Updated: Jul 27, 2020
You already know that good nutrition is important during pregnancy.
That’s why your shopping cart looks like a rainbow, and you’re planning meals with all the food groups. But let’s be honest: it’s hard to know if you’re really getting all the vitamins and minerals you and your baby need.
That’s where prenatal vitamins come in. They don’t replace a balanced diet, but instead act like backup—making sure you don’t fall short on the essential nutrients you need during pregnancy.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are supplements that contain daily vitamins and minerals you need before and during your pregnancy.
Folic acid is the vitamin to take when planning a pregnancy. Folic acid is a B vitamin that cells in your body need for growing and developing. Taking 400 mcg of folic acid every day for at least 1 month before and during pregnancy can help lower the risk for problems with the baby’s brain and spine — called neural tube defects (NTDs). Some women, like those who have had a pregnancy affected by NTDs or with sickle cell disease, may need more folic acid. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the dose that is right for you.
Which vitamins and minerals are most important and why?
The three most important nutrients, based on very good research, are folic acid, iron and calcium. Folic acid helps prevent neural-tube defects; iron is important for the delivery of oxygen to the baby and prevents anemia in the mom; and calcium helps build your baby's bones and prevents bone loss in the mother.
Which prenatal vitamin is best?
Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy. Your health care provider might recommend a specific brand or leave the choice up to you.
Beyond checking for folic acid and iron, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains calcium and vitamin D. They help promote the development of the baby's teeth and bones. It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and iodine.
In addition, your health care provider might suggest higher doses of certain nutrients depending on the circumstances.
But in general, avoid taking extra prenatal vitamins or multivitamins with dosing in excess of what you need on a daily basis. High doses of some vitamins may be harmful to your baby. For example, extra vitamin A during pregnancy can potentially cause harm to your baby.
Do I need to be concerned about other nutrients?
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat found naturally in many kinds of fish, help promote a baby's brain development. If you don't eat fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, your health care provider might recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements in addition to prenatal vitamins.
When do I need to start taking prenatal vitamins?
Start taking folic acid at least 1 month before you start trying to get pregnant. The first few weeks of pregnancy are a really important time for fetal health and development. Taking folic acid and other prenatal vitamins can help reduce the risk of some birth defects. Keep taking prenatal vitamins throughout your entire pregnancy.
Do prenatal vitamins have any side effects?
A lot of people wonder about about prenatal vitamins side effects. Some people get nauseated or constipated from taking prenatal vitamins.Sometimes the iron in prenatal vitamins contributes to constipation. To prevent constipation:
Drink plenty of fluids
Include more fiber in your diet
Include physical activity in your daily routine, as long as you have your health care provider's OK
Ask your health care provider about using a stool softener
If these tips don't seem to help, ask your health care provider about other options.