Prenatal vitamins are on a table
Prenatal vitamins help expecting mothers and their babies receive the proper and key nutrients they need.

Which Prenatal Vitamins Should You Take?

While it is best to get essential nutrients through a healthy diet, you still might fall short on key vitamins and minerals. If you are hoping to conceive — or are already pregnant — prenatal vitamins are important to fill any gaps.

With prenatal vitamins, you will get a higher level of folic acid compared to standard adult multivitamins. Plus, you will get several more nutrients that are critical to your baby’s development.

Research also suggests that prenatal vitamins reduce the risk of having a very small baby.

5 Key Vitamins

1. Folic Acid

This vitamin helps prevent neural tube birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord. These defects develop in the first 28 days after conception before you realize you are pregnant.

2. Iron

Iron helps blood carry oxygen in both the mother and baby. This can improve your circulation and moderate your body temperature. Taking this vitamin might also improve your energy levels, as low iron can cause fatigue.

3. Iodine

Iodine helps to boost your thyroid function during pregnancy. With an iodine deficiency, you risk stunted physical growth, deafness and severe mental disabilities. Iodine deficiency can also cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

4. Calcium

Calcium is especially important during the third trimester when your baby's bones are growing rapidly. Calcium can also prevent you from losing bone density since the baby will use calcium for their own bone growth.

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These aren’t included in all prenatal vitamins. However, these nutrients might help promote a baby's brain development. Eat fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Or, if your doctor agrees, take omega-3 fatty acid supplements in addition to prenatal vitamins.

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Other Considerations

Since nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, people who could get pregnant are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily — starting before conception and continuing for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If a previous pregnancy has resulted in a neural tube defect, talk to your doctor about folic acid supplements and discuss the dose. According to research, taking a larger dose (up to 4,000 micrograms) at least one month before and during the first trimester may help prevent another neural tube defect. Check with your doctor first.

What to Look for in Prenatal Vitamins: Reading the Label

We know readings the labels of vitamins can cause a headache, so we have disclosed what to look for. The best prenatal vitamins should include:

  • 400 micrograms of folic acid.
  • 150 micrograms of iodine.
  • 6 micrograms of vitamin B12.
  • 400 international units of vitamin D.
  • 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium.
  • 70 milligrams of vitamin C.
  • 20 milligrams of niacin.
  • 17 milligrams of iron.
  • 15 milligrams of zinc.
  • 10 milligrams of vitamin E.
  • 3 milligrams of thiamine.
  • 2 milligrams of riboflavin.

The vitamins prescribed by your doctor can be unique by each case and patient.

What to Know About Taking Prenatal Vitamins

It’s a good idea to take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid – whether you are planning to get pregnant or not. This protects your baby even if you find yourself with an unplanned pregnancy.

If you are planning a pregnancy, start taking prenatal vitamins three months before conception. Or, start the vitamins as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed.

Doctors advise taking prenatal vitamins during the entire pregnancy. Your doctor might recommend continuing to take prenatal vitamins even after the baby is born, as they are an important source of nutrients during breastfeeding.

If you feel nauseous when taking these vitamins, talk to your doctor. Prescription prenatal vitamins might be the answer for you, as chewable or liquid vitamins might work better than pills.

Some people experience constipation due to the iron. You can help prevent constipation with a few key steps:

  • Get plenty of fiber in your diet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about using a stool softener.

Also, get physical activity in your daily routine, like walking. Make sure your doctor says it is okay before incorporating any type of exercise.

If you still get constipated, talk to your doctor. You might benefit from another type of prenatal vitamin or individual supplements containing folic acid, iron and calcium with vitamin D.