Prenatal Vitamins: Essentials for Moms-to-be and Their Babies

While a healthy diet is always the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need, prenatal vitamins are recommended if you are planning pregnancy or if you are currently pregnant. Your health care provider might also recommend that you continue taking prenatal vitamins after your baby has been born, especially if you are breastfeeding. Prenatal vitamins can help fill in any gaps in vitamins and minerals, but they are not meant to substitute the need for you to eat a healthy diet.

Since January 6-12, 2013 was designated as Folic Acid Awareness week, this post will examine the important components of prenatal vitamins, when to start taking them as well as some of the side effects that may occur.

Prenatal vitamins contain many different vitamins and minerals, but the three most important components are folic acid, iron and calcium.

Folic acid: Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for your baby’s cell growth. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which are rare disorders where the brain and spinal cord fail to form properly. Two common and serious neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. When folic acid is taken before and during pregnancy, 50 to 70 percent of neural tube defects can be prevented. Your baby’s neural tube (which will become the brain and the spinal cord) develops during the first month of pregnancy, when you might not even know you are pregnant.

Iron: The iron in red blood cells helps carry oxygen to your organs, tissues and your baby. During pregnancy, you need more iron in your diet to support the growth of your baby and to produce extra blood. The recommended amount of iron during pregnancy is 27 milligrams, which can be found in most prenatal vitamins. Iron also helps prevent anemia, a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells.

Calcium: Calcium is important to help maintain your bone density, especially since you will be carrying extra weight in the second and third trimester. Calcium is also important for the development of your baby’s tissues and bones.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

We recommend that you start taking prenatal vitamins about three months before you start trying to conceive and definitely once you stop using contraception, as the amount of time it takes to conceive varies greatly from person to person. If you become pregnant before you start taking prenatal vitamins, you should start taking them immediately once you find out you are pregnant as there are still benefits to be had.

What kind of prenatal vitamin should I take?

There are many different brands of prenatal vitamins and you should speak with your health care provider to see if he/she has a recommendation for you. Prenatal vitamins also come in different forms – capsule, soft gel, liquid or chewable. Many prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy, but there are some that need a prescription. Depending on your circumstances or health/pregnancy history, your health care provider might recommend that you take a separate or additional supplement.

Will I experience any side effects from taking prenatal vitamins?

Some women feel queasy after taking prenatal vitamins. Taking your vitamins with a snack or before you go to bed at night can help reduce queasiness. Constipation can also be a side effect you experience from taking prenatal vitamins. Some ways to prevent constipation include: drinking more fluids, eating more fiber and integrating physical activity into your daily routine (as long as it is okay with your health care provider). If these techniques do not help, you may want to talk to your health care provider about using a stool softener.

For other things to consider if you are planning pregnancy, read this post on “Preparing to Conceive.”