How Prenatal Vitamins Impact You and Your Baby
You may be used to taking your daily multivitamin or even specific supplements to make up for dietary gaps. If you're trying to become pregnant, are pregnant or are nursing, add a prenatal vitamin to the mix to meet a growing embryo's needs. If you are hoping to conceive or are newly pregnant, your physician or obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) will likely advise you to take them daily.
Fetal growth and development
Your baby depends on specific micronutrients during each stage of development. For the first month of pregnancy, sufficient intake of B-vitamin folic acid helps develop the baby's spinal cord. Many experts recommend that all women of childbearing age take prenatal vitamins for this very reason. Without enough folic acid, your baby is at higher risk of severe defects to the central nervous system. These neural tube defects occur between 21 and 28 after conception, before many women even know they're pregnant, so taking folic acid is important if you're even just beginning the process of trying to conceive.
As the baby's brain develops, essential omega-3 fatty acids (specifically docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA) support proper growth. Eating fish is a good source of omega-3s. However, due to concerns about harmful mercury content, many women reduce their intake of seafood during pregnancy. Without a reliable source of omega-3s in the diet, it's easy to become deficient. Not all prenatal supplements have omega-3s, so check the label and consider taking an extra supplement if omega-3s are not present in yours.
Mom's prenatal vitamin benefits
There's no substitute for healthy eating during pregnancy, but a prenatal vitamin helps fill any nutritional gaps, especially if you're not always in the mood for a varied diet. During pregnancy, a woman's blood volume can double; iron, copper and vitamin B12 are crucial for the requisite healthy development of red blood cells. Iron will also help with anemia, a common problem in pregnant women.
Calcium intake is another concern during pregnancy. Your baby's bones require extra calcium to form properly. When you don't get enough calcium from food or supplements, the developing baby will leach calcium from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis later in life. A prenatal vitamin ensures a steady supply of calcium to your baby so your own bones aren't compromised during pregnancy.
Some women have trouble with nausea after taking prenatal vitamins. An upset stomach is the last thing you want, especially if you're already dealing with morning sickness. Take your prenatal vitamins on a full stomach to improve digestion and tolerance. It's possible that switching to a different brand or formulation can reduce your symptoms. Some women find that gummy vitamins or even Flintstones children's vitamins are a good substitute for a prenatal vitamin until the morning sickness passes. Review different strategies with your OB-GYN before discontinuing your prenatal vitamin.
Continuing prenatals after birth
The benefits of a prenatal vitamin extend beyond pregnancy. Most doctors advise continuing a prenatal vitamin for at least six months after giving birth. If you're breastfeeding, stay on your prenatal until you wean your baby.
The postpartum period is a time of recovery and healing. A prenatal vitamin offers a boost of nutrition to replenish your body's nutrient stores. Studies attribute a deficiency in micronutrients, such as the folic acid and vitamin D found in prenatal vitamins, to a risk of postpartum depression. The extra iron in prenatals can help make up for blood lost during childbirth and as your period returns.
Where to buy prenatal vitamins
Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter in most pharmacies. Your pharmacist, midwife or OB-GYN will likely have suggestions for quality brands. There is no need to take additional vitamins if you take prenatal vitamins; high doses of some vitamins may be detrimental. For example, extra vitamin A during pregnancy can potentially cause harm to your baby.
Purchase your prenatal vitamins online, in a pharmacy or get a prescription from your doctor. Your doctor may even have coupons for free samples. Always ask about your options as you take on this essential component of a healthy pregnancy.