What Prenatal Vitamins Should You Take?

Prenatal vitamins are specially designed to ensure pregnant mothers receive enough nutrients. These vitamins make up for the lack of nutrients that come from a regular diet. It is necessary to have the right nutrients for the mother’s health and the baby’s development.

Key takeaways:
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    Pregnant women do not receive enough vitamins and minerals from their regular diet.
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    Prenatal vitamins support the mother’s health and the healthy growth of the fetus.
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    Make sure prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, iron, and calcium.
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    The current recommendation is at least 400 milligrams of folic acid per day.
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    Side effects may include constipation or nausea.
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    Do not take any vitamins or doses not recommended by your healthcare provider.

Why are prenatal vitamins important?

The average woman does not get enough vitamins and minerals from her regular diet. This is mostly true for low to middle-income households. When a woman becomes pregnant, her nutrient level decreases. Her energy level increases, requiring more nutrients for the baby to grow.

Low nutrient levels can lead to health problems for the mother and the baby. This can cause short and long-term health problems over the baby’s lifetime. Studies show that poor nutrition during pregnancy can also cause poor health for several generations.

Prenatal vitamins support the growth and development of the fetus.

Who should take prenatal vitamins?

Pregnant women should begin taking prenatal vitamins as early in pregnancy as possible.

Women planning pregnancy should start prenatal vitamins at least three months before pregnancy.

Breastfeeding mothers will continue taking prenatal vitamins until they stop breastfeeding.

What is in prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins have multiple vitamins and minerals necessary to keep mothers-to-be healthy. In that mix, it is most important to have folic acid, iron, and calcium.

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. NTD are abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord that happen during a baby's development. Mothers should start folic acid three months before pregnancy. Folic acid is like folate, except that it is synthetic. Folate is naturally found in foods but there isn’t enough to give you what you need in your diet alone.

Recommended dose: 400 milligrams in the vitamin; additional will come from food

Iron prevents anemia in the mother as well as the development of the placenta and the fetus. Iron helps your body make blood and carry oxygen throughout the body.

Recommended daily amount: 27 milligrams

Calcium helps prevent high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, or restricted fetal growth. Vitamin D is often coupled with calcium to prevent pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, or small-for-gestational age infants. This can also prevent the mother from losing bone density during pregnancy.

Recommended daily amount: Calcium 1,000 milligrams for ages 19 to 50

Vitamin D: 600 international units

How much do you take?

You only need to take one prenatal vitamin serving each day. If you choose to get vitamins over-the-counter, the dose may be more than one tablet. Be certain to read the directions to see how many you need daily.

Which prenatal vitamins should you take?

Prenatal vitamins are available by prescription or over-the-counter at any pharmacy. Be sure there is folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D in whichever you choose. The current recommendation is at least 400 milligrams of folic acid per day.

You can look for additional nutrients as well.

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and omega-3 fatty acids help support fetal brain development. You can find both in seafood, but some prenatal vitamins have them too. Fish oil supplements are also available.
  • Vitamins B like B1, B2, B6, B9, and B12 give you energy, foster healthy vision, and are good for the placenta. B6 may also help decrease nausea and vomiting from morning sickness.
  • Vitamin C is good for immune system support.

Do prenatal vitamins have side effects?

Some women will experience side effects from prenatal vitamins. Side effects are usually mild and can be easily fixed. The need for taking prenatal vitamins is high. Do not stop taking it without discussing it with your healthcare provider. Side effects might include:

Constipation. Iron can cause constipation which you can prevent by:

  • Increasing fiber in your diet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Daily exercise or physical activity.
  • If necessary, ask your healthcare provider about adding a stool softener.

Nausea. Some women experience mild nausea that can be from iron. Prevent this by:

  • Take vitamins with food.
  • Take before bed.

Can diet alone be enough?

Some people might wonder if prenatal vitamins are necessary. Some wonder if they can get enough vitamins and nutrients from food. Generally, a regular diet does not provide enough nutrients. This is especially true during pregnancy. The mother’s body needs extra nutrients for more energy. Nutrients are also supplied to the fetus.

It is also important to consider what the diet consists of and if it is adequate. Many people do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and proteins. Also, a lot of the nutrients found in food are either not high enough or not well utilized by the body to be sufficient. This is why prenatal vitamins are so important in addition to a healthy diet.


While vitamins are important to keep you healthy, too many of the wrong vitamins can be dangerous. Do not take any vitamins or doses not recommended by your healthcare provider.

Prenatal vitamins are important for mothers-to-be and their growing babies. These vitamins provide nutrients that mothers lack in their regular diets. The vitamins also help prevent birth defects and pregnancy complications. Prenatal vitamins are easy to find, and need started as early in pregnancy as possible. The recommendations are to start prenatal vitamins before pregnancy.

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