Prenatal Vitamins: Why are they so important?

Prenatal Vitamins: Why are they so important?

You want to do everything you can to ensure the health of your baby. While expecting, you will take all the necessary steps and one of these steps is good nutrition. Getting good nutrition for you and your baby is the bedrock of a healthy pregnancy and delivery. 

Eating right is the best way to get good nutrition. That said, a lot is going on in a pregnant woman’s body and prenatal vitamins are often necessary. Everything starts with a healthy diet. Where this sometimes falls short, there are prenatal vitamins. 

Prenatal vitamins simply add nutrients during a time when a woman's body requires more than the usual levels. Pregnancy and making sure a developing baby has all the necessary nutrients can be a challenge, and prenatal vitamins take up the slack when eating a balanced diet is not providing enough. 

What is the importance of prenatal vitamins? What exactly are prenatal vitamins? And how do you know if you need to take prenatal vitamins? This guide will give you the information you need to make informed decisions about prenatal vitamins. 

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements specially designed to provide extra nutrients and vitamins before and during your pregnancy. These vitamins provide the added nutrients that may be required to support the growth and development of your baby. 

Prenatal vitamins contain one of the most crucial supplements for pregnancy: folic acid. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and it is essential for the healthy growth and development of a fetus. Taking folic acid supplements for at least one month before and during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of developmental problems that affect the baby’s spine and brain. 

One serious risk for a developing fetus is called neural tube defects (NTDs). The folic acid in prenatal vitamins protects against NTDs. The benefits of folic acid supplements were first identified in the 1980s. Since then, numerous studies have supported the benefits of folic acid supplements in prenatal vitamins. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. They recommend that women of childbearing age take 0.4 milligrams of folic acid every day to help should they become pregnant. Women who are at a higher risk of NTDs should take 5 milligrams of folic acid supplements. 

Also, vitamin D helps with bone health in developing babies. What is more, vitamin D works with folic acid toward better fetal health. 

Prenatal vitamins also contain supplemental iron which can help increase the blood supply to your developing baby. This will reduce the risk of anemia. 

Not all prenatal vitamins are the same. Different formulations may have slightly different dosages of some nutrients. Ask your doctor about the best one for you.

All prenatal vitamins are made for pregnant people and normally include:

  • Folic acid/folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium

Prenatal vitamins importance

Prenatal vitamins importance

Doctors agree that the best way to get the nutrition you need for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby is to eat a well-balanced pregnancy diet. You should be able to get all the necessary nutrition from eating healthy foods. 

However, some women simply require supplemental nutrition. Pregnancy and a rapidly developing baby can deplete your body quickly, and to make sure you and your baby are healthy, supplemental vitamins are sometimes needed. 

Another thing to consider is that many women struggle to eat all the right things while they are dealing with food aversions so common during pregnancy. It can be difficult to eat enough fruit and vegetables when some foods are simply sickening. This is when some prenatal vitamins can be helpful to fill in what is lost. 

Still more, some women may not even know they are pregnant for weeks into a pregnancy. This is valuable time lost and the vital nutrients needed to support a growing fetus may not have been in place during these initial weeks. 

In addition to iron and folic acid, prenatal vitamins contain vitamin C, zinc, copper, and vitamin B-6. These are all important to ensure that your baby grows and remains healthy. These supplemental vitamins also maintain the health of the mother. 

The best way to take prenatal vitamins is to start before you conceive. This will make sure you have a healthy store of the nutrients and vitamins necessary to start your pregnancy off on a sound start. Some women continue to take prenatal vitamins throughout their pregnancy. This is especially the case for women who plan on breastfeeding since prenatal vitamins can build stores of nutrients in breast milk. 

It is important to keep in mind that prenatal vitamins are not meant to be a substitute for eating healthy. You need to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet before getting pregnant and throughout your pregnancy to maintain your health and the health of your baby.

Choosing prenatal vitamins

Choosing prenatal vitamins

You can purchase prenatal vitamins over the counter at any drug store. Your doctor may recommend specific kinds of prenatal vitamins depending on your needs. In either case, you should always check with your doctor before taking any prenatal vitamins. 

In addition to the folic acid and iron that are so crucial for fetal development, there are some other things to look for in prenatal vitamins. Vitamin D is essential for the development of healthy teeth and bones. 

You may also want to get prenatal vitamins that contain Vitamins C, A, and E along with the B vitamins. Some will contain zinc and iodine. 

Your doctor may prescribe higher doses of some vitamins. All over-the-counter vitamins will contain specific quantities of each nutrient, but your doctor may recommend you take more of one thing. Folic acid is one example since it helps prevent neural tube disorders. Upping the dose from the common 4 micrograms is common for some physicians.  

Generally speaking, avoid taking too much of any one vitamin or nutrient. Taking too much of a vitamin can lead to problems. For example, too much vitamin A can harm your baby. 

Prenatal Vitamins dosage

The recommended dosage of any prenatal vitamin is ultimately between you and your doctor. There are several guidelines for prenatal vitamins. The following is the recommended daily dosage according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

  • Calcium: 1000 mg
  • Folic acid/Folate: 400 mcg
  • Iodine: 200 mcg
  • Iron: 27 mg
  • Vitamin A:1000 IU
  • Vitamin B6: 1.9 mg 
  • Vitamin B12: 2.6 mcg
  • Vitamin C: 85 mg
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU

These are very general guidelines. This chart is not intended to be a prescription for prenatal vitamins. Again, check with your doctor to see how much of anyone vitamin you should be taking before getting pregnant and while you are pregnant. In some cases, your dose may be higher or lower. 

Prenatal vitamins side effects

Prenatal vitamins side effects

Prenatal vitamins can help keep you and your baby healthy. Some prenatal vitamins can even prevent serious problems. However, there are some side effects of prenatal vitamins. Some of the side effects of prenatal vitamins include:

Digestive issues

Most prenatal vitamins contain some amount of iron. Iron is essential for red blood cells to carry oxygen to your baby. Yet, iron does tend to affect your intestinal system. Constipation is the main problem that comes with taking iron supplements. Other problems can include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Upset stomach
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Hard or small bowel movements
  • Dark tarry stools

Skin and hair changes

Some vitamins can affect your skin and hair. Vitamin A can cause hair loss, dry, peeling, and itchy skin. Vitamin E can cause easy bruising and skin rash. 

Other pains

Iron, iodine, and some other minerals can lead to uncomfortable side effects such as:

  • Hives
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Stained teeth
  • Muscle weakness

Some of the other uncomfortable problems associated with these minerals also include:

  • Sore teeth and gums
  • Stomach irritation
  • Fast or uneven heart rate
  • Frequent urination
  • Inability to focus
  • Confusion
  • Mouthwatering 

You may be able to avoid some of the side effects by paying attention to how you take your prenatal vitamins. Tips to avoid side effects:

  • Take your prenatal vitamins regularly and exactly as prescribed. 
  • Avoid taking multivitamins, other supplements, or herbal teas while taking prenatal vitamins. 
  • Do not take your prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach. 
  • Drink a full glass of water with your prenatal vitamins. 
  • Swallow prenatal vitamins whole. Do not chew them. 

Other problems

As with just about anything, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. Taking too much of a vitamin can be bad for you and your baby. 

Too much vitamin A, for instance, can lead to poor eyesight in your baby. Vitamin A can also become toxic in high concentrations. You should talk to your doctor if you are using any vitamin supplements that contain vitamin A. Make sure you also let your doctor know if you have been using certain skin creams that contain vitamin A ingredients. These ingredients include tretinoin, isotretinoin, and Retin-A. 

It is possible to overdose on vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins stay in your body for a long time and can harm your baby. Talk to your doctor about any vitamin or sports supplements you may have taken before getting pregnant or during the first trimester of pregnancy. 

Some medications can interact with prenatal vitamins. Be aware of any over-the-counter and prescription medications you are taking and tell your doctor before taking prenatal vitamins. Medications to pay close attention to include:

  • Pain relievers like Aleve, Advil, and Motrin
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Heart medications
  • Diuretic pills
  • Trimethoprim
  • Sulfamethoxazole

Prenatal vitamins FAQs

What are prenatal vitamins? 

Prenatal vitamins are supplements specially designed to provide extra nutrients and vitamins before and during your pregnancy. These vitamins provide the added nutrients that may be required to support the growth and development of your baby. 

What is in prenatal vitamins? 

The most common prenatal vitamins are folic acid and iron. Over-the-counter prenatal vitamins usually contain Vitamins A, C, and E. They also contain vitamins B6 and B12. Common minerals in prenatal vitamins are iodine and calcium. 

What is the importance of prenatal vitamins? 

Some women simply require supplemental nutrition. Pregnancy and a rapidly developing baby can deplete your body quickly, and to make sure you and your baby are healthy, supplemental vitamins are sometimes needed. 

How do I choose a prenatal vitamin?

The best thing to do when choosing a prenatal vitamin is to consult your physician. While prenatal vitamins are available over the counter, there are side effects to prenatal vitamins, and your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of taking prenatal vitamins. 

Are there side effects of prenatal vitamins?

Yes. Most of the side effects of prenatal vitamins are intestinal problems including constipation, stomach upset, and darkened stools. Prenatal vitamins can become toxic in high concentrations. 


The main priority for any expectant mother is the health of her baby. Maintaining the growth and development of your baby with proper nutrition is one of the most important things on your mind. For this reason, many women wonder if prenatal vitamins are the best way for maintaining the health of their growing baby. 

Doctors and other healthcare professionals all agree that the best way to get proper nutrition for a mother and a baby is through a healthy and well-balanced diet. Nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from dietary sources are the best forms of nutrition for mother and child.

However, there are cases when a pregnant woman requires supplemental nutrition. When this is the case, prenatal vitamins will take care of what is missing. In consultation with a physician, some women will take prenatal vitamins to ensure that they and their developing baby stay healthy. 

Some medical conditions can be prevented with prenatal vitamins. Again, this is something to discuss with a doctor. But prenatal vitamins are largely safe, and they do provide the nutrition necessary for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.