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When to Start Prenatal Vitamins

Ovaterra

If you are thinking about conceiving, you may be wondering if you should start taking prenatal vitamins now, even if you aren't pregnant yet. Let’s discuss prenatal vitamins and when you should start taking them.

 

What should I know about prenatal vitamins? 

Prenatal vitamins are supplements that provide a variety of essential vitamins and minerals to a mother and baby. These nutrients support the baby's overall growth and development while helping to ensure the mom gets the nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. During pregnancy, your body’s nutritional needs skyrocket. Prenatal vitamins help fill these nutritional gaps.

What vitamins and minerals do you typically find in a prenatal vitamin? It varies from vitamin to vitamin, but below are some of the key ingredients in prenatal vitamins. 

 

Folic Acid (Folate)

Folic acid is one of the best-known ingredients in a prenatal vitamin. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which helps support a baby's growth. Importantly, folic acid is a B vitamin that supports the development of the baby's neural tube.  

The neural tube is the primordium of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. According to the CDC, it is important to get at least 400 mcg of folate per day while pregnant. Many doctors recommend more, in the range of 800-1,000 mcg/day.

 

Iron

Iron is another important mineral needed for a baby's proper growth and development. Because the amount of blood increases when a woman becomes pregnant, more iron is required to fully support the growth of the fetus and placenta.

On average, women need 30 mg of iron daily. Women who lack the proper amount of iron may need additional iron to support the natural increase in blood volume during pregnancy. However, with iron, more is not better. Too much iron, especially if it's in a difficult-to-absorb form, can worsen nausea during pregnancy. So, it's important to talk to your doctor and figure out how much iron is right for you.

 

Calcium 

Calcium is commonly known for supporting proper bone health. This mineral is vital for both mom and baby. Calcium supports the natural growth and development of the nervous, musculoskeletal, and circulatory systems. Doctors recommend pregnant or breastfeeding women take 1,000 mg of calcium daily.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in prenatal vitamins and many foods, and it can also be naturally produced in the body with the help of the sun’s UV rays. This vitamin is especially important for pregnant women; studies have suggested that it may help support overall reproductive health, including health during pregnancy.  

This vitamin helps the body to absorb calcium, which ultimately can help to support the growth of the baby’s bones. 2,000-4,000 IU daily of Vitamin D is recommended during preconception and prenatal period. Your doctor may recommend a higher dose if your baseline level is low.

 

Choline 

Choline is another essential prenatal nutrient found in some prenatal vitamins and is also naturally present in some foods. Choline is responsible for supporting everyday bodily functions and the baby's early brain development. According to the National Institute of Health, women of childbearing age should take 450 mg of choline per day and 550 mg per day when lactating. This is a relatively “new” nutrient, and many prenatal vitamins don’t include much choline, if at all.

 

Iodine

Iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormones and plays an important role in the development of the nervous and skeletal systems in fetuses and infants. It’s also essential for female reproductive health. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended dose of iodine for women of childbearing age is 220 mcg per day. The requirement goes up to 290 mcg per day for lactating women. 

 

Why Are Prenatal Vitamins Important? 

Prenatal vitamins can play an important role in the journey from early pregnancy and through breastfeeding. There are many different types of prenatal vitamins to meet the needs of all pregnant women. 

For example, you may choose specific prenatal vitamins if you are of advanced maternal age or know you are low on specific mineral or vitamin. Depending on your maternal needs, you might want to add specific supplements to your prenatal vitamins so you can meet your specific needs.

Prenatal vitamins are important because they ensure the mom and baby are getting the minerals and vitamins needed for the baby’s development throughout pregnancy, without compromising the mom’s health.

While you can get many of these vitamins and minerals naturally from foods, it can be tough to calculate just how much you get from eating a healthy diet. Studies have found that most women - in fact, over 90% - don’t get enough of at least one key nutrient during pregnancy. Taking prenatal vitamins is a better way to know how much of each essential nutrient you get daily, at least in the supplement form. 

So, if you are thinking about getting pregnant, you should consider discussing with your healthcare provider about taking prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant. 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), eating a proper diet and taking prenatal vitamins to get the key nutrients you need every day should supply the amounts of vitamins and minerals required to support a growing baby.  

When you don’t get the nutrition your body needs, it can lead to nutritional gaps that can contribute to preventable obstacles during pregnancy.

 

How is a prenatal vitamin different from a normal multivitamin?

While multivitamins and prenatal vitamins share similar ingredients, prenatal vitamins typically contain more specific ingredients to support a baby's healthy development. High-quality prenatal vitamins also tend to deliver higher doses of the nutrients to meet the increased needs. Here are a few differences:

 

Prenatal Vitamins 

Multivitamins 

Often contain additional nutrients, such as DHA, folic acid (folate), and iodine.

Contains general minerals and vitamins like vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin A, etc. 

Specially formulated to support women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Made for women and men of any age and stage of life.

Provides higher amounts of vitamins and minerals to support the healthy growth and development of a baby.

Provides vitamins and minerals to support a woman but may not have the recommended amounts for the baby. 

 

When should I start taking a prenatal vitamin?

It may be a good idea to start taking prenatal vitamins when you start thinking about having a baby. It is standard practice for OB-GYNs to recommend starting to take prenatal vitamins as soon as you think about conceiving, or about three months before conception.

 

Can prenatal vitamins help you conceive?

If you are thinking about bringing a baby into the world, you should start on prenatal vitamins to help your body prepare for growing a healthy baby. As a bonus, prenatal vitamins contain the important vitamins and minerals needed to support your reproductive health during the preconception period

Many minerals in prenatal vitamins like zinc, copper and selenium play an important role in the reproductive process. Vitamins like Vitamin B6, Folate and others have also been suggested as key in the preconception period. In fact, a 2019 review showed that women taking prenatal vitamins were more likely to conceive in a shorter time.

 

Can it ever be too late to start prenatal vitamins?

While it is vital to ensure you have a healthy diet and get the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals during pre-pregnancy, your body will need those same nutrients in all stages of your journey to motherhood - and even postpartum. 

Whether just starting your pregnancy journey or thinking about conceiving, it's never too late to take prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins help even after delivering your baby if you are breastfeeding, as your daily needs for some nutrients actually go up even more after you give birth.

 

Should I stop taking my daily multivitamin when I start prenatal vitamins?

Combining supplements like multivitamins and prenatal vitamins is not advisable. Your body can have too much of certain minerals and vitamins, which could cause harm to you and your baby. For example, fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A can accumulate too much in the body.

Taking just a high-quality prenatal should give you the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals to support your baby's healthy growth and development. So, generally, there’s no need to take both the prenatal and regular multivitamins.

 

Do prenatal vitamins have any side effects?

Some ingredients commonly found in prenatal vitamins may cause side effects. These side effects include:

While relatively rare, some women may be allergic to ingredients used in prenatal vitamins.

It is important to consult with your doctor before taking prenatal vitamins, and if you notice any side effects. 

 

Tips on taking prenatal vitamins

  • Start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you think about conceiving or as soon as you know you are pregnant. 
  • Look for prenatal vitamins that contain the optimal amount of key ingredients.
  • Eat a healthy diet, in addition to taking prenatal vitamins. 
  • Take vitamins with plenty of water (and with food, if recommended).
  • Try these nausea mitigation strategies, if you find it difficult to keep things down.

 

Takeaway

Prenatal vitamins play an important role before, during, and after your pregnancy. The minerals and vitamins that prenatal vitamins provide help support your wellbeing and your baby's healthy development.

While taking prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant is beneficial, it is never too late to start taking them because they provide benefits in all stages of pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider about what prenatal vitamins are right for you - and please reach out if we can answer any questions.

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