Choosing a Prenatal Vitamin

Answers to your questions about prenatal vitamins during your pregnancy, including what to do if your prenatal vitamins are making you sick.

Choosing a prenatal vitamin is not as easy as it seems. Here are the most popular questions women have about taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.

There are many types and brands of prenatal vitamins on the market today. Weeding through the shelves of prenatal vitamins when planning a pregnancy or in the early few weeks can be daunting. What should women know about choosing a prenatal vitamin?

Why do I Need Prenatal Vitamins?

Even though most of the vital nutrients that you will need for a healthy baby and pregnancy can be found in your diet, there are a few crucial nutrients that your diet is likely lacking. One of nutrients is folic acid, also known as folate. Adequate intake of folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The recommended amount of folic acid during pregnancy is 600ug.

The demand for iron during pregnancy is huge. Few women get the amount of iron that they need to keep up with the 50% increase in blood volume and for storage in the baby’s liver. 30mg of iron is recommended during pregnancy.

Are all Prenatal Vitamins the Same?

It can be tempting to assume that “more” equals “better” when comparing types of vitamins and minerals included in prenatal vitamins. However, research shows that taking excessive amounts of vitamins can be just as harmful, if not more, as not taking any. What should you look for when you are choosing a prenatal vitamin?

Below is a list of the Dietary Reference Intakes as recommended for pregnancy by the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (1998) to help you get started.

  • Calcium – 1300mg (under age 19), 1,000mg (over 19)
  • Phosphorus – 1250mg (under age 19); 700mg (over 19)
  • Iron – 30mg
  • Zinc – 15mg
  • Read on
  • Benefits of Folic Acid
  • Your First Prenatal Visit
  • New Folic Acid and Pregnancy Facts and Risks
  • Iodine – 175ug
  • Magnesium – 400mg (under age 19); 360mg (over 19)
  • Vitamin A – 800RE
  • Vitamin D – 5ug
  • Vitamin E – 10mg
  • Vitamin C – 70mg
  • Folic Acid – 600ug
  • Thiamin – 1.4mg
  • Riboflavin – 1.4mg
  • Niacin – 18mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 1.9mg
  • Vitamin B12 – 2.6ug

Remember that it’s not just about choosing the right prenatal vitamin. You still need a healthy diet! In fact, nutritious eating habits will help your body process the prenatal vitamins more effectively. For more information about daily nutrition during pregnancy, check the Pregnancy Diet Plan.

If you have specific questions about whether your prenatal vitamin is sufficient, see your Primary Care Provider or a Licensed Nutritionist.

When Should I Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

The first trimester is the time during pregnancy when all of the baby’s major organ systems are forming and developing. Evidence shows that the mother’s body will need adequate nutrition “on board” in order for the baby’s growth to be on track, especially when it comes to vitamins such as folic acid.

The baby’s neural tube will begin to close within the first month of pregnancy, during a time when few women even realize they are pregnant! For that reason, it is very important that you start taking prenatal vitamins at least 2-3 months before you begin trying to conceive. New research even shows that taking folic acid (included in prenatal vitamins) for one year prior to conception reduced the mother’s chance of having preterm labor.

When Should I Stop Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

If you are planning to breastfeed, you should continue taking your prenatal vitamins until your baby is weaned.

What if Taking Prenatal Vitamins Makes me Sick?

Many women are bothered by nausea, stomach pain and even vomiting after taking their daily prenatal vitamin. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Take your prenatal vitamin at night with a snack to reduce nausea.
  • Check with your primary provider about taking only the necessary supplements separately, such as folic acid and iron.
  • Ask your primary provider about other types of vitamins such as chewable, liquid or children’s vitamins instead.

How much do Prenatal Vitamins cost?

Prenatal vitamins will cost anywhere from $2 to $8 per month and are often available in a 3-4 month supply. Liquid prenatal vitamins typically cost a bit more. Many varieties of prenatal vitamins are available in grocery stores, pharmacies and online.

Do I Need any Other Supplements or Nutrients in Addition to Prenatal Vitamins?

Some mothers mistakenly believe that if they take prenatal vitamins, they don’t have to worry so much about getting their daily nutrients. However, one of the most important building blocks during pregnancy is protein.

Prenatal vitamins do not include protein since most people do get enough protein sources from their diet. You should be sure you have at least 60g of protein or 6 ozs. of meat or other protein food item every day. Having a healthy pregnancy diet plan is one of the best ways to be sure your body is absorbing and processing the vitamins.

Some women may need additional calcium and iron, especially in the later months of pregnancy when the needs for these minerals are greatest or if they are on special diets. Be sure to check with your Primary Provider to see if you need any other supplements or for advice about vitamins.

Are Natural Prenatal Vitamins Better?

The answer is that it depends. If the manufacturer is using only organic and all-natural ingredients that are free of environmental toxins, then generally speaking natural prenatal vitamins are better. Since prenatal vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, consumers need to do their own research about the manufacturer and product safety prior to consuming the product.

In addition to natural or organic labeling, moms should look for prenatal vitamins that are also free of unnecessary preservatives or additives.