Best Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins are generally recommended for all pregnant women, so if you have decided that you’re ready to have children, you have probably been thinking about them for a while. It can be scary to make a decision about which prenatal vitamins to take since the health of your body and your baby will be affected. Luckily, we have all the info you need to make that decision, including a list of our top ten favorite options.
How do they work?
Prenatal vitamins are a type of multivitamin, and they don’t all contain the same combination of nutrients, so exactly how the vitamins work in your body will depend on which vitamins are included. That said, the aim of all prenatal vitamins is to make your pregnancy healthier. Some of the common vitamins included are intended to reduce the risk of certain birth defects and other health issues in your child, and others protect you from developing a deficiency (since your body may draw nutrients away from you to use for the baby if you don’t consume enough for the two of you).
Conditions Treated with Prenatal Vitamins
The goal of prenatal vitamins is to prevent permanent or long-term health issues for you and your child, not to treat existing conditions, and there are no conditions known to be treated by taking prenatal vitamins. In fact, it is generally recommended that you start taking prenatal vitamins one to three months before you even start trying to get pregnant. This is because so much important development happens in the first few weeks of pregnancy, while most women won’t know they are pregnant until at least three or four weeks. By taking vitamins early, you ensure that your body will be ready to give a developing baby all the nutrients necessary from day one.
Conditions Prevented with Prenatal Vitamins
There are several serious conditions that can be prevented in newborns if the mother takes prenatal vitamins while pregnant. Each component of the multivitamin helps prevent different issues.
For instance, folic acid (which is found in all prenatal vitamins) reduces the risk of two serious birth defects that are caused by improper development of the neural tube. These defects are anencephaly, a fatal condition in which parts of the brain and skull do not develop, and spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord does not develop properly and mobility is often limited.
Iron, another important component in all prenatal vitamins, prevents iron deficiency anemia, which becomes more likely during pregnancy. The prevention of iron deficiency anemia, in turn, helps to prevent a low birth weight and premature delivery. It also prevents the baby from having unhealthily low levels of iron at birth.
While there is some variation in the contents of prenatal vitamins, it’s important to make sure that whatever you choose contains these four critical nutrients:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
Consider a prenatal vitamin that also has:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
These nutrients are also important, found in many prenatal vitamins, and not consumed in sufficient quantities in many people’s diets.
And of course, prenatal vitamins come in different forms, including:
- Capsules - the most common form for prenatal multivitamins.
- Tablets - also a fairly common option.
- Gummy vitamins - which do not contain iron, so you’ll need an additional iron supplement.
- Liquid vitamins - can be convenient if you find pills difficult to swallow.
- Vitamins for an empty stomach - additional ingredients like ginger make these vitamins easy to take even if you can’t keep down food or gummy vitamins.
We reviewed some of the best options for the most popular types of prenatal vitamins, so when you think you know what you’re looking for, check out our list to find our top picks.
It’s recommended that all pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin and eat a healthy diet to ensure the best outcome for both the mother and the baby. So while it’s not a substitute for taking a prenatal vitamin, you can eat foods that contain high amounts of some nutrients that are very important during pregnancy.
- Folic acid - Folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, is found in foods like broccoli, peas, and leafy greens.
- Iron - Many nuts and beans are rich in iron, as are most grain products that have been fortified with extra vitamins.
- Calcium - Green vegetables like spinach, seafood, and dairy products are all good sources of calcium.
- Vitamin D - Fortified juices, fortified dairy substitutes, and fatty types of fish can help add vitamin D to your diet; spending time in the sun will also help your body produce vitamin D on its own.
Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
Most of the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins revolve around the prevention of birth defects and other pregnancy complications. Neural tube defects and heart defects are much less likely in a baby when the mother takes prenatal vitamins. The risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery, and miscarriage or stillbirth are also reduced. The mother is also protected by prenatal vitamins, as the risk of conditions like preeclampsia, iron deficiency anemia, and gestational diabetes may be lower in pregnant women when they take prenatally.
One more benefit that should not be overlooked is the peace of mind offered by prenatal vitamins. However excited you are to grow your family, there’s no denying that pregnancy is stressful, so it’s comforting to know that you are doing all you can to look after the health of your baby.
Because prenatal vitamins contain many different nutrients, any one of the components could potentially cause negative side effects. These are usually minor, but it’s still important to be aware of them. It’s somewhat common to experience constipation, bloating, or other stomach upset as a result of the iron in prenatal vitamins. Vitamins A and E can sometimes cause skin dryness, itchiness, or rashes.
If you experience any side effects while taking your prenatal vitamins, it’s important to discuss them with your OB/GYN as soon as possible. Stopping your vitamins because of side effects can be dangerous for you and your baby, so you’ll need to discuss solutions with your doctor. There is likely to be an option that minimizes your side effects while still ensuring that you get all the nutrients you need during your pregnancy.
Precautions and Warnings
Prenatal vitamins are generally very safe when taken as directed, so it’s important to communicate with your doctor about any allergies and health conditions to help them create the best plan for you. There is a myth that prenatal vitamins make your hair and nails stronger and shinier, which tempts some people to take them even when not pregnant.
In fact, taking prenatal vitamins for a long time while not pregnant can be dangerous, as they may cause you to over-consume nutrients unnecessarily. Inactive ingredients in the vitamins can cause allergic reactions in some people, so be sure to check the full list of ingredients and make your doctor aware of any known allergies. People with chronic liver or digestive problems should consult a doctor before deciding to start prenatal vitamins and discuss medical history.
How Long to Take Prenatal Vitamins?
While it’s obvious that prenatal vitamins should be taken for the duration of a pregnancy, it’s less clear exactly how long they should be taken before and after the pregnancy. Your doctor will be able to advise you on when to start and stop taking them, so follow these directions carefully.
In general, prenatal vitamins should be taken from around three months before the start of pregnancy until after you stop breastfeeding. Starting them early will give you all the necessary nutrients from day one of your pregnancy, and continue to take them until at least a month after giving birth or until you finish breastfeeding will protect you and your baby from nutrient deficiencies.
One of the biggest concerns with combining prenatal vitamins and other supplements or medication is that you could cause an overdose of a given nutrient by taking both a prenatal vitamin that contains the nutrient and a separate supplement of the nutrient. For example, you should not take iron alongside prenatal vitamins, unless you are specifically taking a prenatal vitamin that contains no iron. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium should also not be taken in addition to prenatally, as they tend to contain these nutrients, too.
Antibiotics, thyroid medication, and anti-seizure drugs can have undesirable interactions with prenatal vitamins. To avoid the risk of such an interaction, make sure your doctor is aware of both your current medications and the prenatal vitamins you are considering.
Prenatal vitamins are an important part of a healthy pregnancy, protecting against everything from neural tube defects in the baby to vitamin deficiencies in the mother. Along with your multivitamin, you should eat a healthy diet in order to get enough of important macro-and micronutrients for both yourself and your child.
While serious side effects are rare, it’s critical that your doctor be informed of any allergies, medications, or conditions, as well as any side effects that do develop, to keep you safe. When you have discussed your medical needs and your personal preferences with your doctor, refer to our list of the best prenatal vitamins to find high-quality options for any type of prenatally.
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