What are prenatal vitamins and why are they so important? Get the answers to your most important questions about prenatal vitamins from an OBGYN.

 

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

So you've gotten your positive pregnancy test, and now wondering what next! What should I eat or not eat for that matter? You’re not alone. Prenatal nutrition and vitamins are one of the most common topics discussed during prenatal visits here’s why.

Prenatal nutrition has a significant impact on your overall pregnancy and health outcomes for both you and your baby. A prenatal vitamin is a dietary supplement that includes all the key ingredients you need to enhance your health. While multivitamins (MVI) and dietary supplements have many benefits, prenatal supplements include specific vitamins and minerals needed for your baby’s development. These special elements are not routinely found in all multivitamins.  Choosing a good prenatal vitamin (PNV), provides you with the nutrition found in a multivitamin plus some.To get the most out of your vitamins, you should take prenatals ideally three months before actively trying to get pregnant, during all 40 weeks of pregnancy, as well as when you’re breastfeeding.

It is possible to have a surplus of vitamins and minerals, so just stick with your prenatal vitamins to ensure you and your baby are getting the appropriate amount of nutrition.

Basically, multivitamins are great to take on a regular basis, but if you’re trying or already expecting, a prenatal vitamin is the way to go. 

What to look for in a prenatal vitamin

Natalist’s Prenatal Multi contains 23 ingredients, all vital for healthy development during preconception and pregnancy. There are several standout ingredients that are especially important:

  • Folate, the natural form of folic acid, is vital for fetal brain development and preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The risk of neural tube defects is increased by 25-30% with folate deficiency.
  • Calcium is a key building block of bones, teeth, muscle function, and more. When you’re pregnant, your growing baby is prioritized and uses lots of calcium, putting stress on your body, teeth, and bone mineral homeostasis.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Whether it is included in your prenatal vitamin or taken separately, DHA is essential for making up the neural tissue in the brain and eyes and is recommended by the ACOG and APA.
  • Iron helps blood carry oxygen to mother and baby. Over 40% of pregnant women are anemic and up to 25% are iron deficient, which can be dangerous if left untreated.
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Various medical groups differ slightly on what they recommend in a prenatal routine. This table breaks down the recommendations from the largest, most trusted sources:

The bottom line is to stick with a prenatal that’s been researched and doctor approved to ensure you’re getting the appropriate amount.

Prenatal dosage 

There are various prenatal vitamins available and the dosage will depend on the brand. Natalist’s Prenatal Duo which includes a prenatal vitamin and an omega DHA, comes with 120 pills total, two of each per day.

Although all prenatal vitamins are at least daily dosing, we’re human and most pregnant women will miss a few here and there. If you happen to miss a day, don’t panic! Forgetting to take your prenatal on occasion isn’t a big reason to worry, especially if you typically eat a balanced diet including foods such as dairy, green leafy vegetables, and healthy proteins. Just make sure you start taking them again right away. Because prenatals contain a mixture of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, they are absorbed differently. You will definitely have broken down most of your vitamins within 24 hours, which is why it’s recommended to take them daily, starting about three months before trying to conceive.

If it turns out you aren’t a big fan of the brand of prenatal you chose, you can always switch! We recommend talking with your healthcare provider before making the switch, but the most important thing is that you consistently receive the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals.

Why are prenatals so BIG?

People tend to have the same reaction to seeing a prenatal vitamin: “that pill is huge!”. Prenatals can seem daunting, but they have to be fairly large to fit in all the proper nutrients! Not only do prenatals contain all the ingredients found in a typical multivitamin, but they often have higher concentrations and added ingredients to cover all the bases. Think about it this way: Natalist’s Prenatal Multi contains 23 ingredients, all vital for healthy development during preconception and pregnancy.  With that many ingredients, the size of the prenatal vitamin is much more justifiable!

Prenatal vitamins and hormones

Many of the vitamins found in prenatals can have an impact on hormones, and the effects are overwhelmingly positive. Vitamin D, for example, plays an important role in hormone balance, and hormone communication. Likewise, vitamin C is a vital  part of liver health, the primary organ for breaking down hormones like estrogen. Other ingredients found in a prenatal multi such as omega-3 fatty acids also have an effect on hormones.

While most ingredients in prenatal vitamins benefit both mom and baby. Additional supplementation beyond your prental vitamin is not recommended unless advised by your doctor or healthcare provider. Research on both Vitamin A and Vitamin E are conflicting but suggest excessive amounts may be harmful.

Prenatal vitamins and medications

Again, it’s important to discontinue the use of any other multivitamins while on a prenatal vitamin, as well as other supplements already found in your prenatal vitamin. Other drugs can also affect prenatal vitamins including: diuretics, certain blood pressure medication, tretinoin or isotretinoin, and e anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, most of these are contraindicated in pregnancy and should be stopped with a positive urine pregnancy test. It’s important to ask your doctor before mixing any drugs with your prenatal vitamins. And of course all recreational drugs—marijuana, cocaine, etc.—should be stopped while trying to conceive and pregnant.

Prenatal vitamins are an essential part of a pregnancy routine that combine all the vitamins and minerals you need into one supplement. Taking a prenatal everyday ensures the healthy development of your baby and can grant peace of mind when pregnancy cravings sabotage your well-intended diet.  If you want to ensure you’re getting the right amount of the right ingredients, check out Natalist’s Prenatal Duo.

For more on nutrition and pregnancy, we recommend reading What to Eat When You're Pregnant by Dr. Nicole Avena.