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Prenatal Vitamins: Why They Matter and How to Choose

A healthy diet is essential for an expectant mother, new mother, or a woman who is trying to be a mother soon. And a healthy diet is the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need to sustain your body. But it can be difficult to get enough of these vitamins and minerals every day, which is why prenatal vitamins are a lifesaver! Moreover, they also come with some unique benefits if you are expecting or trying to conceive.

Prenatal vitamins can be taken as separate supplements, but most women choose to take them as one multivitamin to ensure they get the correct nutrients (and it’s easier to stomach one pill over several). These prenatal vitamins are a concentrated mix of vitamins and minerals that a woman’s body needs for a healthy pregnancy.

Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins

There are a few key benefits to taking prenatal vitamins for expectant mothers and women that are trying to conceive, including:

  • Filling the Gaps in Diet: When nausea kicks in during early pregnancy, it can be difficult to stomach a lot of food. And when you feel like you’ve been munching all day, you’ll still find that you struggle to keep up to get what your body needs. Prenatal vitamins contain vitamins and minerals that your body needs and is a great supplement to your diet, whether you’re eating healthy or not. It contains vitamins and minerals you can easily get from foods, but it also contains some that are harder to come by that your body needs when pregnant.
  • Cutting Back on the Nausea: Morning sickness affects most pregnant women, and it can make their pregnancy difficult at times. It can also tempt them to skip their prenatal vitamins. However, research shows that women who take a vitamin supplement that contains at least 10mcg of vitamin B6 before they conceive and during the first weeks of pregnancy experience less nausea in their first trimester. 
  • Reducing the Risks of Birth Defects: The most publicized reason for expectant mothers to take prenatal vitamins is because of the benefits of folic acid (i.e. vitamin B9 or folate). Research shows that women who are getting enough folic acid when sperm meets their egg can dramatically reduce their risk of their baby having neural tube defects or congenital heart defects. 
  • Reducing the Risk of Autism: Many studies have shown a connection between a reduced risk of autism in babies if the mother has been regularly taking prenatal vitamins before and during her pregnancy. 
  • Prevention of Preterm Birth: Many babies born prematurely experience many health issues, which is why it’s important for a mother to try to do everything she can to prevent premature birth. Taking a prenatal vitamin can help! Prenatal vitamins have been linked to lower risk of preterm births, perhaps because they contain vitamin B12. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 have been linked to lower birth weights and preterm birth.

A Breakdown of Prenatal Vitamins and Their Health Benefits

Every prenatal vitamin contains certain vitamins and minerals that have health benefits for expectant mothers and women trying to conceive. Here is the breakdown of how each vitamin or mineral present is beneficial.

  • Folic Acid: As discussed above, folic acid helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects. However, it also helps a woman’s body produce red blood cells that can help reduce the risk of anemia and resulting complications such as low birth weight, premature birth, and infant anemia. 
  • Iron: Most women already struggle to have enough iron in their diet, but pregnant women need twice the amount that nonpregnant women do. Iron is another vitamin that helps a woman’s body produce red blood cells and prevents anemia. 
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 contributes to red blood cell and neuron formation, which contributes to spinal cord and brain health, as well as the proper function of cells. 
  • Zinc: Zinc is an important contributor to a healthy immune system and helps a woman’s body make proteins, divide cells, and synthesize DNA for new cell formation.
  • Vitamin A: Not a commonly discussed vitamin, vitamin A contributes to cell growth and healthy development of vision and the health of vital organs.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: These two work together to develop bones and teeth. They are also contributors to healthy eyes and skin. Calcium can also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia in expectant mothers. 
  • Vitamin B6: An important contributor to cognitive development, immune function, glucose metabolism, and blood formation, vitamin B6 can also help reduce nausea. 
  • Iodine: Iodine is essential for the development of a baby’s central nervous system, brain, and skeletal system. Iodine deficiency has been linked to slow fetal development, neurodevelopmental defects, miscarriages, and stillbirths. 
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: This helps give structure to a baby’s cell membranes, particularly in the brain and retinas. They aren’t as necessary as once thought, however, so you may want to discuss the consumption of these with your OBGYN.
  • Vitamins C and E: These two vitamins work together to protect the body from oxidative stress, as they are powerful antioxidants. Vitamin C is also known for its ability to help your body metabolize folate and iron, and to produce collagen. 

When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins and How to Choose

There are many prenatal vitamins to choose from and it can be hard to decide which one is best for you. Whether you are pregnant or are trying to conceive, talk to your OBGYN about what your body needs and when you should begin taking a prenatal vitamin. Every woman is different, and what your body needs may be different than other women. This is why it’s important to talk to your OBGYN because they will be able to personally speak into what your body needs going forward.

Learn more about Pregnancy Health