What are the best prenatal vitamins? Why pregnant women need to take them before and during pregnancy and is it good to take gummy prenatal vitamins.
But first, let’s go step by step and see what are prenatal vitamins and why they are important for women’s health.
There’s no substitute for a healthy diet – but even the most health-conscious pregnant women are probably running low on a few pregnancy-essential vitamins and minerals.
That’s because, during pregnancy, the recommended nutrient intakes for women increase — ironically, around the same time that morning sickness can seriously interfere with your appetite.
That’s where prenatal vitamins come in. Unlike a regular multivitamin, prenatal is packed with all-important nutrients that you and your baby need right now — including, most importantly, folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Other essential nutrients you’ll likely find in your prenatal include iron, calcium, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which helps boost baby’s brain health and development.
It can be hard for women to consume all the folic acid they need during pregnancy, even if they regularly eat fortified foods, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine.
Taking a prenatal supplement, then, is like a nutritional safety net for both you and your developing baby.
When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?
If you’re already pregnant and you haven’t been popping a prenatal, you’ll want to start taking one right away.
Ideally, you should start taking a prenatal supplement before trying to conceive.
Research shows that women who take supplemental folic acid before they get pregnant — before the sperm meets the egg — can substantially reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly, which are conditions that occur very early after conception.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Prenatal vitamins are often available in one multivitamin supplement.
Prenatal vitamins are nutritional supplements that usually contain a concentrated mix of minerals and vitamins that a woman’s body needs more of during pregnancy.
Ideally, a woman will take prenatal vitamins while trying to become pregnant, and while she is breastfeeding.
Some women take the individual prenatal nutrients as separate supplements, but it is often easier to take them in one multivitamin supplement.
Taking specific prenatal vitamins may reduce the risk of complications, for both the mother and the developing fetus as well as help a mother go full term.
Taking folic acid before becoming pregnant and throughout pregnancy may help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B-9.
Neural tubes are embryonic structures that eventually form the spine and brain of the fetus. Neural tube defects can cause serious spine and brain conditions, including spina bifida, a condition where parts of the backbone do not close properly.
Folic acid also helps a pregnant woman’s body make red blood cells, potentially reducing the risk of anemia. Anemia may cause pregnancy complications, such as:
- low birth weight
- premature birth
- infant anemia
Other vitamins and nutrients
Aside from folic acid, several other key nutrients can benefit pregnant and breastfeeding women and developing fetuses.
Pregnant women need about twice the usual recommended amount of the mineral iron. Iron is another crucial component in red blood cells. Pregnant women who do not get enough iron may develop iron-deficiency anemia.
Read More: Iron Deficiency Symptoms and Causes
Supports the immune system and helps the body make proteins, divide cells, and synthesize DNA for new cells.
It helps the body make healthy red blood cells and neurons, which are the specialized cells found in the spinal cord and brain. B-12 also helps these cells to function properly.
Read More: Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin-B12
Calcium and vitamin D
Work together to help develop fetal bones and teeth. Vitamin D is also crucial for healthy eye and skin development.
Calcium may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a leading cause of illness and death in pregnant women, and newborns.
It helps cells grow and differentiate, contributing to the healthy development of vision and many vital organs.
Plays a vital role in cognitive development, glucose metabolism, immune function, and blood formation. May also help reduce nausea during pregnancy.
A trace element essential for the development of the central nervous system, brain, and skeletal system.
Severe iodine deficiencies in pregnant women may slow fetal growth or cause neurodevelopmental defects, stillbirth, or miscarriage.
Best prenatal vitamins to take
There are many different prenatal vitamins to choose from, including those available at a pharmacy or online.
A doctor may sometimes prescribe prenatal vitamins to women with particular health considerations.
Deciding which prenatal supplements to buy comes down to what they contain. Different women will need different doses of some vitamins and minerals, depending on factors such as diet, age, and activity levels.
Typically, a good prenatal vitamin for most women over 19 years of age should contain:
- Folic acid: At least 400 micrograms (mcg) before pregnancy, 600 mcg during pregnancy, and 500 mcg when breastfeeding.
- Vitamin B-12: 2.6–2.8 mcg.
- Iron: 27 milligrams (mg) in pregnancy and 9–10 mg when breastfeeding.
- Calcium: 1,000–1,300 mg.
- Vitamin D: 600 international units (IU).
- Zinc: 11 mg during pregnancy and 12 mg during breastfeeding.
- Vitamin A: 750–770 mcg for pregnancy and 1,200–1,300 mcg for breastfeeding.
- Vitamin B-6: 1.9–2.0 mg.
- Iodine: 220 mcg during pregnancy and 290 mcg during lactation.
Prenatal vitamins often contain omega-3 because some pregnant women do not get enough from their diet.
Several other nutrients are also common constituents of prenatal multivitamins, but nutritionists know less about their benefits or how and when to take them.
One example of this is omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that help give structure to cell membranes, especially those in the brain and retina.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily intake need by pregnant women is 1.4 grams (g) and 1.3 g per day for breastfeeding women, compared to 1.1 g per day for other women 14 years of age and older.
But a 2015 systemic review that examined nearly 150 studies looking at the impact of omega-3 supplementation on maternal and fetal health found only a small increase in gestation time and birth weight.
So, while it might not hurt for a prenatal vitamin to include omega-3s, it may not be as necessary as once thought.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly in prenatal vitamins because some pregnant women may struggle to get enough in their diet.
Fish and seafood are common sources of omega-3s, but many species contain high levels of mercury that research has associated with birth abnormalities.
Prenatal vitamins with fish or seafood content should only come from species typically low in mercury, such as:
Seafood species to avoid when pregnant or breastfeeding include:
- king mackerel
- orange roughy
- white tuna
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists list all these species of fish in their advice on nutrition during pregnancy.
If a person has concerns about omega-3 fatty acids from fish or seafood, they can consider plant-based foods and supplements instead.
Some vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, seaweed, walnuts, and edamame beans.
Read More: 10 Omega-3 Rich Foods You Should Be Eating
Vitamins E and C
Manufacturers typically include vitamins E and C in prenatal multivitamins. As powerful antioxidants, they work together to protect the body from oxidative stress.
Vitamin C also helps make collagen and metabolize folate and iron. The NIH suggests pregnant women consume around 80–85 mg a day and 115–120 mg when breastfeeding.
The NIH also recommends 15–19 mg of vitamin E a day for anyone pregnant or breastfeeding.
Research once suggested taking vitamin E and C together during pregnancy might reduce oxidative stress and its associated complications, such as:
- pre-labor rupture of membranes (PROM)
- intrauterine growth restriction
However, the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source currently says that a joint vitamin C and E supplement likely has little impact on women or developing fetuses, and may increase the risk of PROM.
Is it okay to take gummy prenatal vitamins?
Yes, especially if you have trouble swallowing pills — or you can’t stomach a horse-sized capsule without triggering another bout of morning sickness.
But there are some drawbacks to prenatal gummies (not to mention the added sugar). In general, gummies contain fewer nutrients than the prenatal that come in pill form, says Wright; oftentimes, they’re also lacking iron.
Nutrients in prenatal vitamins can cause side effects, mostly mild to moderate digestive discomfort such as:
But women usually only experience more serious or severe side effects when they take too many prenatal vitamins or very high doses of specific vitamins.
One notable example to be aware of concerns vitamin A. This is because taking more than 10,000 IU or 3,000 mcg of vitamin A can cause birth abnormalities, as well as bone loss and liver damage.
Women who experience side effects of prenatal vitamins or symptoms they cannot explain should usually stop taking the vitamins, and talk with a doctor or pharmacist. Women who experience severe side effects should seek emergency medical attention.
Conclusion: Prenatal vitamins are very important for women’s health. As we see from the text it is important to take them before or during pregnancy.
And the best way to know which prenatal vitamins to take is to consult your doctor because every organism is not the same.
If you want to know more, here is a guide for finding the right prenatal supplements for you and your baby.