If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you probably have a lot of questions about prenatal vitamins. Do you really need them or is eating a healthy diet good enough? When should you start taking them? And, how do you pick the right one for you? Every mom-to-be wants what’s best for her baby, so let’s tackle these questions one by one so you can make an informed decision!
Are prenatal vitamins essential?
Prenatal supplements are formulated with the key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your baby needs for healthy development. Your body is working hard to create a new life, and your nutritional needs change considerably during pregnancy. Although they can’t replace a healthy diet, taking a prenatal vitamin is crucial for meeting your increased nutritional needs.
Can you get all the nutrients you need through a healthy diet?
During pregnancy, intake requirements for calcium, iron, folate, and other vitamins and minerals increase because these nutrients are vital for the growth and development of your baby. Even if you eat a wide variety of healthy food, it can be very difficult to get all the nutrients your body and your baby need, especially if you’re dealing with pregnancy-related food aversion.
If you are vegan, lactose intolerant, or have other dietary restrictions, meeting your increased nutritional needs through diet alone will be especially challenging. Some health conditions and multiples pregnancies may also increase your need for certain nutrients. Taking a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement is kind of like taking out an insurance policy that ensures you’re getting enough of the most crucial nutrients throughout your pregnancy.
When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?
Most doctors recommend that you begin taking prenatal vitamins three months before you begin trying to conceive, whenever possible. That’s because most women don’t get enough folic acid or iron in their daily diet, and both are crucial very early in pregnancy.
Increasing your body’s level of folic acid before you become pregnant is crucial for preventing neural tube birth defects, certain heart defects, and may also prevent cleft lip and cleft palate. There is also some evidence that it may lower your risk of developing preeclampsia.
Women tend to need more iron than men, to begin with, and your body needs even more of it during pregnancy. Taking a prenatal vitamin with iron can prevent iron-deficiency anemia, which lowers your risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight.
That being said, it’s never too late to start taking a prenatal vitamin, so begin taking them as soon as you realize you’re pregnant if you haven’t already. In fact, your doctor may even recommend that you continue taking them after your baby is born if you’ll be breastfeeding.
Other Nutrients to Look for in Your Prenatal Supplement
Not all prenatal vitamins contain the same nutrients, so it’s important to read labels carefully. In addition to the folic acid and iron mentioned above, your prenatal vitamin should also contain these nutrients.
- Calcium: Calcium is essential for your baby’s development. It is used to help your baby grow strong teeth and bones, as well as healthy muscles and nerves.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Prenatal vitamins don’t always contain the essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, but they should. These nutrients are crucial for the healthy development of your baby’s eyes, nerves, and brain. If you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish during pregnancy, you probably aren’t getting enough omega-3s, so you’ll want to look for them in your prenatal supplement or take them separately. Flaxseed oil is a viable source of omega-3s for those on a plant-based diet.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is necessary for strong bones and teeth, both yours and your baby’s. It is also essential for maintaining optimum levels of calcium. A lack of vitamin D during pregnancy could lead to abnormal bone growth and developmental delays. It may also increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing Your Prenatal Vitamin
Now that you know which nutrients to look for in your prenatal vitamin, here are some other things to consider when choosing the supplement that’s right for you.
If you have trouble swallowing pills or are dealing with nausea:
One of the first things you’ll notice when you start shopping around for prenatal vitamins is that the pills tend to be huge. For some women, they’re really hard to swallow, and if you’re dealing with pregnancy-related nausea, it’s even worse.
If this is a problem for you, look for organic prenatal gummy vitamins. They’re much easier to get down because they taste good and you can chew them up, rather than trying to swallow them whole. Choosing organic is always a good idea because you’ll know the supplement is free of harmful ingredients and additives.
If prenatal vitamins upset your stomach:
Nausea is a common problem during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. If you notice that your nausea is worse after you take your prenatal vitamin, the iron in your supplement may be the culprit. Taking your supplement at bedtime, splitting the dose up into smaller doses throughout the day, or taking your prenatal with food may reduce queasiness. If that doesn’t work for you, talk to your doctor about switching to an iron-free supplement during the first trimester.
Eating a healthy diet, staying active, and getting plenty of rest, fresh air, and sunshine will go a long way toward ensuring a healthy pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to meet your increased nutritional needs through diet alone, especially if you’re dealing with food aversions or have dietary restrictions. Choosing the right prenatal vitamin is crucial for filling in any nutritional gaps in your diet and ensuring your baby’s healthy development.