Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
5 min read
Prenatal vitamins are used to bridge the gap with any nutrients that may be missing from your diet, since nutrient demands increase with pregnancy. While most obstetricians and healthcare providers will recommend a prenatal supplement before, or shortly after, conception, it is important that these supplements do not replace a healthy diet rich in leafy greens, fresh fruit, lean protein, fatty fish, fiber, nuts, grains, seeds, fortified cereals, and healthy fats. The additional micronutrients in prenatal vitamins are usually intended to be taken pre-conception, during pregnancy, and throughout breastfeeding.
While prenatal vitamins may look like any run-of-the-mill multivitamin, they are actually made specifically for pregnant humans and typically contain approximately 20 nutrients and minerals to support the body’s increasingly changing needs. Your prenatal vitamin will likely contain folic acid, vitamin B12, fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – an omega-3 important for brain development – calcium, choline, and magnesium. They are usually available in capsule form and, though sold over the counter, should always be taken only after consulting your physician.
Some studies recommend beginning to take prenatal vitamins as soon as you plan to conceive and definitely throughout the first 3 months of pregnancy. Many people continue to take them throughout their pregnancy, breastfeeding, or pumping. This is also an important decision you should make in conjunction with your healthcare provider. The earlier in the pregnancy the better, as nutrients like folic acid and iron have been found to be essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins contain all of the vitamins and minerals a person needs before and during pregnancy. They provide iron, which supports the development of the fetus and placenta; folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defect; and, among others, DHA, which is important for brain development. They also contribute to the baby’s nervous system, skin, bones, eyes, and lungs. As for the pregnant person, prenatals can support their immune system and have been found to help with the dreadful nausea and vomiting of pregnancy also known as morning sickness.
There are many prenatal vitamins available to choose from and, as to be expected, not all are created equal. If you already have a preferred brand of supplements, like Care/of, you might want to start there. Care/of’s Baby Love has 22 nutrients in a superior product designed for ease of digestion, a very important issue for a pregnant person. We use the most up-to-date research to include the most effective forms of ingredients, like methylfolate and choline, essential for neural tube, brain, and spinal development. If you don’t already have a brand preference, ask your obstetrician or friends who have recently been pregnant for recommendations. The most important factors are getting the right amount of essential vitamins and minerals, the levels of absorption and potency, the convenience of the product itself, the purity of ingredients, and the list of non-essential ingredients on the label. Hint: acrylic resin is probably not a healthy choice.
Look for highly absorbable forms of all nutrients and their adherence to the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Vitamin B12 has an RDA of 2.6 mcg and methylcobalamin is the active form preferred over cyanocobalamin. Bisglycinate and chelate versions of iron have an RDA of 27 mg for pregnant people. Folate, which is preferred over folic acid, has an RDA of 600 mcg for pregnant people. Choline has an RDA of 450 mg for pregnant people, while Vitamin D cholecalciferol’s recommended dosage is 600 IU or 15 mcg.
Your choice of prenatal vitamins is something you will likely live with throughout your pregnancy, possibly until the end of breastfeeding. If you find that you are having a difficult time digesting your chosen supplement, you might want to try others until you can find something easy on your stomach. You’re in it for the long haul. And remember: Nothing beats a healthy diet, proper hydration, good sleep, and exercise.
If your prenatal vitamin makes you feel nauseous, try taking it with food. If that doesn’t help, try a different brand, preferably one with vitamin B6, which can help with morning sickness and nausea. Iron in your prenatal vitamin can potentially make you constipated or gassy. Increasing fluid intake and eating more fiber-rich foods may help. If not, a supplement with less iron may help, but consult with your health care provider to make sure you are getting enough iron.
Healthy lifestyle choices like eating balanced meals of lean protein, high quality fats, and whole grain carb sources, can help to promote fertility. Adequate sleep, regular exercise, reduced caffeine intake, no smoking, and reduction of alcohol (which has been proved to deplete essential vitamins) may also be beneficial.
A Mediterranean diet has proven to have an impact on female fertility. Foods rich in dietary fiber, omega-3 (ɷ-3) fatty acids, plant-based protein, and vitamin and mineral supplements are all excellent nutrition choices. One study suggests adding more vegetarian-based protein sources, while another examines the impact of fish intake. An unhealthy diet can disrupt microbiota composition, which may impact the frequency of fertility.
As for male infertility, one study examined the correlation between walnuts and sperm quality when added to a typical Western diet. Another alternative being explored is the use of non-traditional supplements. Maca has been found to support semen parameters in men, while Ashwagandha has shown to promote semen quality.