On the flip side, if you already have a bun in the oven, get with your doctor to begin taking a prenatal the first month. Prenatal vitamins will help help your little one grow big, strong, and healthy while helping to keep you strong and healthy, too!
Have questions, thoughts, or concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or midwife, who is there to help you every step of the way. Just as we have your back when searching for organic pregnancy products made specifically for pregnant mamas, your healthcare team has yours to ensure a healthy and happy pregnancy.
Pre-conception Folic Acid and Multivitamin Supplementation for the Primary and Secondary Prevention of Neural Tube Defects and Other Folic Acid-Sensitive Congenital Anomalies | Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada
Food aversion during pregnancy and its association with nutritional status of pregnant women in Boricha Woreda, Sidama Regional State, Southern Ethiopia, 2019. A community based mixed cross-sectional study design | Reproductive Health