In the planning stages of pregnancy, prenatal vitamins may play a crucial role. So, let’s discuss the prenatal vitamins and their importance before and during pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins are vitamin and mineral supplements, especially formulated to support healthy pregnancies. Compared to other multivitamin supplements, they usually contain higher amounts of certain nutrients, which are considered vital for proper growth and development of the baby. Though the usual practice is to take these vitamins during and after pregnancy, nowadays, many doctors recommend their use before conception.
In the recent times, many researches have also come up with the benefits of taking these supplements, before pregnancy or conception. It is believed that taking prenatal vitamins in the months before, during, and after pregnancy, may help ensure healthy development of the child. These supplements are mainly given to cover any nutritional gap in the diet, i.e., they are meant to supplement a healthy diet, not to replace it. Women who have health issues or those suffering from nutritional deficiencies, in particular, can talk to their doctors, regarding the use of prenatal vitamins prior to conceiving.
Ingredients of Prenatal Vitamin Supplements
All prenatal vitamin supplements are not same. Some come in the form of capsules, while others can be found in liquid form and also as chewables. Whichever form of prenatal vitamins you choose to take, be sure to check the vitamins and minerals it contains. In general, the prenatal vitamin supplements contain the following vitamins and minerals.
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Importance of Prenatal Vitamins before Pregnancy
Importance of Folic Acid
When you are planning to get pregnant, your health matters a lot. So, many women prefer to take prenatal vitamins before conceiving, just to build up their stores of vitamins and minerals, and prepare the body for pregnancy. Out of all the vitamins and minerals, folic acid is the most important nutrient, required during pregnancy. Folic acid is mainly required for producing the neural tube, which later on, becomes the brain and spinal cord of the baby. Folic acid ensures the proper development of neural tube and help lower the risk for developing neural tube defects, like spina bifida.
But, neural tube defects mostly develop during the first month after conception, when many women may not be aware that they are pregnant. Herein lies the importance of taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women can reduce the risk for having a baby with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, by 50 to 70 percent by taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily, at least one month before conceiving and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The daily intake value of folic acid can be higher for women, who already delivered a baby with a neural tube defect. Such women should talk to their health care provider, regarding the amount of folic acid to be taken.
Importance of Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D
Another crucial nutrient for healthy pregnancy is iron, which helps blood to transport oxygen to various parts of the body. It is also required for making new red blood cells. Calcium on the other hand, is required for making healthy bones. Pregnant women need more calcium, as the baby uses this mineral for its bone growth. The mother may lose her bone density, if there is not enough calcium in the body. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium properly. Magnesium on the other hand, ensures the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
Importance of Other Prenatal Vitamins
Other prenatal vitamins, such as vitamin C, is an antioxidant that supports the immune system, while riboflavin facilitates the development of bones, nerves, and muscles. Thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, facilitate the conversion of food into energy. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and is good for heart health and blood circulation, while zinc boosts the immune system.
As far as vitamin A is concerned, it is important for good vision, but make sure that the prenatal vitamin supplement does not contain more than the recommended daily allowance. High doses of vitamin A in the form of retinoids, may cause birth defects. Some prenatal vitamin supplements also contain DHA and omega-3 fatty acids. These two nutrients are believed to be good for the growth and function of nerve tissues, and brain development.
Possible Side Effects
Some women may experience a few discomforts, while taking prenatal vitamins. The most commonly observed side effects of prenatal vitamins are:
- Upset stomach
Side effects, like nausea, diarrhea, and upset stomach, usually go away with time, as the body adjusts to the medication. Taking the vitamin supplement before having a meal, can help control nausea. Constipation is mainly caused by iron, which can be managed by drinking more water and including more fiber-rich foods in the diet. Serious allergic reactions to prenatal vitamins are rare. Such reactions, if they occur, can manifest in skin rash, itching, swelling, difficulty in breathing, and dizziness.
Before taking any prenatal vitamin supplement, it is important to consult a health care provider. He or she may recommend certain routine tests, to investigate the overall health of the women trying to conceive. This can prove immensely helpful, in finding out whether the woman is suffering from any nutritional deficiency or other disease. On the basis of the results of these tests and examinations, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate prenatal vitamins to ensure a healthy pregnancy. However, prenatal vitamin supplements should not be considered a replacement for a healthy and balanced diet. So, even if you are taking a vitamin supplement, you should include a lot of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, dry fruits, milk and dairy products, eggs, lean meat, and fish, in your diet.