Importance, types and side effects

Prenatal vitamins contain special formulations of essential vitamins and minerals like folic acid (folate), calcium, and iron that your body needs most when carrying a developing baby.

Whether you are trying to conceive or have just found out you are pregnant, prenatal vitamins, also known as prenatal supplements, can help fill nutritional gaps in your diet to support a healthy pregnancy.

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If you’ve started shopping for prenatal supplements, you already know that there are a multitude of options to choose from and that it is possible to take too much or too little of certain nutrients depending on your medical history and conditions. needs.

Before stocking up on vitamins and prenatal supplements, contact your healthcare professional, doctor, or midwife to determine the best option for you.

In the meantime, find out why prenatal vitamins are important, the different types to choose from, and how to deal with potential side effects.

When to take prenatal vitamins

Although the term prenatal (meaning “before birth”) may give the impression that these supplements should only be taken during pregnancy, for your health and that of your baby, you should ideally take at least one prenatal vitamin. months before conception, during pregnancy and after childbirth while breastfeeding.


Prenatal vitamins help ensure that your body has the nutrients it needs to stay healthy throughout pregnancy and to support the proper growth and development of your baby.

Along with a nutritious diet and regular exercise (as long as you have your doctor’s approval), prenatal supplements can increase your chances of creating the perfect environment for a growing baby.

Folic acid supplements are especially important for reducing the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). These are serious issues with the development of the baby’s neural tube, the precursor to the brain and spinal cord. For this reason, it is best to start taking prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid. at least a month before trying to conceive.

In fact, since a baby’s neural tube develops during the first month of pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourages all women of childbearing age to take folic acid supplements regularly to reduce the risk of ATN.

If you’re at an increased risk for ATN due to a family history of spina bifida or certain anti-epileptic drugs, for example, you’ll want to start taking larger amounts of folic acid even sooner, according to ACOG.


Prenatal vitamins come in the form of pills, capsules, gummies, and liquids which can be organic or vegan. You can buy many over-the-counter prenatal vitamins, although some are only available with a prescription from your health care provider.

There is no universal prenatal supplement, and it is possible to harm your health or that of your baby by taking inappropriate amounts of certain synthetic vitamins. Again, be sure to consult your doctor before taking them on your own.

Most prenatal vitamins contain the following nutrients to support the health and development of your baby.

Folic acid

Folic acid (folate) helps reduce the risk of ATNs such as spina bifida. People trying to conceive should take 400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day through diet and supplements at least one month before becoming pregnant.

People at increased risk for ATN should take 4,000 mcg of folic acid per day one month before becoming pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC recommends that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid per day to prevent NTDs. Many multivitamins contain this amount of folic acid, but it is important to check the nutrition label for the vitamin in question. Most prenatal vitamins contain 800 mcg of folic acid.

The iron

The iron provides the building blocks for red blood cells, which provide oxygen to your growing baby. During pregnancy, you need 27 milligrams (mg) of iron per day (almost double the recommended daily allowance for women who are not pregnant).


Calcium helps maintain your bone density while your baby uses the mineral to grow and develop. You need 1000 mg of calcium per day (or 1300 mg if you are 18 years of age or younger). Prenatal vitamins typically contain 200 mg to 300 mg as a supplement to your diet to ensure you meet your daily needs.

Other vitamins and minerals

Some types of prenatal vitamins may also include the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): This type of omega-3 fatty acid supports the development of your baby’s brain and eyes.
  • Iodine: This mineral supports the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. During pregnancy, you need 220 mcg of iodine every day.
  • Choline: This nutrient is essential for the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. It is recommended that pregnant women take 450 mg per day.
  • Vitamin A: This vitamin helps build healthy skin, eyes and bones and is involved in immune function. Doctors recommend that you take 770 mcg per day (or 750 mcg if you are 18 or under).
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin supports healthy gums, teeth and bones. You need 85 mg in total each day (or 80 mg if you are 18 or under).
  • Vitamin D: This vitamin also helps your baby develop teeth and bones. Pregnant women need 600 international units (IU) per day.

The optimal balance of vitamins and minerals may vary depending on your medical history, diet, and nutritional needs, so talk to your health care provider before choosing a type of prenatal supplement over one. another.

Side effects

Unfortunately, prenatal vitamins can have side effects, some of which are (confusingly) also common pregnancy side effects, such as nausea and constipation.

If you experience any side effects of concern when taking prenatal vitamins, contact your health care provider. You may be able to try a different brand or type of supplement, or adjust how and when you take them, to lessen the side effects.

The most common source of side effects in prenatal supplements is iron, which can cause constipation as well as other gastrointestinal side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal pain or upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Black or tarry stools

If you are unable to adjust your dose or type of supplement, your doctor may advise you to make lifestyle changes to jump-start your digestive system. The following can sometimes help relieve constipation:

  • Drink more water
  • Add more high fiber foods to your diet like whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Make movement or exercise part of your daily routine
  • Consider a stool softener

Otherwise, watch for signs of an allergic reaction.

Call your health care provider right away if you have any signs of an allergic skin reaction such as raised bumps or hives, itching, redness, swelling or cracking, peeling, or peeling skin.

A word from Verywell

If you are trying to conceive or have just found out that you are pregnant, it is normal to experience so many waves of different emotions: excitement, terror, fear, grief, joy, etc.

Now, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby is to contact a health care provider as soon as possible to determine the next steps and determine the best prenatal vitamin or supplements for you.

In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, a prenatal supplement can ensure that you are giving your body everything it needs to support you and your developing baby throughout pregnancy and of the early days of parenthood.

Patricia J. Callender

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