Prenatal Vitamins: What’s the Use and How to Choose?

Vitamins for pregnant women (prenatal vitamins) are vitamin-mineral complexes that contain vitamins and minerals important for fetal development.

Healthy eating is the best way for a pregnant woman to get the necessary vitamins and minerals. However, even with proper nutrition, there may be a lack of essential nutrients. Prenatal vitamins will help to cope with this lack.

What are Prenatal Vitamins?

These are specially designed multivitamins, which fill the deficiency of any nutrients in the mother’s diet. While the usual vitamin complexes contain a certain list of vitamins, prenatal vitamins also necessarily contain folic acid, iron, and calcium, which makes them especially important for pregnant women.

However, keep in mind that food rich in various nutrients does not lose value. Prenatal vitamins just help to compensate for the deficiency in their intake of food.

Who Needs Prenatal Vitamins?

It is difficult to get all the nutrients that you and your child need, even if you eat a wide range of foods, including meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Most women can get a lot of benefits from taking prenatal vitamins and mineral supplements. Think of vitamins as an insurance policy that will provide you with the right amount of certain important nutrients during pregnancy.

Prenatal vitamins are especially important for women with dietary restrictions, health problems, or complications of pregnancy. The list includes women:

  • vegetarians
  • who have lactose intolerance or other food allergies
  • smoke or abuse other narcotic substances
  • have blood diseases
  • have an eating disorder
  • suffer from certain chronic diseases
  • had operations of gastric bypass surgery
  • have multiple pregnancies

The Composition of Prenatal Vitamins

Two important nutrients – folic acid and iron – are almost always included in prenatal vitamins, because most pregnant women do not get enough of them from food.

Folic Acid

Folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects (brain and spinal cord) in the fetus. A congenital spinal hernia is the most common defect of neural tube development. In this case, the spinal cord is not closed, the structure of nerves is damaged. A child with such pathology has various forms of paralysis, incontinence, dementia. The defect of the neural tube develops in the first 28 days after fertilization when most women do not have time to realize that they are pregnant. Since half of the pregnancies are not planned, experts recommend taking 400 micrograms of folic acid while you are trying to get pregnant in the first 12 weeks.

Women who have had children with a neural tube defect in the past should discuss the dose with the doctor. Studies have shown that taking folic acid at a dose of up to 4000 micrograms a day per month before pregnancy and during the first trimester has a beneficial effect on the development of pregnancy. Natural sources of folic acid are green vegetables, nuts, citrus, legumes. It is also found in large quantities in breakfast cereals and some vitamin supplements.


Iron is necessary for both the mother and the child to transport oxygen in the cells. It is involved in the development of blood cells and muscle cells, and also prevents the development of anemia – a state of deficiency of red blood cells.


Calcium is necessary for a future mother to make up for the loss of her own calcium because, during pregnancy, calcium is washed out of the bones and goes into the fetal bone tissue. It is also necessary for the normal functioning of the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems.

Most women need to make sure that they receive an adequate dose of vitamins and minerals since they cannot get enough from their food.

Do You Need Other Vitamins or Nutritional Elements?

Standard prenatal vitamins do not contain omega-3 fatty acids that promote the development of the fetal brain. Therefore, if you do not eat fish or other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the doctor can prescribe them as supplements to the basic vitamins.

Vitamin D is also a very important component, especially in the third trimester, when the need for calcium increases. Most vitamin complexes for pregnant women do not contain vitamin D in sufficient quantities. Therefore, in addition to taking vitamins, add vitamin-D enriched skim milk or other calcium-rich beverages or foods. If you do not drink milk and do not eat foods rich in calcium, talk with the doctor about the appointment of supplements containing vitamin D and calcium.

When To Start Taking Vitamins?

It is better to start taking vitamins three months before the planned conception. The neural tube of the fetus, from which the brain and spinal cord are subsequently formed, is laid in the first month of pregnancy, when you may not yet know that you are pregnant.

How Long Should One Take Vitamins?

As stated earlier, you should start taking vitamins three months before pregnancy. Take them during the entire pregnancy and afterward during lactation (the doctor most likely will advise you to do it). It is better to take vitamins with water or juice, but not with soda, and not with milk.

Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins

Some women experience nausea after taking vitamins. Some note stool disorders (constipation) – due to the iron content in the vitamins. If the intake of vitamins is accompanied by nausea, here are a few recommendations that will help alleviate unwanted effects:

  • take vitamins at night
  • take vitamins with food
  • after taking vitamins, get a chewing gum or candy.

If prenatal vitamins make you feel unwell, tell your doctor about it. Most likely, he will write out the same vitamins in another form (liquid or chewing sweets). Perhaps the body will respond to them better than the vitamins that you have to swallow.

If you suffer from constipation:

  • drink more water
  • eat food rich in vegetable fiber
  • include in your schedule daily physical activity (if the doctor allows)
  • ask the doctor what aperient you can take.

If none of the above help, consult a doctor about additional measures. Perhaps you will be recommended to change prenatal vitamins or switch to a separate intake of folic acid, calcium-containing, and iron-containing drugs.


Choosing Prenatal Vitamins

Unfortunately, standards on what should be in vitamins and mineral supplements have not yet been established, since the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate them. This means that you and your healthcare provider need to make sure that you have chosen the right product that is safe for your health and for the baby.

At the first prenatal examination, your doctor will probably prescribe daily vitamins and recommend a certain brand. Good vitamins provide certain nutrients (such as folic acid and iron) that you cannot get from your diet.

Also, please, pay attention to the following:  Vitamin A, obtained from products of animal origin, can cause birth defects in the baby when taken in high doses. That’s why vitamin A in most prenatal vitamins is presented partially in the form of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a nutrient found in fruits and vegetables that your body turns into vitamin A. Unlike vitamin A, which is found in animal products, beta-carotene is considered safe even at high doses.

How To Choose?

Vitamins for pregnant women can be bought in almost any pharmacy. The doctor can advise a particular brand or may leave the choice for you.

When choosing a prenatal vitamin complex, make sure that it includes:

  • Folic acid;
  • Calcium;
  • Iron.

The composition of good prenatal vitamins should also include:

  • Vitamin D; C;
  • Vitamin A; E;
  • Zinc;
  • Copper.

Keep in mind that vitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet and will not be able to meet your need for necessary nutrients 100%.

In some cases, the doctor may advise increasing the dosage of certain vitamins. For example, if there is a history of the birth of a child with a neural tube defect, the dosage of folic acid can be increased to 4000-5000 μg when planning and during pregnancy.