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Dignity Health explains the importance of prenatal vitamins

The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins

Taking care of yourself in the weeks prior to becoming pregnant and during your pregnancy – especially in the first trimester—helps prevent complications like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, anemia, premature birth, neural tube and other birth defects, and low birth weight.

Even if you already have a healthy diet, pregnancy requires extra nutrients and places new demands on your body. Prenatal vitamins are one tool that can help you make sure you’re taking in the right nutrition to keep you and your baby healthy.

What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements which contains the vitamins and minerals that are most important during pregnancy. These typically include:

  • Folic acid
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamins C, D, A, B6, and B12.

Prenatal vitamins don’t take the place of a healthy diet, but they can help prevent deficiencies which increase the chance of defects such as neural tube birth defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord. Supplements can also help support healthy thyroid function, ensure sufficient oxygen is delivered to the fetus, and encourage healthy fetal bone growth.

Anisha Sarma, OB/GYN, Dignity Health Medical Group, Santa Cruz, explains, “Prenatal vitamins aim to supplement the maternal diet with the extra nutrient requirements of pregnancy.”

Who Should Take Prenatal Vitamins?

If you are trying to get pregnant, it is recommended that you begin taking prenatal vitamins at least four weeks prior to becoming pregnant, and then continue taking them throughout your pregnancy. Dr. Sarma also encourages new mothers to continue taking prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding, if that is what they choose to do.

However, Dr. Sarma also explains that not everyone who is pregnant needs to take prenatal vitamins: “Pregnant or not, the best way to get the nutrients your body needs is through diet.” If you are getting adequate nutrients through your diet, you may not need to take prenatal vitamins. A nutrient-rich diet typically includes eating a well-balanced combination of dairy, healthy fats and oils, fruits and leafy greens, meat, fish, nuts, and healthy grains like brown rice and oatmeal.

Knowing whether or not you are getting enough nutrients through diet alone can be confusing and scary, especially when you want what is absolutely best for your baby. Prenatal vitamins take the guesswork out of making sure you are getting your daily-required nutrition while you are pregnant. In addition, Dr. Sarma says, “Some patients need additional supplementation depending on individual health problems.” Your doctor can work with you to figure out whether you should be taking prenatal vitamins.

Prenatal vitamins can exacerbate nausea or “morning sickness.” As Dr. Sarma explains, “Some women experience increased nausea when taking prenatal vitamins, especially in the first trimester.” If you do experience more nausea while taking vitamins, she encourages you to talk to your doctor about specific dietary modifications, since adequate nutrition, especially in the first trimester, is vitally important to the development and health of your baby.

The Dignity Health Editorial Team manages the "Health Matters" blog with the mission of empowering our readers to be proactive about holistic wellness. We aim to provide clear and practical guidance around navigating health care through our unique lens of kindness, compassion, and humanity.

*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.