Prenatal Vitamins 101: Why You Should Take Them and When
So, you’re thinking about trying for a baby? Congratulations! For many couples, this is an exciting time of anticipation and wonder. But some find themselves obsessing over every twinge and cramp during the two week wait (known as the TWW in online groups), which is the time between possible conception and what might be a missed period. But whether you’re having fun trying, struggling with the emotional weight of the wait, or you’re not quite ready, one thing is true: You should be taking a prenatal vitamin.
The benefits of prenatal vitamins cover your entire pregnancy but are especially important during the first four weeks—a time before you might not even know you’re pregnant! Here, we’ll help you understand when to start taking prenatal vitamins, when to stop taking prenatal vitamins, and what benefits they provide to you and your baby..
And once you’re pregnant, consider setting a daily alarm to remind yourself to take your vitamin because pregnancy brain is real!
When Should I Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?
It’s recommended that women start taking prenatal vitamins three months before conception. This advanced prep is key in ensuring your body has enough folic acid at the time of conception. During pregnancy, folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the fetal brain and spinal cord.
Of course, getting pregnant isn’t often something that can be timed with such precision, and unplanned pregnancies happen. (Did you know the CDC estimates that almost half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned?) Because of this, the CDC recommends that women who are capable of becoming pregnant should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If you’re not actively trying, most multivitamins contain this recommended amount. Consider the switch to a prenatal once you’re ready to try.
For women who need reproductive assistance to become pregnant, like IUI or IVF, the date they (hopefully) become pregnant is determined by their doctor, making it easier to plan the start of their vitamin regimen.
Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
- Reduces risk of birth defects. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid can help prevent a variety of birth defects, like neural tube defects. Common neural tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida, and they occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before women realize they’re pregnant. This is why planning ahead with prenatal vitamins is important.
- Supports the development of the placenta and fetus. Iron helps your body make blood to supply oxygen to the fetus and helps prevent anemia, a condition in which blood has a low number of healthy red blood cells. This is noteworthy because blood volume increases significantly within the first few weeks of gestation and continues throughout the pregnancy, varying from 20% to 100% above pre-pregnancy levels—averaging around 45%.
- Reduces risk of low birth weight. While studies have shown there is no evidence to suggest that infants of iron-deficient mothers are more likely to be iron-deficient themselves, there is a possible increase in the risk of low birth weight, prematurity, and perinatal mortality.
How Do I Choose a Prenatal?
Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter, and the best prenatal vitamins have essential vitamin and mineral concentrations. Folic acid and iron get a lot of buzz, but calcium and vitamins A, C, D, E, and zinc are key, too. Be sure to consult your doctor for the exact amounts your body needs.
We’ve covered the benefits of folic acid and iron already, but here’s why the other vitamins are imperative to your prenatal care.
- Vitamin A helps baby’s bones and teeth grow.
- Vitamin C protects tissues from damage and helps the body absorb iron; builds a healthy immune system.
- Vitamin D helps the body use calcium and phosphorus and promotes strong teeth and bones.
- Vitamin E helps the body form and use red blood cells and muscles.
- Zinc helps produce insulin and enzymes.
- Calcium helps your little one’s bones develop and can reduce the risk of hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
Do Prenatals Have Side Effects?
Along with that signature glow, being pregnant comes with a host of GI and digestive issues, unfortunately. And one of the more unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, especially in your first trimester, is nausea. Swallowing pills might trigger your nausea and vomiting but speak with your doctor if you’re concerned your vomiting is stopping you from taking your prenatal.
The iron in prenatal vitamins can sometimes contribute to constipation. If you notice this, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, add fiber to your diet, and try physical activity if approved by your doctor. Stool softeners are an option your healthcare provider might suggest to ease discomfort.
When Do I Stop Taking Prenatal Vitamins?
Your prenatal vitamin can help replenish the iron your body needs, so it’s often suggested that all women continue taking their prenatal vitamins for three months after delivery. You can stop taking prenatal vitamins when you finish breastfeeding since lactation increases nutritional demands, especially for calcium and iron. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, the natural loss of blood and iron during a vaginal or cesarian delivery needs to be recouped during the fourth trimester.
Your six-week postpartum OB visit is a great opportunity to discuss your physical needs, screen for postpartum depression and talk about how prenatal vitamins can factor into your recovery.
Do I Need to Take a Postnatal Vitamin?
Now that you know how important it is to take your prenatal vitamin in the months leading up to conception and during pregnancy, what about after delivery? Some vitamin retailers have started selling prenatal and postnatal vitamins—which are often nearly identical in composition. However, you might find additional levels of iron, vitamin D, and extra B vitamins in the postnatal vitamin. Discuss the benefits of each type of vitamin with your doctor.
As you’re stocking your medicine cabinet with prenatal vitamins, don’t forget to add Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Drops as you get closer to your due date. Mylicon is the #1 pediatrician-recommended infant gas brand and works gently to help baby’s natural process of getting rid of gas. Plus, it’s safe for even the newest of newborns and can be used at every feeding, up to 12 times a day. Use as directed.
Vitamins? Check! Now, ready to learn about foods to avoid while pregnant?