Everything You Need to Know About Prenatal Vitamins

Learn about the benefits and possible side effects of prenatal vitamins for expectant moms

Pregnancy is such an exciting time for expecting parents. It's also often a stressful time, with all the new things you have to learn and all the changes a mother’s body goes through to ensure the healthy development of her baby.

One of the most significant changes a mom-to-be must make involves nutrition. Because of the need to supply your growing baby with all the nutrients they need to be healthy, many expectant moms take daily prenatal vitamins.

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are a combination of vitamin and mineral supplements designed to support the pregnant woman and growing baby throughout pregnancy. Different from a typical multivitamin, prenatal vitamins supply you with specific nutrients in amounts high enough for both mom and baby.

What should I look for in a quality prenatal vitamin?

There are a lot of different prenatal vitamins available, both prescription and over-the-counter. When looking for the best vitamin, it's important to know what your pregnant body and baby need for healthy development.

One of the most critical vitamins a pregnant woman needs is folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin that supports the growth and development of body cells. Other important vitamins during pregnancy include iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA and iodine. Vitamins A and C, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, are also needed in higher amounts during pregnancy.

Why should I take prenatal vitamins?

During pregnancy, there is so much going on in your body. A woman's body must not only support itself through all the changes that pregnancy brings, but also support the baby growing in the womb. Because of this, many women need more vitamins than just what is found in their typical diet.

  • Folic acid: Helps support baby's brain development and prevent neural tube defects

  • Iron: Helps make red blood cells, which are needed to carry oxygen to the baby

  • Calcium: Critical for preventing bone density loss in mothers which can occur as a baby requires the calcium for their own bone growth

  • Iodine: Critical for women's thyroid function during pregnancy as deficiency may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, severe mental disability or deafness in the baby

Are there side effects of prenatal vitamins?

As with anything you put into your body, you may experience side effects while taking prenatal vitamins. These are typically mild but can affect many different parts of the body. In addition, a prenatal vitamin may worsen some of the symptoms your body is already facing due to pregnancy.

  • Digestive system: Some prenatal vitamins can cause nausea, constipation, stomach cramps, bloating and gas.

  • Skin and hair: Some women may experience hair loss, skin dryness and itchiness, easy bruising or even skin rashes.

  • Mouth: Teeth staining and sore teeth and gums may occur.

Be aware that taking in too much of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful to both mom and baby, so it's important to discuss with your doctor which vitamin you should be taking and how much each day. Never take additional prenatal vitamins without your doctor's guidance.

Are there benefits or harm to taking prenatal vitamins when not pregnant?

A prenatal vitamin is designed to support 2 lives, so it’s packed full of extra vitamins and minerals that a woman's pregnant body needs. The problem with taking a prenatal vitamin when not pregnant is that you'll be getting much more of these vitamins and minerals than your body actually needs and this could cause certain health problems.

For example, excess folic acid consumption may mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, making it harder to receive treatment. Excess iron is known to cause constipation, nausea or diarrhea. Other excess amounts of vitamins may be toxic to a person's liver and could lead to death, in rare instances.

However, some people are at higher risk for malnutrition and could benefit from taking a daily prenatal vitamin. Patients who have had bariatric surgery, some teenagers, those who smoke or drink heavily and drug users all may benefit from added nutrients that can come from a prenatal vitamin.

Additionally, women who are planning on becoming pregnant could benefit from taking prenatal vitamins. The nutrients in these supplements are critical from the very beginning of pregnancy, so it's sometimes advised for women to begin taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as she begins trying to conceive.

When should a woman stop taking them?

A good rule of thumb is to continue taking prenatal vitamins for up to 4-6 weeks postpartum or until finished breastfeeding, which depletes your body of nutrients.

If you are experiencing any negative side effects from taking a prenatal vitamin, be sure to talk to your OB/GYN doctor to see whether or not you should continue taking it. If you have any questions, contact our experienced staff at All About Women today by calling our Gainesville or Lake City, Florida offices.