When to Start Prenatal Vitamins
May 20, 2013
Mothers-to-be have a lot on their plates, but it may not be the right things when it comes to food and proper dietary choices.
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you’ll need to get enough of certain vitamins and minerals to ensure your baby grows into a healthy, functioning child. You’re the sole food source for this child, so everything you eat matters. To round out your diet and fill in any nutritional gaps, take a prenatal vitamin.
A prenatal vitamin is a multivitamin specifically designed for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most women know they’re meant to take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, but the logistics of it may be unknown.
Here’s a quick guide on how to take prenatal vitamins successfully, including when to start prenatal vitamins, when to stop, and which to take.
Why Taking Prenatal Vitamins is Vital
First, let’s establish why you should take prenatal vitamins.
A prenatal vitamin is essentially a nutritional safety net that ensures you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals both for you and your child. These nutrients are needed to sustain your pregnancy and ward off potential birth defects.
When take prior to and during pregnancy, prenatal vitamins improve your baby’s health and drastically reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
A Quick Timeline for Prenatal Vitamins
You likely already know prenatal vitamins are vital for your child’s health. However, the exact timing is a little less well-known. If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, here’s a look at optimum prenatal vitamin use throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
Before Trying to Get Pregnant. If it’s possible, start taking prenatal vitamins before you attempt to get pregnant. Because the egg starts maturing before it’s released, it’s important the proper nutrients are present during the earliest stages and prenatal vitamins help do this.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re already pregnant or for your first doctor appointment because you will miss this important developmental period. Start taking prenatal vitamins three months before attempting to get pregnant in order to avoid neural-tube and other birth defects.
During Pregnantcy. If your pregnancy was unplanned and you haven’t been taking folic acid or other vitamins recommended for women of childbearing age, don’t fret. Statistically, your baby is probably fine. However, you should still invest in a quality prenatal vitamin and take it throughout the course of your pregnancy.
Many women choose to continue taking prenatal vitamins to cover any nutritional gaps in their diet. This isn’t a valid reason to stop eating well, however. An unborn baby will benefit both from a mother’s healthy diet and a quality prenatal vitamin.
After Pregnancy and During Breastfeeding. Some women assume they should stop taking prenatal vitamins after they give birth. However, breastfeeding mothers would do well to continue taking prenatal vitamins during lactation. As a mother, you pass on all the vitamins and minerals in your diet to your child during breastfeeding. As with pregnancy, a prenatal vitamin covers gaps in your diet to make sure your baby is getting a well-rounded diet. This is especially true for iron and calcium, which can deplete in women after giving birth.
What Prenatal Vitamins to Look For
Now you know why and when to take prenatal vitamins; you’re ready to start looking for the perfect brand. Prenatal vitamins are available by prescription and over-the-counter, but don’t assume prescription vitamins are the best choice.
Many vitamins available by prescription are also sold over the counter, and bear no remarkable difference. Prescriptions are often written so the cost of the vitamins will be covered by insurance companies, but there is no other advantage or disadvantage.
Instead, the most important thing to look for is individual ingredients and proper dosages.
Both WebMD and the Mayo Clinic agree the best prenatal vitamins contain:
Folic Acid (B9) …………… (400-800 mcg)
Calcium ……………………… (250 mcg)
Iron ……………………………… (30 mg)
Vitamin C ………………………… (50 mg)
When choosing a prenatal vitamin, keep smaller issues like taste and texture in mind. These factors do bother some women, so if you’re having trouble swallowing your prenatal vitamin or keeping it down, consider switching to a different brand.
Using Prenatal Vitamins Properly
Remember, while taking a solid prenatal vitamin improves your baby’s health, it’s no excuse for eating a poor diet. Prenatal vitamins don’t always meet 100 percent of your needs, especially if you have a family history of children with neural tube defects.
To use your prenatal vitamin properly, pair it with a well-rounded, health-conscious diet. If you feel you need more or less of a certain nutrient, talk to your doctor.
If you stick to these guidelines, you can get the most from your prenatal vitamin, have a healthy pregnancy, and—most importantly—a healthy child.
-  Williams, Laura J., Cara Mai, Larry Edmonds, Gary Shaw, Russell Kirby, Charlotte Hobbs, Lowell Sever, Lisa Miller, F. John Meaney, and Miriam Levitt. 2002. Prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly during the transition to mandatory folic acid fortification in the United State. Teratology: Vol. 66, Issue 1.
-  Mayo Clinic.Pregnancy week by week. Accessed 9 May 2013.
-  WebMD.Pregnancy and Prenatal Vitamins. Accessed 9 May 2013.