Although it’s always important to eat a healthy and balanced diet that is full of vitamins and minerals, there is perhaps no time more important than during pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins offer women the nutritional support that they need in order to support a healthy pregnancy, which requires adequate quantities of certain essential vitamins and minerals. Many women start taking prenatal vitamins when they find out they are pregnant, but the time to take a prenatal vitamin actually is even earlier.
When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins
Many women think that prenatal vitamins are only needed during pregnancy, but the best time to start taking a prenatal vitamin is actually before you get pregnant. In fact, because pregnancy can happen at any time once you and your partner are no longer using birth control, doctors recommend taking prenatal vitamins that contain folate at least one month prior to trying to conceive. The earliest weeks of pregnancy are when the fetus’ neural tube, including the brain and spinal cord, begin to develop, and your body needs adequate levels of folate in order to prevent birth defects. Because most women do not know they are pregnant during these early weeks, it is best to have been taking a prenatal vitamin before trying to get pregnant.
Why Prenatal Vitamins are Important
Prenatal vitamins are one of the most important steps women can take to ensure a healthy pregnancy for both themselves and their growing babies. Prenatal vitamins have a wide range of benefits and are important for many different reasons, including:
- Reducing the risk of birth defects: Nutritional deficiencies in pregnant women are one of the most common causes of congenital birth defects, and prenatal vitamins are specially formulated to address these deficiencies. Folate, or vitamin B9, is needed in higher quantities than normal in order to allow the neural tube to develop properly during the first weeks of pregnancy. Without an adequate quantity, defects such as spina bifida can occur. Women who are deficient in vitamin B12 are more likely to have babies born with neural tube defects and congenital heart defects as well. Although prenatal vitamins are not a substitute for eating a healthy diet, taking a prenatal vitamin helps to ensure that your body will have adequate nutritional support to help your unborn child develop.
- Avoiding nutritional deficiencies: Prenatal vitamins aren’t only important for the health of the growing fetus; they are also critical to keep pregnant women healthy as well. Women need vitamins and minerals in higher amounts during pregnancy, which requires a healthy, balanced diet, but the nausea many women experience during the first trimester can make eating healthy meals a challenge. Prenatal vitamins aren’t intended to be a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can help fill in nutritional gaps to ensure that you and your baby both receive the nutrients you need.
What Nutrients a Good Prenatal Vitamin Should Contain
In order to properly support a pregnancy, prenatal vitamins must include the appropriate vitamins and minerals in adequate amounts for pregnant women. A good prenatal vitamin should contain:
Common Side Effects Associated With Prenatal Vitamins
Most side effects associated with prenatal vitamins are mild and do not require medical attention in the vast majority of cases. Prenatal vitamins can sometimes cause side effects that include nausea and constipation. Nausea is common during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester, and some women feel more nauseated when taking a supplement that must be swallowed whole. Whole foods-based prenatal vitamins are less likely to cause nausea than synthetic formulas because the body is better able to digest and absorb these supplements. Some women also find that taking their vitamin with food or at night helps to reduce nausea. Constipation from prenatal vitamins is a result of the iron that these vitamins include. In order to minimize constipation, make sure to drink plenty of fluids, increase the amount of fiber in your diet, and incorporate exercise into your daily routine if approved by your healthcare provider.
How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamin
Choosing the best prenatal vitamins comes down to finding a prenatal vitamin that contains the appropriate vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy in the right amounts and in a usable form. Prenatal vitamins that are derived from synthetic vitamins and minerals are more difficult for the body to digest, absorb, and utilize because the vitamins and minerals are typically offered in an inactive form. The best prenatal vitamins are derived from whole foods in order to facilitate easy use and absorption, since the body evolved to use nutrients received naturally through our diets. In addition to looking for a prenatal vitamin that contains the appropriate vitamins and minerals in a usable form, women should also pay attention to the manufacturing transparency associated with vitamin products. Prenatal vitamins that have a CGMP stamp of approval and are manufactured at an FDA-registered facility are subject to transparency and accountability during the manufacturing process, which means that you have more assurance that your vitamin contains the ingredients it says it does. Prenatal vitamins should also be free of artificial colors, sweeteners, and additives and should be free of common allergens like gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts, caffeine, yeast, and corn.