Prenatal Vitamins: what you need to know

By November 5, 2019Obstetrics

When you are thinking about having a baby, or have just become pregnant, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available to you. While some things are easier to understand than others, the world of prenatal supplements can be a tricky one.
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Wonder if you need to take prenatal vitamins? Which brand is the best? Or what to do if they make you feel unwell? Check out our handy guide to prenatal vitamins.

Why you need to take prenatal vitamins 

A healthy and balanced diet is always the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need for optimum health and wellbeing throughout and after your pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that while you are pregnant, even if you do eat a healthy diet, you still might fall short on critical nutrients. If you’re pregnant or hoping to conceive, prenatal vitamins can help fill any gaps.

Prenatal vitamins versus other vitamins

While other vitamins may be helpful, prenatal vitamins are designed especially for your needs while you are pregnant. Prenatal vitamins typically contain more folic acid and iron than standard adult multivitamins. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects which are severe abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Furthermore, iron will work to support your baby’s growth and development and helps prevent anemia, a condition in which blood has a low number of healthy red blood cells. In addition to these benefits, research also suggests that prenatal vitamins can decrease the risk of having a baby who is small for his or her gestational age.

Other Important nutrients

While folic acid and iron are extremely important, there are other nutrients that you should be consuming. Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to help promote a baby’s brain development. If your diet is low in omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods such as fish, you might want to consider omega-3 fatty acid supplements in addition to prenatal vitamins.
Calcium and vitamin D are important as well — especially during the third trimester when your baby’s bones are rapidly growing and strengthening.

Choosing the right supplement

Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in nearly any chemist or pharmacy. It may be recommended that you use a specific brand of prenatal vitamins or the choice may be up to you. As a rule, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains: Folic acid, Calcium, Iron and Vitamin D. It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, iodine and copper. You should also remember that prenatal vitamins are a complement to a healthy diet rather than a substitute for proper nutrition. Prenatal vitamins won’t necessarily meet all of your vitamin and mineral needs, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle through the correct diet is always critical. Your health care provider might also advise a higher dose of certain nutrients depending on your individual circumstances.

When should you start taking prenatal vitamins? 

Ideally, you should start taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception. It’s also generally a good idea for women of reproductive age to regularly take a prenatal vitamin. This is because a baby’s neural tube, which quickly becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops during the first month of pregnancy, most often before you even know that you are pregnant. If your baby is a surprise, it is advised that you start taking a prenatal vitamin immediately after you find out you are pregnant. It’s amplest to take prenatal vitamins throughout your entire pregnancy. Your health care provider might also recommend that you continue to take prenatal vitamins after your baby is born, mainly while you are breast-feeding.

Side effects of prenatal vitamins

It is not unusual for women to feel nauseous after taking prenatal vitamins. If you experience this, it is best to take your prenatal supplements with some food or before you go to bed at night. In some cases, the nutrients in prenatal vitamins can cause constipation. To prevent this, remember to drink plenty of fluids, consume more fibrous foods in your diet and exercise regularly. If constipation continues, you can seek advice from your health care practitioner who may recommend a stool softener. Otherwise, there may be another vitamin option that suits you.

If you need any further advice on prenatal vitamins or pregnancy in general, it is important to contact an obstetrician as they will be able to tell you the best measures you can take for your body.

If you have any questions about preparing your body for pregnancy, or would like to book an appointment, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted obstetricians in Sydney and will be thrilled to give you complete and compassionate care in every way possible.