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Prenatal Vitamins: Why and When to Start

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Prenatal vitamins are not just for pregnant people but also for those who are trying to become pregnant. Read more to find out why and when to start.

People sometimes wonder if you can take prenatal vitamins without being pregnant. In this article, we’ll discuss what prenatals are, why they are important, and when you should start taking them to support a healthy pregnancy.

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins, or often referred to as a “prenatal,” is a form of a multivitamin that is beneficial for pregnant individuals in addition to a healthy diet.

Prenatal vitamins consist of a variety of vitamins and minerals to help a growing baby in the womb get the nutrients that are essential for healthy development. The nutrients in a prenatal also meet the changing needs of the pregnant person.

During pregnancy, daily intake requirements for certain nutrients such as folate, calcium, and iron increase. Vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and folate are vital for proper fetal growth and development.

How are prenatal vitamins different from a multivitamin?

A prenatal vitamin supplement is a type of multivitamin but different from a regular multivitamin. Prenatals contain some nutrients not included in most multivitamins as well as nutrients at specific levels needed for a person who is pregnant or would like to become pregnant.

It is important to note that if you are taking a prenatal, you do not need to take an additional multivitamin at the same time.

While all nutrients are important, the following nutrients are especially important during pregnancy:

  • Folate: important for healthy neural tube formation.
  • Iron: needed to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy iron needs increase due to the volume of blood in the body increases.
  • Calcium: needed to support the musculoskeletal, nervous, and circulatory systems as they develop.
  • Vitamin D: vitamin D status during pregnancy is important for fetal skeletal development and tooth enamel formation.
  • Choline: supports brain development and provides the choline needed to keep placenta healthy throughout pregnancy
  • Iodine: supports the increase in thyroid hormone production during pregnancy as well as fetal growth and brain development.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA fatty acids support eye and brain growth and early development.
  • B Vitamins: adequate B vitamin levels may decrease unwanted pregnancy symptoms and support the growth/development of baby
  • Vitamin C: supports bone and teeth development and plays a role in iron absorption.

Care/of’s Prenatal vitamin supplement contains 22 essential nutrients in helpful quantities and superior forms, like methylfolate, and is suitable for vegetarians.

Why prenatal vitamins are important

Daily intake requirements for certain nutrients increase during pregnancy in order to supply nutrients to the baby as well as the pregnant person.

In order to meet these increased needs above a normal daily food intake, a prenatal vitamin can be helpful to take daily to prevent complications related to maternal and fetal malnutrition.

Can you take prenatal vitamins without being pregnant?

Since a prenatal is essentially a multivitamin, it can be taken prior to conception.

If you’re of reproductive age, taking a prenatal vitamin can be a good idea. The neural tube, which forms the early brain and spinal cord, begins forming within the first month of pregnancy. Oftentimes pregnancy is not detected this early, so it is important to be consuming enough nutrients ahead of pregnancy detection.

Neural tube formation requires adequate folate for proper formation. A prenatal provides the appropriate amount of folate for neural tube development.

Can you take prenatal vitamins if you don’t want to get pregnant?

If you are not trying to conceive or pregnant, a multivitamin would be a better alternative to a prenatal vitamin. And, as always, it is important to eat a nutritious diet along with taking supplements.

When should you start taking prenatal vitamins?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), you should start taking prenatal vitamins at least 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This can help to ensure adequate folic acid levels to prevent neural tube defects.

And, if you are trying to conceive, begin taking a prenatal regularly.

Other myths about prenatal vitamins

Some myths around the association of prenatal vitamins with acne and weight gain have popped up that are important to address.

Prenatals and acne

There is no evidence that prenatals cause acne. Rather, evidence suggests that skin issues like acne can become aggravated as part of the normal pregnancy process, with up to 42% of individuals experiencing acne while pregnant.

During pregnancy, increased levels of hormones, namely progesterone and androgens, stimulate the skin’s oil glands, leading to increased oil production and potentially clogged pores.

Pregnancy-related acne is most common in the first trimester but can occur throughout pregnancy.

Prenatals and weight gain

There is no evidence that prenatal vitamins cause weight gain. And, in fact, healthy weight gain of about 25-35 pounds is a normal part of pregnancy. And even more weight gain can be considered normal if the pregnant person has two or more growing babies.

Weight gain increases more quickly during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, during which time the calorie needs of the pregnant person increase to feed the growing baby.

Final takeaways

Prenatal vitamins are a special type of multivitamin that contains specific levels of nutrients and added nutrients to support the growth of a baby in the womb and the changing needs of the pregnant person. It is recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins regularly whether you are already pregnant or are trying to conceive. In addition to taking prenatal vitamins, it is important to follow a healthy and balanced diet to ensure nutrient needs are met.

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