Parent Pills: What You Need to Know About Prenatal Vitamins

No matter how concerned you are about your own health and wellness, that feeling is magnified when you’re expecting. Suddenly, you’re responsible for the wellbeing of a little human who is so helpless it hasn’t developed fingers or hands yet, so your diet becomes a bigger deal than ever before. When it comes to prenatal vitamins, do you need to take them in supplement form and, if so, which ones? And do you just soldier on if they make you queasy? Here’s all you need to know.


While a healthy diet is always advised for getting your sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals, you might fall short on key nutrients during pregnancy, and this is where prenatal vitamins come in. These supplements are different to your standard multivitamins in that they typically contain more folic acid and iron, as the former helps prevent serious abnormalities in your baby’s brain and spinal cord (known as neural tube defects) while the latter supports your baby’s growth and development. Research has also suggested that prenatal vitamins decrease your baby’s risk of low birth weight.


Still, that’s not to say that taking prenatal vitamins means you’re off the hook for other supplements, as they don’t include such vital nutrients as omega-3 fatty acids, which might help promote your baby’s brain development. If you don’t eat fish and are unable to eat vegetarian-friendly sources of omega-3 fatty acids, you should ask your doctor to recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements to take alongside your prenatal vitamins. Other nutrients to watch out for, especially during your third trimester, are calcium and vitamin D. It is during this time that your baby’s bones will be rapidly growing and strengthening, and so drinking vitamin D-fortified low-fat milk or other calcium-rich foods containing vitamin D is essential. However, your healthcare provider can advise you on supplements if you don’t drink milk or eat calcium-rich foods.


If your healthcare provider doesn’t recommend a specific brand of prenatal vitamins, you’re generally looking for a brand that contains:


  • Folic acid — 400 to 800 micrograms
  • Calcium — 250 milligrams
  • Iron — 30 milligrams
  • Vitamin C — 50 milligrams
  • Zinc — 15 milligrams
  • Copper — 2 milligrams
  • Vitamin B-6 — 2 milligrams
  • Vitamin D — 400 international units


Prenatal vitamins won’t necessarily meet 100% of your vitamin and mineral needs; it’s essential that you maintain a healthy, balanced diet and speak with your GP and potentially a registered dietician. Your healthcare team might suggest that you need certain nutrients in higher doses, as your vitamin and mineral needs will vary depending on your lifestyle, health concerns and other circumstances. If you’ve previously given birth to a baby who has a neural tube defect, for example, it might be wise to take a separate supplement containing a higher dose of folic acid before and during any subsequent pregnancies.


If you’re trying for a baby, taking prenatal vitamins before conception is ideal as your baby’s neural tube develops during the first month of pregnancy and you may not even be aware that you’re pregnant. You should take them throughout your pregnancy, and your doctor may even recommend that you continue to take the vitamins after the baby is born, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. If you have trouble with swallowing tablets, there are chewable varieties you can try, and your doctor can tell you about other options. If the vitamins make you feel sick, you might feel better if you take your prenatal vitamin with a snack or before you go to bed at night. Finally, to prevent constipation (caused by iron in prenatal vitamins) drink plenty of fluids, eat plenty of fibre, exercise more (with the OK from your doctor) and ask your health care provider about using a stool softener.

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