What are prenatal vitamins? The best vitamins for pregnancy were originally designed to meet the unique needs of women who are planning to become or are already pregnant. They typically have at least the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for folic acid (vitamin B9) or its naturally occurring form, folate, which helps promote a healthy central nervous system in a developing fetus, among other things.
The key to a healthy pregnancy is proper nutrition. During the first few months of pregnancy, taking prenatal vitamins and minerals is especially important. Here are some tips to help you start your prenatal vitamin regimen. this article will guide you on prenatal vitamins for nails and hair and also give you the health benefits of prenatal vitamins
What are prenatal vitamins?
The first thought that likely comes to mind when you think of a prenatal vitamin is that it’s a supplement a person takes when they’re planning to try to become pregnant or when they’re already pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins were originally designed to meet the unique needs of women who are planning to become or are already pregnant. They typically have at least the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for folic acid (vitamin B9) or its naturally occurring form, folate, which helps promote a healthy central nervous system in a developing fetus, among other things.
Within a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral, a prenatal supplement should also supply specific amounts of other nutrients known to support a healthy pregnancy (e.g., iron, calcium, vitamin D3, choline, etc.) when compared to other (non-prenatal) types of multivitamins out there.
Including the omega-3 DHA in the prenatal multi itself or alongside it (e.g., in a bundle situation) is also ideal for the most holistic reproductive health support, for both mom and baby.
This complete array of essential vitamins, minerals, and even other nutrients like DHA (at prenatal-specific levels) are what should typify a prenatal multi. “Should” being the operative word. “This expectation for completeness you should have in a prenatal multi is one of the reasons a prenatal gummy is a genuinely bad idea,” explains nutrition scientist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN.
“Sugars, flavors, colorants, and other additives aside, prenatal gummies are truly limited and lacking in their vitamin and mineral profile when it comes to prenatal essentials,” Ferira shares. “Don’t believe me? Turn over your prenatal gummy label and tell me how much iron, choline, calcium, and DHA you see,” she adds. (Spoiler alert: Not much or none is the answer).
What’s the difference between prenatal vitamins and multivitamins?
Prenatal vitamins were first created in the 1990s to deliver adequate amounts of key nutrients correlated with suboptimal pregnancy outcomes in order to support healthy fetal development.
When deciding between a prenatal vitamin and a “regular” (non-prenatal) multivitamin, it’s important to note a few key nutrients (and dosages) that distinguish thoughtfully formulated prenatal vitamins from a multi designed for non-perinatal life stages:
Best Vitamins for Pregnancy
Iron is an essential mineral necessary to create new blood cells in the body.* Per prenatal nutrition specialist Amy Burkholder, CNS, LDN, “Women’s blood volume increases about 50% during pregnancy, so [women’s iron] needs also increase 50%.”
Having adequate intake and stores of iron is critical for a healthy mother and baby throughout pregnancy. Iron comes from both animal and plant-based foods in the diet, but iron found in animal sources (heme iron) is more readily absorbed in the human body.
According to Burkholder, “Prenatal multivitamins have higher amounts of iron (pregnant women need 27 milligrams daily, while nonpregnant, premenopausal women need 18 milligrams), and excess iron can warrant toxicity concerns [to some people].”
Burkholder adds, “Postpartum women whose menses have not yet resumed need even less—about 9 milligrams per day.” That lower daily iron need is similar in magnitude to what postmenopausal (non-menstruating) and adult men require (i.e., 8 milligrams daily).
“Yes, older adults and men have daily iron needs, too, even though many age- and gender-focused multivitamin formulas tend to ignore that, which is a real nutritional disservice,” adds Ferira.
Folate, aka vitamin B9, is an essential vitamin that’s critical for fetal development (particularly, the central nervous system)—especially during the first few weeks of pregnancy.*
“Paying attention to daily folate needs is important for everyone, including pregnant women, but in fact, some of the most folate-critical stages of pregnancy are when many women don’t know they’re pregnant yet, which obviously underscores the importance of being nutritionally ready and replete each and every day,” warns Ferira.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, people with a uterus who plan to conceive or are already pregnant should consume at least 600 micrograms of folate (naturally occurring) or folic acid (synthetic) from dietary intake or supplements, starting at least one month prior to conception.
Burkholder also notes that synthetic folic acid “isn’t [always] well metabolized once it’s in the blood, especially for anyone with an MTHFR gene variant” and recommends looking to whole-food sources of folate (such as leafy greens) or supplemental methylfolate (i.e., 5-MTHF, the fully bioactive form of this B vitamin)—which can be more easily metabolized in the body.*
Some individuals may need higher levels or different versions of folate (for example, the bioactive methylfolate mentioned above, over regular folic acid), so it’s always best to consult a care provider that knows your full health history and goals.
Prenatal vitamins and multivitamins alike will often deliver 400 to 1,000 micrograms of dietary folate equivalents (DFE), but others will have even greater amounts and the supplements should be used under the care of a health care provider. Note: Many conventional prenatal vitamins and single-ingredient folic acid supplements can be lackluster and contain suboptimal forms of folate (and other nutrients). Always ask questions, do your research, and trust your intuition.
This critical macromineral aids fetal development by helping build bones and teeth, and also helps maintain maternal bone density. Calcium is also important for nerve conduction, muscle movement, normal circulation, and hormone circulation.
“Calcium is a massively important mineral that’s regularly underconsumed in America, and guess where a developing fetus sources its calcium from if the pregnant mom is not taking in enough calcium daily? Baby gets it from mom’s bones. While it’s thrifty, it’s not a good thing obviously,” warns Ferira. In other words, daily calcium intake should be top priority from diet and supplement sources during pregnancy.
While you won’t find high amounts of calcium (like 500 milligrams plus) in prenatal vitamins typically. This is less because of its potential to compete with iron absorption (again, at very high calcium levels) and more because “calcium is a genuinely bulky mineral that requires a lot of ‘real estate’ in the prenatal,” explains Ferira. “You would be looking at a whole lot of capsules or tablets if the prenatal formula includes 300 milligrams or more of calcium, along with all the other prenatal essentials.”
If you’ve been told to increase your calcium intake, it’s best to take a food-first approach, then take the appropriate amount of supplementation for your unique nutritional needs, to “mind those gaps,” as Ferira puts it. Supplemental calcium is best taken with food and away from other supplements to avoid stomach upset and promote proper absorption.
Ferira recommends spacing any stand-alone calcium supplements away from your prenatal multi (or any multivitamin, for that matter) to optimize its absorption. She also shares that “morning time can be rough during pregnancy, but minerals can be tough on the tummy in the a.m. for nonpregnant folks, too, so listen to your gut (literally) and personalize your supplement timing approach.”
While adolescents between the ages of 9 and 18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day, adult women and men ages 19 to 50 require 1,000 milligrams per day from diet and supplements combined, regardless of whether they are pregnant, lactating, or neither.
To put this daily need into perspective so you can plan accordingly, “one serving of dairy, like a serving of plain Greek yogurt or a cup of milk, delivers about 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium, respectively,” notes Ferira. “And before you ask about greens, yes the plant kingdom offers calcium, too, but in way smaller doses. A whole cup of chopped broccoli or kale will give you about 50 milligrams of calcium,” she adds.
You may still be wondering if prenatal vitamins are appropriate if pregnancy is not in your near future. If you’re hoping to boost your energy or strengthen and shine up your locks, keep reading.
According to a 2019 scientific review from BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, choline is a “brain-building” nutrient important for neurotransmitter synthesis, methylation reactions, and normal metabolism.* The importance of this nutrient has only recently become realized, and while a quality prenatal vitamin should ideally deliver some choline, you’ll want to leverage your diet to achieve the high daily needs required by this nutrient.
People planning to conceive should consume a diet rich in eggs, meat, poultry, fish, cruciferous vegetables, and dairy and also consider supplementing with extra choline to ensure they reach at least 450 milligrams per day.
Is it safe to take prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant?
While prenatal vitamins are helpful to fill nutrient gaps and bump up intake of key nutrients to prepare for or actively support a healthy pregnancy, the higher amounts of some nutrients may make them a less than ideal option for certain individuals to take routinely.
Benefits of taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins can be a great way to prepare and nutritionally support the body to safely grow another human. For women hoping to conceive, adequate dietary and/or supplemental folate can help promote a healthy pregnancy—especially in the first few weeks of a fetal development, as the need for this essential B vitamin is most critical soon after implantation.*
Armed with this knowledge, it’s absolutely a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin when you’re not pregnant if your goal is to conceive. However, it’s important to note that a comprehensive, non-prenatal multivitamin with a healthy dose of bioavailable folate can also achieve the same end goal.
Side effects of taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant.
It’s hard to imagine a prenatal vitamin without some iron. For women already consuming 27 milligrams of iron from their diet, they may already have very healthy iron levels and do not require extra iron. Depending on the form of the iron, supplemental iron can cause gastrointestinal issues in some and unnecessary iron stores in others. It’s always best to partner with a health care provider and have iron levels tested to determine if iron support is needed.
If a person is not planning to conceive but wants to play it safe and supplement with a form of folate, I recommend a high-quality prenatal vitamin or multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of methylfolate (the form with the highest bioavailability), plus all the other health-supportive nutrients to help them feel their best.
Prenatal Vitamins for Nails and Hair
In the past, taking prenatal vitamins to support healthy hair, skin and nails has become popular, but is it really the best option? In my professional opinion, taking prenatal vitamins for hair growth and strong nails is not the optimal choice. That said, knowing which ingredients to look for can make finding an alternative easier.
Feria adds that “oftentimes the purported beauty benefits of a prenatal multi are actually driven by the fact that the person needed daily nutrition support for key vitamins and minerals, and therefore, the prenatal filled some gaps. A non-prenatal multi could achieve the same goal.”
In addition to a well-rounded diet with adequate protein and healthy fat intake, supplementing with extra biotin (vitamin B7), silica, and vitamins in the antioxidant family (think vitamins A, C, K, and B2—aka riboflavin) are good places to start if you’re looking for holistic beauty benefits.* A high-quality vegan supplement like mbg’s ultimate multivitamin+ (which has all of these nutrients, plus 17 additional vitamins, minerals, and botanicals) is a fantastic option for women and men.
As a registered dietitian, I would be remiss if I didn’t also note that it’s not just the food and supplements that you put into your body but how effectively they’re digested and assimilated as well—so proper digestive function is also key! Therefore, I always emphasize the gut as ground zero—supporting a healthy gut promotes health from the inside out.
In that vein, a high-quality collagen peptide powder is another great addition to your daily routine to support skin elasticity and moisturization, alongside the added benefit of promoting healthy intestinal lining integrity and function. These powders mix in great with liquids (like coffee and smoothies), as well as oatmeal and baked goods. Ferira adds that, “collagen is your body’s most abundant protein. It’s simply that whole-body essential.”
If you’re looking to truly support strong, healthy hair, skin, and nails, mbg’s beauty & collagen+ features grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine collagen peptides, plus an array of other beauty- and gut-supporting ingredients—like glutamine, biotin, vitamins C and E, and turmeric plus broccoli seed extracts.
Ultimately, deciding which supplements are right for you is a nuanced and personalized approach, between you and your health care providers. Prenatal vitamins are an excellent insurance policy for the right person during specific stages of life, but there are other alternatives out there that may be better utilized (with fewer side effects and possibly greater benefits).
If you’re not pregnant or planning to conceive in the next few months but you’re looking for a comprehensive multi that covers essential micronutrient needs and also delivers hair, skin, and nail health benefits, mbg’s multi is a great solution! With no gender or age parameters, this clean and innovative ultimate multivitamin+ was created to help all adults get the essential daily nutrients they need (in their most gentle and bioavailable forms).
Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals
Reducing newborn mortality with multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS).
Vitamin Angels’ Global Prenatal Initiative
Vitamin Angels is spearheading a global effort to reduce newborn mortality rates by scaling up its prenatal vitamin and mineral program to meet the needs of 50 million women annually by the year 2030. With an estimated 7,000 newborns dying daily per data released by UNICEF, Vitamin Angels is rallying support to address the pressing need. To further accelerate impact and create lasting change, Vitamin Angels focuses on creating demand for MMS, ensuring a global supply of MMS, influencing policy change regarding MMS in low and middle-income countries, and connecting at-risk pregnant women with MMS.
During pregnancy, nutritional needs increase to meet the demands of both the pregnant woman and her growing baby. When moms don’t have regular access to healthy foods, the risks to her and her baby intensify.
Prenatal multivitamins and minerals help support healthy pregnancies, prevent anemia, promote fetal growth, and ensure that babies are born at a healthy birth weight. They are crucial to the health and survival of the growing baby and to the health and well-being of the mother
Mothers Face Global Health Challenges
Wherever they are, moms share a common focus: making a better life for their children. They may take on very different challenges, but each woman’s nutritional needs increase during pregnancy to support her health and her growing child. Moms living in developing countries or with low incomes are the most vulnerable to malnutrition.
They make meals out of what’s available, feeding their children before themselves. They make traditions that unite their families, passing down wisdom to future generations. They make painful sacrifices that, more often than not, go unnoticed.
|Providing supplemental nutrition in the form of a daily multiple micronutrient supplement (MMS), is an excellent way to meet the increased nutrient demands during pregnancy. Prenatal MMS helps support healthy pregnancies, prevent anemia, promote fetal growth, and ensure that babies are born at a healthy birth weight. The MMS provided by Vitamin Angels is consistent with the United Nations International Multiple Micronutrient Antenatal Preparation (UNIMMAP) formula, manufactured to international quality standards.|
Prenatal Vitamins: The Ultimate Guide
When chosen with specific nutrients in mind, prenatal vitamins can be an important part of your pregnancy, as well as your pre- and post-pregnancy experience. Given the importance of certain nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, it’s useful to understand how they function for both you and your baby’s health. Read on to learn the benefits of taking prenatal vitamins, as well as which specific nutrients you need during pregnancy and after.
Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
While getting vitamins and minerals from food is the best and most efficient way to give your body the nutrition you need, the nutrients found in certain prenatal vitamins can also help protect the health of you and your baby.
Folic acid is the most important nutrient in prenatal vitamins. Getting enough folic acid is important to prevent your baby from developing any neural tube defects. The neural tube, which develops into the brain and spinal cord, needs folic acid to close correctly. If the neural tube doesn’t close properly, it can result in spina bifida. In this condition, the spinal cord or vertebrae do not develop completely. Anencephaly, a condition where major parts of the brain do not develop, is another potential neural tube defect. These are serious complications, resulting in permanent disability or even death, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of this important vitamin.
Adequate folic acid may also protect you from complications during pregnancy, including preeclampsia. This is a serious condition marked by high blood pressure and potentially fatal complications such as preterm birth or placental abruption. Outside of pregnancy, folic acid also protects you against heart and blood vessel diseases, dementia, and some forms of cancer.
Iron is another essential nutrient that has a number of benefits, including protecting you against anemia, a condition where the blood has low levels of healthy red blood cells. Because your blood volume increases during pregnancy, it’s essential to get enough iron through diet or prenatal vitamins. The iron in your food is the easiest for your body to absorb, but your doctor may recommend taking iron supplements if you are at risk of having low iron or aren’t getting enough from your food.
Side effects of prenatal vitamins
Taking prenatal vitamins helps support a healthy pregnancy by filling in any nutritional gaps you may have. However, some people experience queasiness or constipation as a result of taking prenatal vitamins. Some people also find the pills difficult to swallow.
You may find that taking prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach makes you feel nauseous. Taking your supplements with food can help prevent nausea. You might also consider a different brand.
Health Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
Reduces the risk of your child developing spina bifida and neural tube defects: Getting enough of the B vitamin folic acid very early in your pregnancy and before you conceive can greatly reduce your child’s risk of developing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (cleft spine) and anencephaly (improper development of the brain and bones of the skull). By taking sufficient quantities of folic acid before and at the beginning of pregnancy, your baby’s risk of being born with these defects is reduced by up to 70%.
May reduce the risk of other birth defects: Folic acid may also help lower the risk of your child being born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or certain heart birth defects.
May reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia: For the mother, taking sufficient folic acid early in the pregnancy may lower the risk of developing preeclampsia, a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention, and excess protein in the urine. In severe cases of preeclampsia, when blood pressure is extremely high, emergency C-section may be required.
Helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia: Women need a lot of iron during pregnancy – approximately twice as much as before conception. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin (blood) for both you and your baby during pregnancy. Iron helps move oxygen from your lungs to the baby’s body and the rest of your body. Taking prenatal vitamins with iron can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that can cause extreme fatigue and other symptoms.
Reduces the risk of pre–term delivery, low birth weight, and infant mortality: Taking prenatal vitamins to ensure you get enough iron during pregnancy can help protect your child’s health as well as your own. Preventing iron-deficiency anemia helps reduce the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality.
Helps provide enough calcium for your child’s development: Women 19 years of age and older need 1,000 mg of calcium a day before, during, and after pregnancy. Women aged 18 and younger need 1,300 mg. Your baby needs calcium to develop strong teeth and bones, a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles, and normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting.
Helps protect your health from the effects of calcium deficiency: Getting sufficient calcium can reduce your risk of developing preeclampsia and hypertension (high blood pressure). If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet during pregnancy, your developing baby will draw it from your bones, which can impair your health in the future. Prenatal vitamins can help supply at least a portion of your daily calcium needs.
Reduces the risk of your child developing rickets: Rickets is a condition involving weakened and softened bones in children, caused by vitamin D deficiency. It can lead to fractures and deformities. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. If you don’t get enough vitamin D during pregnancy, your baby could be born with a deficiency and at risk for rickets, abnormal bone growth, and delayed development. Prenatal vitamins can help supply enough vitamin D to prevent this.
May help reduce the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes associated with vitamin D deficiency: Although more research is needed, studies have found links between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and both preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Gives you the peace of mind of knowing mother and baby’s nutritional needs are met: It is important to eat well during pregnancy with a healthy diet that includes meat, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. As certain nutritional requirements are higher at this time, even an excellent diet may not provide the extra nutrients you need to protect your child’s health and your own. Eating a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins as prescribed by our caring physicians at Virginia Beach Obstetrics & Gynecology can give you peace of mind knowing you are doing all you should to meet the nutritional needs of your child and to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.