Why prenatal vitamins are important

Pregnant woman taking prenatal vitamins

Your mama probably always told you to take your vitamins. And if you’re expecting to soon be a mother yourself there’s no better time to heed her advice.

For years, doctors and health experts have encouraged moms-to-be to take prenatal vitamins but you may be wondering why. So, we’re breaking down who, what, why, when, where, and how of prenatal vitamins.

Who needs to take prenatal vitamins?

Ideally, we’d all get the vitamins and minerals we need from the foods we eat. But in reality, this is nearly impossible for most people. And it’s even harder when you’re expecting. During pregnancy, your recommended nutrient intake increases, yet morning sickness can seriously interfere with your appetite.

So, even the most health-conscious mom-to-be is probably missing out on a few essentials. That’s why prenatal vitamins are so important.

Women with dietary restrictions or health issues are especially at risk of not getting the nutrients that they and their baby need. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or lactose intolerant, getting the necessary nutrients from food will be tough. Prenatal vitamins are also especially important for women with chronic diseases and women giving birth to multiples.

What’s in a prenatal vitamin?

Unlike the multivitamin you may have taken before life was all about baby, prenatal vitamins are packed with the nutrients that expectant mothers and their growing babies need most. This includes folic acid, a B vitamin that can help prevent spina bifida and other major birth defects. The CDC recommends that you take a vitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, before and during pregnancy.

Iron is another key ingredient of prenatal vitamins. According to the CDC, one in six women in the U.S. is iron deficient during pregnancy. This deficiency is higher among Black women and Hispanic women. Preventing iron-deficiency anemia can cut your risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and infant mortality.

Iodine is now added to many prenatal vitamins, too. Iodine helps with healthy growth and cognitive development during pregnancy and infancy.

Other essential nutrients you’ll likely find in prenatal vitamins include calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which helps boost baby’s brain health and development.

Why do I need to take prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are not only good for the healthy growth of your baby, but they could help improve your overall pregnancy, too. Some prenatal vitamins may help relieve nausea, fatigue, leg and muscle cramps, brain fog, and skin irritation. Prenatals may also help prevent low immunity, low appetite, and postpartum depression.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

Ideally, you should start taking a prenatal vitamin before you start trying to conceive. This will help ensure you’re getting enough folic acid. Getting enough of this B vitamin in the month before you conceive and very early in your pregnancy can drastically reduce your baby’s risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Your doctor may also recommend that continue to take your prenatal vitamin even after giving birth, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

Where can I learn more about prenatal vitamins?

The CDC has done a lot of research about the importance of micronutrients and this information can help you make better nutrition choices during your pregnancy.

Visit the CDC website to learn more about the importance of folic acid and a breakdown of six essential nutrients that help with a child’s healthy growth and development.

How do I choose the prenatal vitamin that’s right for me?

Your doctor can help as you look for the best prenatal vitamin for you. Remember that you can have too much of a good thing. So be sure your prenatal provides no more than the recommended amounts of nutrients that can be harmful to your baby if you take too much. Vitamin A derived from animal products, for example, can cause birth defects when taken in high doses.

Also, try to avoid prenatals with added ingredients like artificial coloring and flavoring, food dye, GMOs, and added sugar.

Unfortunately, prenatal vitamins and other dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. However, a few organizations have stepped up to try to help keep consumers safe. When shopping for your vitamins, look for a seal of approval from U.S Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International.

Prenatal vitamins can have side effects such as nausea, constipation, and changes in urine color.

With some research and a talk with your doctor, you can find the prenatal vitamin you need to help you have a happy, healthy pregnancy.

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