Prenatal vitamins: Why Are They Important?

Healthy baby development is the number one priority and wish of every expecting parent - and we all know that’s a process that starts earlier than birth - while the little one is still in its mother’s womb.  
So, maintaining a healthy diet all throughout the months of pregnancy and also during the breastfeeding period is of vital importance. Now, while most nutrients do come from the food you eat, sometimes it’s impossible to keep a full count - and this is where prenatal vitamins step in.

What Are Prenatal or Pregnancy Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. They are supposed to help with prevention of neural birth defects and support the baby’s growth and development.

These vitamins are also recommended for mothers who have certain health issues, dietary restrictions or other complications in pregnancy, which include women who:

How Important are Prenatal Vitamins During Pregnancy?

A pregnant woman should start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as she finds out she’s carrying – it’s very important to have all nutritional gaps covered during those delicate months of pregnancy. Ideally, it’s best to start taking the vitamins before pregnancy, even before the time of conception. Some doctors recommend that women in reproductive age, who are planning to eventually have a baby, take regular doses of prenatal vitamins. 

What are the Benefits of Pregnancy Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins should contain these very important nutrients: folic acid, iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin D.

Folic Acid - Aid Neural and Spinal Development

Folic acid is a type of vitamin B, more precisely vitamin B9, that helps with the prevention of neural tube birth defects. These are defects that affect the brain and the spinal cord, and they can develop very early, in the first 28 days of conception. That’s why it’s recommended that women who plan on conception should regularly take 400 mcg of folic acid a day.

Iron - Strengthens the Blood and Prevents Anemia

Iron is very important - both for the mother’s and the baby’s blood since it’s one of the key minerals needed for strengthening it and helping blood carry oxygen to the tissues, which makes it a huge factor in the prevention against anemia, the condition of low red blood cells.

Calcium - Maintains Bone Density

Calcium helps with maintaining proper bone density in the mother during the months of pregnancy and boosts the bone growth of the developing baby.

Iodine - Keeps the Thyroid in Order 

The iodine nutrient plays an important role in maintaining a healthy thyroid gland, which can be an issue for a lot of women during pregnancy. Healthy thyroid function is crucial for the baby’s development as well - it helps prevent mental disabilities, deafness and stunted physical growth, all of which can be caused by not enough iodine in the body. A deficiency of iodine can also be the reason behind some miscarriages and stillbirths. 

When considering other nutrients that might not usually be included in prenatal vitamins, take heed of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Vitamin D helps in maintaining the levels of phosphorus and calcium, which are crucial for strengthening the baby’s bones and teeth. Vitamin D can help prevent rickets, which is a condition of softening of the bone tissue and can be caused by vitamin D deficiency. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the development of the baby’s brain, as well as the baby’s eyes and nerve tissue. If you want a natural source for omega-3, fish is your best option, although you might want to be careful eating too much of it considering some fish can be high in mercury. It’s best to talk to your healthcare professional and discuss how best to get the omega-3 as a supplement or whether you need it at all.

Is it a Good Idea to Take Prenatal Vitamins When not Pregnant?

As we said earlier, it’s important to start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you find out you are pregnant. 

Doctors also recommend that you actually start with prenatal vitamins even prior to conceiving, or when you are already trying to get pregnant (if it’s a planned pregnancy) because some of the effects of vitamins are most important for the earliest weeks of the baby’s development.

Some people consider taking prenatal vitamins without being pregnant or thinking about conceiving, thinking it will increase hair quality, help fight acne and balance hormones.

Although some nutrients in the vitamins might have some such desired effect on the body, a lot of that pregnant glow – the skin quality, strong nails, and hair is actually due to the hormonal changes in the bodies of pregnant women, and prenatal vitamins do not affect hormonal levels.  

How Long Should You Take Prenatal Vitamins?

The various nutrients in prenatal vitamins are important for every phase of your pregnancy, which means you should take them throughout all nine months. Some doctors might also recommend to continue taking them after the birth of the baby, especially during breastfeeding.

What are the Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins?

Some prenatal vitamins might increase nausea in women who are prone to it during pregnancy. If you experience this it’s best to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider and ask them to prescribe you a different kind of prenatal vitamin. There are various options on the market such as chewable or liquid vitamins that might be a better option.

When you take vitamins it’s important to always drink a lot of fluids and eat a fiber-rich diet because some of them may also cause constipation (such as iron for example).