What You Need to Know about Prenatal Supplements
What are they? Why should I take them? When should I take them? Which brand is the best? Here are the answers to all of your prenatal supplement questions:
What are prenatal supplements?
Answer: Prenatal supplements are essential vitamins and minerals that help support your health and your baby’s development by providing the right nutrients during pregnancy. Prenatal supplements fill the gaps in your diet and are necessary for optimal fetal development—but they’re not replacements for healthy food choices. They work in conjunction with your daily meals.
Question: Why should I take them?
Answer: Four key nutrients—iron, calcium, iodine, and folic acid—can be found in prenatal supplements, along with other nutrients.
- Iron supports your baby’s growth and development by helping blood carry oxygen to you and the baby. It also prevents anemia, a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells.
- Calcium keeps you from losing bone density as your baby uses calcium for bone development.
- Iodine is vital for thyroid function during pregnancy. A deficiency in iodine can result in stunted growth, mental disability, deafness, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
- Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. Your baby’s neural tube develops into the spinal cord and brain, and a lack of folic acid can result in damage to both.
Question: When should I take them?
Answer: You should start taking prenatal supplements three months before you begin trying to get pregnant. The neural tube develops during the first month of pregnancy—probably before you even know you’re pregnant. Your eggs also start maturing three months before they’re released, so it’s important to get these essential nutrients.
Question: How Long should I take them?
Answer: You should take prenatal supplements throughout your pregnancy. Your OB/GYN may suggest that you continue to take them after your baby is born if you plan on breastfeeding.
Question: Are there side effects?
Answer: You may experience nausea or indigestion after taking the supplement. If you do, take your supplements with food or before bed. The iron may also cause constipation. Drink plenty of water, be active, eat more fiber-rich foods, and ask your OB/GYN about taking stool softener to prevent constipation.
If side effects persist, talk with your doctor about switching brands. For example, chewable or liquid supplements may work better for you.
Question: What do I need to look for in prenatal supplements?
Answer: Your doctor may recommend a specific brand or you can choose from the many available over-the-counter brands. Look for prenatal supplements that include:
- 400 micrograms of folic acid
- 400 IU of vitamin D
- 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium
- 70 milligrams of vitamin C
- 3 milligrams of thiamine
- 2 milligrams of riboflavin
- 20 milligrams of niacin
- 6 micrograms of vitamin B12
- 10 milligrams of vitamin E
- 15 milligrams of zinc
- 17 milligrams of iron
- 150 micrograms of iodine
If you are a vegetarian, look for supplements that contain iron, zinc, B12, and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA. Find supplements that have DHA from algae or flax instead of fish.