If you’re aiming for conception or you’ve just found out that you’re pregnant, you probably have well-meaning advice coming at you from all angles.
When it comes to prenatal vitamins, most health care providers agree that you should start taking them before you begin trying to get pregnant and continue during your entire pregnancy. Many nutrition experts recommend taking them while you’re breastfeeding, too.
Perhaps you’re questioning everything you’ve ever put into or on your body while you’re pregnant. Can prenatal vitamins really make a difference? Do you really need them? Can’t you and your baby get everything you need from a healthy diet?
We’ll break down some things you need to know about prenatal vitamins so you can make an informed decision about what’s right for you and your developing baby.
Why take a prenatal vitamin?
Prenatal vitamins are an excellent complement to a healthy diet during pregnancy because they provide key nutrients that could be missing from the foods you eat. They are specialized multivitamins that are formulated specifically with the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary to support a healthy pregnancy.
While every expectant should do their best to include a variety of fresh veggies, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats in her diet each day, it’s difficult to meet the nutritional needs of pregnancy through diet alone.
And, that’s where an organic prenatal supplement solution really stands out. While they can’t replace a healthy diet, prenatal vitamins are like an insurance policy to ensure your body’s needs and the needs of your growing baby are met before and during your pregnancy.
Can’t you get everything you need from your diet?
When you are pregnant, you need folate, iron, calcium, and many other vitamins and minerals in much higher amounts than you do at any other time during your life. These nutrients are essential for your baby’s growth and proper development.
Even if your diet includes a wide variety of healthy foods, it can be very difficult to meet these high demands, especially if you’re also dealing with pregnancy-related food cravings and aversions. For those who are lactose intolerant, eat a plant-based diet, or have other dietary restrictions, it’s even more difficult to consume all the nutrients you need through food alone. Multiples pregnancies and certain health conditions can increase your need for specific nutrients even further.
At the end of the day, including a prenatal vitamin in your daily regimen is key for ensuring that you get enough of the most important nutrients before and during your pregnancy.
Are prenatal vitamins the same as regular multivitamins?
No, a regular multivitamin isn’t the same as a prenatal multivitamin. Prenatal vitamins contain key nutrients like folate, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids in increased amounts for pregnant women.
While a high-quality, over-the-counter prenatal supplement is probably all you need, you should consult with your healthcare professional to see which prenatal supplement he or she recommends to meet you and your baby’s specific needs.
When is the best time to start taking prenatal vitamins?
If possible, you should start taking prenatal vitamins every day at least one or two months before you start trying to get pregnant. Taking prenatal vitamins before you conceive gives your body a chance to increase its stores of vital nutrients like folic acid, which is crucial for preventing birth defects.
Also, women usually need more iron than men, and that need increases even more when you’re pregnant. Taking a prenatal supplement that includes iron as early as possible can prevent serious issues like iron deficiency anemia and lower your risk of preterm labor or low birthweight.
You should also know that it’s never too late to begin taking a prenatal supplement. Even if you didn’t plan ahead, they can still be of tremendous benefit if you begin taking them as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
What else should be in your prenatal supplement?
Much like anything else, all prenatal supplements aren’t created equal, so it’s important to know what to look for. In addition to the iron and folic acid already discussed, these nutrients are also very important:
- Vitamin D: This fat-soluble vitamin is crucial for strong teeth and bones – both yours and your developing baby’s. Vitamin D also helps the body maintain optimal levels of calcium. When you don’t get enough Vitamin D during pregnancy, your risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia increase. It could also lead to abnormal bone growth and developmental delays for your baby.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Prenatal vitamins aren’t always formulated with Omega-3s, so it’s important to read labels carefully. DHA and EPA are essential fatty acids necessary for the development of your baby’s brain, nerves, and eyes. If you’re not a big fan of fatty fish, you might not be getting enough essential fatty acids, so you’ll want to make sure they’re included in your prenatal vitamin or take them separately. Flaxseed oil and algae oil can provide the omega-3s you need if you’re on a plant-based diet.
- Calcium: Increasing your intake of calcium during pregnancy will help your baby grow strong teeth, bones, muscles, and nerves.
Other Things to Think About When Choosing a Prenatal Supplement
Here are some other things to think about when you’re choosing a prenatal supplement.
If you’re dealing with pregnancy-related nausea, or you have trouble swallowing pills:
Unfortunately, prenatal vitamins tend to be really big, hard to swallow, and they often have a strong “vitamin” smell, too. If you’re dealing with morning sickness, getting them down every day can be a real challenge.
When shopping for your prenatal supplement, consider choosing a gummy prenatal vitamin. They taste good, smell good, and you can chew them up, so they’re much easier to get down. Look for an organic option to ensure that it’s all-natural and free of any potentially harmful additives.
If taking vitamins upsets your stomach:
Many people experience nausea when they take vitamins, and the feeling can be even worse with prenatal vitamins. If you experience nausea after you take your prenatal supplement, it could be the iron that’s causing it.
One solution may be to take your vitamin right before bedtime so you can sleep through the nausea. Or, you could try splitting up the dose throughout the day or taking it with food to see if that helps. If all else fails, talk to your healthcare provider to see if you can take an iron-free supplement until you are past the morning sickness stage.
The Bottom Line
Gentle exercise, a healthy pregnancy diet, and lots of sunshine, fresh air, and rest are all incredibly important for a healthy pregnancy. But eating well every day can be tough, especially if you have dietary restrictions or food aversion. Choosing a high-quality prenatal supplement will give you peace of mind, knowing that your nutritional requirements and your growing baby’s are being met.