The Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins & Everything You Need to Know

April 29, 2021 9 min read

Pregnant women should consider choosing multi-nutrient supplements

Most moms and moms-to-be probably already know that there is a generally increased demand for both macro and micronutrients during pregnancy. Pregnant women are told to have a balanced diet every day to meet their nutritional needs.

However, this is not always easy. We all have busy schedules and, even with a balanced diet, expectant mothers might still not get adequate amounts of all essential micronutrients needed for themselves and the developing baby. To make up for these nutritional gaps, prenatal care providers often recommend a prenatal vitamin for pregnant women.

Prenatal supplements contain vitamins and minerals needed by pregnant mothers for their well-being and proper development of the fetus. Lack of these essential micronutrients has been associated with pregnancy complications, low birth weight, and birth defects.

These supplements are available in the form of tablets, capsules, chewable and soft gels. They are available on prescription and over-the-counter, but you should consult with your prenatal care provider to find one that best suits your needs!

prenatal vitamins


What are the Benefits of Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins have tremendous benefits not only for the development of the little human being in your womb but also for the expectant mother's health. Here are just a few reasons that these little capsules (or whichever for they come in) are beneficial for the mother:

  1. Prenatal vitamins supply nutrients that improve the immune function of expectant mothers, reducing risks of infections. 
  2. Multi-nutrient supplementation improves the production of energy (energy metabolism) in pregnant women. As a result, moms can go about their duties and busy days without straining too much.
  3. Prenatal vitamins improve anabolic processes (those are biological processes that produce growth and increase in body size) in pregnant women, allowing the body to support both the mother and the baby's needs more easily.
  4. Pregnant women have a better ability to respond to stress when they use prenatal vitamins. Research has shown that there is a correlation between maternal psychosocial stress and nutritional state during pregnancy. 
  5. Women who take prenatal supplements have higher levels of hemoglobin. Vitamin C and riboflavin enhance the absorption of iron in the body, resulting in higher hemoglobin levels. This promotes a better supply of oxygen to the baby.  
  6. Research shows that women who receive multivitamins in addition to iron and folic acid are at a lower risk of having stillbirths.
  7. The B Vitamins in prenatal supplements may help relieve some symptoms of morning sickness such as nausea and vomiting. And let's just face it, we could all do without those.
  8. For unborn children, prenatal vitamins improve the supply of essential micronutrients, promoting normal growth and development. An adequate supply of micronutrients can reduce the risk of a birth defect.

benefits of prenatal vitamins

When to start taking prenatal vitamins

Depending on your nutritional status, your obstetrician or midwife will advise you on the best time to start taking a prenatal vitamin. These supplements may be taken before conception, during, and after pregnancy.

Prenatal care providers prescribe prenatal vitamins when the woman is preparing to get pregnant. This is because some essential micronutrients such as folic acid and iron play a vital role in the early stages of embryonic development. 

But, of course, not everyone has the opportunity to prepare for pregnancy beforehand. Some women realize that they are pregnant a month or so later. in such cases, you should start taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as possible. Be sure to consult your prenatal care provider to assess your nutritional needs!

In most cases, a pregnant mother will need to take a prenatal vitamin throughout and after the pregnancy. But why after the pregnancy? This is because even after birth, in the case of breastfeeding, the baby continues to rely solely on the mother for nutrition.

Therefore, the mother needs to have enough micronutrients in her body for herself and the baby. Having balanced diets and supplementing with a prenatal vitamin will help the mother and the baby to get the essential nutrients. 

 

important during pregnancy


Look out for the essential nutrients before choosing a prenatal vitamin

Prenatal supplements usually contain essential vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients such as prenatal DHA. Different brands of supplements have different types of micronutrients in different compositions. However, there are the basic micronutrients that are very crucial for fetal development. 


Iron 

Iron is one of the essential nutrients for pregnant women. It is used by the body to produce hemoglobin, which is responsible for circulating oxygen from the lungs to the body and the fetus.

Adequate iron supply in the body helps prevent anemia during and after pregnancy, puerperal sepsis, low birth weight, and preterm birth. However, the iron consumed from food might not be enough to cater to the needs of both the mother and the developing baby. Iron supplementation helps increase hemoglobin concentration. 


Folic acid

Folic acid is crucial in promoting the development of the brain and spinal cord of the baby. The deficiency of folic acid is linked to neural tube defects and other birth defects.

Ideally, Folic acid supplements should be taken before conception or immediately after conception. This is because neural tube defects develop in the first 3-5 weeks of pregnancy before most women realize they are expectant.


Calcium

Calcium supplementation is recommended for pregnant women to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that is characterized by high blood pressure and other organ damage in pregnant women.

Furthermore, the developing baby depends on the mother for calcium which is used in bone formation. If the mother is not getting enough calcium, then she is likely to lose her bone density.


Zinc

Studies show that zinc deficiency in pregnant women negatively affects fetal development resulting in poor birth outcomes. Zinc is associated with reduced preterm births, especially in low-income areas. Therefore, it would be preferable to take a prenatal vitamin that contains zinc. 

 

prenatal vitamins folic acid


Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a critical role in bone metabolism by balancing the absorption of calcium and phosphate. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus, and preterm birth.

Taking supplements containing vitamin D during pregnancy improves the mother's vitamin D status, reducing the risks associated with Vitamin D deficiency.


Vitamin B1

The Vitamin B complex is crucial for healthy fetal development and the general welfare of pregnant women. Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) is essential in fetal brain development, and pregnant women need a daily dose of 1.4 milligrams.

Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin) helps in maintaining the healthy skin and eyes of the pregnant mother. Vitamin B-3 (niacin) promotes digestion and better metabolism of nutrients by pregnant women. 


Vita
min B6

Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is good for the development of the brain and the baby's nervous system. Moreover, it is used in the production of norepinephrine and serotonin, which are vital neurotransmitters. Pyridoxin is also useful in easing nausea and vomiting, which are symptoms of morning sickness. 


Vitamin B12

Finally, vitamin B-12 is important for forming red blood cells and the proper functioning of the nervous system. Together with folic acid, vitamin B-12 helps reduce the risks of a birth defect that affect the spine and the nerves.

 

prenatal vitamins b12

Iodine

The body uses iodine in the production of thyroid hormones. During pregnancy, the need for iodine increases due to increased thyroid activity. Therefore, pregnant women do not get adequate iodine from an ordinary diet.

Thyroid hormones are essential for the healthy development of the fetal system of nerves, rapid brain growth, and general growth regulation.

Inadequate intake of iodine during pregnancy increases the risk of perinatal and infant mortality, intellectual impairment, and cretinism.

Cretinism is a condition that results from under-activity of the thyroid gland at birth(hypothyroidism) and is characterized by growth retardation and delayed and abnormal growth. For this reason, a prenatal vitamin that contains iodine should be preferred.


Observe caution with vitamin A

Vitamin A (retinol) is an essential vitamin only for pregnant women with vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A promotes fetal eye development preventing night blindness, and boosts the immune function of pregnant women.

Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications, night blindness, and embryonic development. On the other hand, excessive vitamin A increases the incidence of a birth defect.

It is only recommended for women with vitamin A deficiency; therefore, you should take a prenatal vitamin containing vitamin A only on a doctor's prescription. 
prenatal vitamin with dha

Why choose a prenatal vitamin with DHA?

Prenatal vitamins, which contain Omega 3 fatty acids, are best for expectant mothers. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential building blocks of the baby's brain and retina. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) are the most commonly available forms of omega 3.

Seafood is the most common source of these micronutrients. Still, due to concerns over mercury levels and other contaminants in seafood, many women in the US avoid seafood. Therefore, prenatal vitamins containing omega 3 could help make up for this nutritional gap.

Studies also suggest that Omega 3 may help reduce psychosocial stress in pregnant women. Furthermore, omega 3 fatty acid (especially DHA) plays a major role in your baby's brain development.

Other essential nutrients

Research has shown that choline plays a vital role in promoting pregnant mothers' and their babies' health. Choline plays a critical role in improving neurotransmission, and gene expression. Choline deficiency, therefore, results in the neural tube and metabolic defects.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has recognized the critical role of choline in the brain and neural tube development. Keep in mind that AMA recommended that all prenatal vitamins should contain evidence-based amounts of choline.

According to the AMA, choline reduces the risk of a birth defect, and its deficiency negatively affects the cognitive development of babies.

key nutrients

Multi-micronutrient versus iron-folic acid supplementation

The World Health Organization and some prenatal care providers often recommend iron-folic acid supplements to pregnant women. While iron and folate are some of the most critical nutrients needed by both the mother and the baby during pregnancy, they are not enough.

Studies have shown that supplementation of multi micronutrients has more benefits than iron-folate supplements. Multiple micronutrient supplementation is essential for reducing low birth weight, improved birth weight, and prevention of other pregnancy complications.

Besides folate, other micronutrients such as Vitamin B6 and B12, choline, vitamin D, and prenatal DHA are important for fetal neural tube and brain development.

Multi-micronutrient supplements also have tremendous benefits to the mother's health, such as calcium in reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia. Therefore, when choosing prenatal vitamins, it is preferable to choose one with a wider variety of micronutrients.

It is important that you consult with your doctor before taking multi-micronutrient supplements. This is because some micronutrients such as vitamin A are only recommended for women with a deficiency.

If taken without a proper prescription, some micronutrients might have undesired effects on both the mother and the baby's health.

folic acid prenatal vitamins

 

Possible side effects of prenatal vitamins, the causes, and what you can do to avoid them

Some women experience some undesired effects from taking prenatal vitamins. Although most of these side effects are minor issues, they can be a bother.

Sometimes it is hard for pregnant women to know if the symptoms they are experiencing result from morning sickness or the intake of prenatal supplements as some of the symptoms overlap. Here are some of the common side effects reported from the use of prenatal vitamins;

Some prenatal vitamins may cause or worsen nausea during pregnancy. If the supplements cause unbearable nausea, you should see your doctor change your prescription. Chewable and liquid forms of prenatal supplements are better tolerated than tablets. 

Pregnant women might experience constipation as a result of taking prenatal vitamins. This is caused by the iron present in the supplements. Consuming a high-fiber diet, drinking enough water, and exercising might help reduce constipation.

Vitamin A and E tend to affect the skin and hair of pregnant mothers. Vitamin A causes hair loss and dryness, and itchiness of the skin. On the other hand, Vitamin E might cause the skin to develop rashes and be delicate. 

Other side effects include stomach upsets, staining of teeth, bloating, and gas, among others. If you suffer serious side effects from the intake of prenatal vitamins, please talk to your doctor immediately. 

prenatal vitamins side effects

Conclusion


An adequate supply of both macro and micronutrients is important for the welfare of both the pregnant mother and the developing child. For this reason, pregnant women should ensure that they take a healthy and balanced diet every day.

However, sometimes expectant mothers do not get the required amounts of micronutrients from their diet. They need to take supplements to fill the nutritional gaps. 

Prenatal vitamins contain essential vitamins and minerals needed for maternal health and optimal development of the baby. Prenatal vitamins help promote the normal growth of the baby and reduce the risks of pregnancy complications.

Although women occasionally experience some undesirable effects from using prenatal vitamins, the benefits outweigh the side effects.

Take a supplement

Prenatal supplements containing multiple vitamins and minerals have more benefits than traditional iron-folic acid supplements. Therefore, pregnant women should consider choosing multi-nutrient supplements. However, be wary of the risks associated with taking multi-nutrient supplements.

For instance, an overdose of some nutrients such as vitamins A, K, D, and E can be detrimental to the health of both the mother and the baby. It is also important to talk to your doctor if you are on any other medication as some medicines have a negative interaction with prenatal vitamins.

prenatal vitaminsReferences

National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ 

World Health Organization; https://www.who.int/ 

Cochrane Library; https://www.cochranelibrary.com/ 

Balogun OO, da Silva Lopes K, Ota E, Takemoto Y, Rumbold A, Takegata M, Mori R. Vitamin supplementation for preventing miscarriage. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD004073. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004073.pub4. 

Zerfu TA, Ayele HT. Micronutrients and pregnancy; effect of supplementation on pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review. Nutr J. 2013 Jan 31;12:20. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-20. PMID: 23368953; PMCID: PMC3585818.

Keen CL, Clegg MS, Hanna LA, Lanoue L, Rogers JM, Daston GP, Oteiza P, Uriu-Adams JY. The plausibility of micronutrient deficiencies being a significant contributing factor to the occurrence of pregnancy complications. J Nutr. 2003 May;133(5 Suppl 2):1597S-1605S. doi: 10.1093/jn/133.5.1597S. PMID: 12730474.

Shah PS, Ohlsson A; Knowledge Synthesis Group on Determinants of Low Birth Weight and Preterm Births. Effects of prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcomes: a meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2009;180(12):E99-E108. doi:10.1503/cmaj.081777


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