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What are Prenatal Vitamins?
Updated on
April 17, 2024

What are Prenatal Vitamins?

By Sarah J. Robbins
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What are Prenatal Vitamins?.
What are Prenatal Vitamins?

Lady, you were built to grow a human: from the second you conceive, nature pulls from your stores and feeds your growing baby.

Since no body is perfect, prenatal vitamins fill in the gaps so you both develop normally. They’re hugely important throughout your pregnancy, especially in the earliest stages.

But we know that not everyone likes taking vitamins or is good at remembering to take them. You may not want to. You may even have excuses—valid excuses! Here’s why prenatals are important to take, and a few tips on what to look for:

Excuse #1: “But I eat so well!”

If you eat a good amount of protein and a lot of different-colored, fresh food, chances are you can get virtually everything you need to stay healthy. Pregnant women, however, or even those trying to get pregnant, require extra doses of a few key nutrients—namely iron, folic acid and Vitamin D—to boost their own health and prevent birth defects.

  • Iron: When you’re pregnant, you’re producing—and pumping—significantly more blood (or hemoglobin) for yourself and your baby. Even a 16-oz porterhouse steak only gives you half the amount you need! Best to get it in pill form to stave off iron-deficiency, which impacts as many as 1 in 4 pregnant women, according to the American Pregnancy Association. This can lead to anemia and can have serious consequences. Aim for: 27 mg of iron a day—about twice what you needed this time last year. And eat: fortified cereals, lentils, red meat and more.
  • Folic Acid: Also known as B9, folic acid (or folate, as it’s found in food) is important from Week 0—if not before. It supports the growth of both the placenta and the fetus, and it also prevents very serious and often early-onset birth defects of the brain or the spine. Aim for: A vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid. And eat: dark green veggies, nuts and more.
  • Vitamin D: Chances are, you’re not getting enough—some Americans are deficient—and that, to be honest, your prenatal vitamin alone won’t be much help. The right amount of D was long believed to be around 400 IU (what you’ll find in most prenatals); now some researchers believe that as much as 10 times the amount could be best. Aim for: Between 1,000 and 2,000 IU, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And eat: fatty fish, fortified juices and dairy. And get out in the sun!

Excuse #2: “I’m already green from morning sickness. Pills? Just…no.”

Packed with all of the nutrients mentioned above, and many more, these vitamins can be huge and hard to swallow—not the best if you’re already on 24/7 gag alert. Do the best you can. If you’re someone who was in the habit of taking separate supplements—say, a calcium chew and an iron pill and a B-complex—the daily prenatal will actually help you get everything in one shot.

And if that vitamin comes back up—or never goes down in the first place? Don’t stress.

“We actually know that women who experience nausea and vomiting in pregnancy tend to have lower miscarriage rates,” says Jennifer Lang, M.D., a Los Angeles–based ob-gyn and author of The Whole 9 Months: A Week-by-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide with Recipes for a Healthy Start. “It seems to be encoded into our biology to avoid toxins.”

If you are on the hunt for easy to swallow prenatal vitamins though, you can opt for softgels or skip the chewing completely and grab a liquid prenatal vitamin or a gummy.

And that, she says, is far more important in those early weeks than having perfect nutrition. The best bet? She says, “Try to avoid the junk, so the room you do have is filled with quality nutrients.”

Excuse #3: “Babies are expensive—I can’t shell out for one more thing.”

If you’re talking about over-the-counter vitamins, some estimate the cost at about 30 cents a day (good practice for those diaper purchases). Or your insurance plan could cover prescription vitamins. These often have higher doses of some of the recommended nutrients—like more folic acid (1000 micrograms, or 1 mg, compared to the 600 mcg found in many OTC versions, for example. But, says Dr. Lang, their biggest advantage is that they may be free.

Sarah J. Robbins

Sarah J. Robbins is an independent writer, editor and content strategist whose work has appeared in Consumer Reports, Glamour, Good Housekeeping and Real Simple, among others. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two kids.

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