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When and How to Take Prenatal Vitamins

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Updated February 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Prenatal Vitamins Photo © iStockPhoto

 

What is a prenatal vitamin?

A prenatal vitamin is a multivitamin that is designed with pregnancy and breastfeeding in mind. The amount of vitamins and minerals in these supplements are safe and appropriate when trying to conceive, during pregnancy and postpartum while you are breastfeeding. Some specialized prenatal vitamins may also have other pregnancy related additives, including DHA.

 

Why should I take prenatal vitamins?:

Prenatal vitamins are like a nutrition safety net that help you maintain the vitamins and minerals your body needs to grow a healthy baby and sustain your pregnancy. They work best when supported by good nutrition.

The most noted example of the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins is the fact that they help you get more folic acid. When taken prior to pregnancy, prenatal vitamins with folic acid can help drastically reduce the incidence of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?:

Ideally, you would begin taking prenatal vitamins a few months before you wanted to try to conceive. Once you stopped using birth control and began to try in earnest would be beneficial as well. However, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. This is why folic acid, specifically, and a multi-vitamin, in general, is recommended for all women of childbearing age, even when they are not trying to get pregnant.

How do I take prenatal vitamins?:

Prenatal vitamins can come in many forms: pills, capsules and even liquids. Discuss with your doctor or midwife which is easiest for you to take. Depending on which prenatal vitamin you have chosen, you may take it once a day or multiple times per day. Follow the instructions provided to gain the maximum benefits. For example, many vitamins work best when taken with water and on an empty stomach with no food consumed for about an hour following.

Which prenatal vitamin is best?:

Whether pill, capsule or liquid is best is a personal choice. The biggest determinant should be how well you tolerate the vitamin.

Another factor may be cost. You can get a prescription for a prenatal vitamin from most doctors or midwives, but generic brands are often just as good. If you have a prescription, your insurance may be more likely to pay, but check your plan since some insurers cover generic vitamins as well. Even if insurance doesn't cover the over-the-counter version consider whether the co-payment on a prescription vitamin is more than the full cost of a vitamin off the shelf.

What are the side effects of prenatal vitamins?:

Some women complain that prenatal vitamins cause them to be constipated or have an upset stomach. This may be due to pregnancy or the actual medication. Switching to a lower dose of iron may reduce some of the constipation. If you need you to stay with a special brand or dose for a specific problem, like anemia, your practitioner may ask you to simply alleviate constipation with dietary changes or other medications.

Sometimes morning sickness is a problem with prenatal vitamins. If you find that your stomach is upset when you take the vitamins, try a different time of day or a different prenatal.

Do I have to take prenatal vitamins?:

Some mothers choose not to take prenatal vitamins. They may stick to previous multivitamins, after clearing them with their practitioner. An example of things to look for would be the amount of vitamin A in your supplement. Too much vitamin A can cause birth defects.

Other mothers find that switching to children's vitamins eases some of the complaints about the prenatal vitamins. They may also come in a variety of styles. The chewable vitamins are popular. You can also find gummy type vitamins.

Source

Vitamins and Minerals in Pregnancy. March of Dimes

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