Especially during pregnancy, a healthy diet ensures that both the parent and fetus are getting all of the nutrients they need. However, even well-rounded diets can lack certain vitamins and minerals. Prenatal vitamin supplements help protect against deficiencies and ensure the baby develops properly. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what vitamins are most helpful during pregnancy.
One of the best prenatal vitamins is vitamin D. Among its many effects, vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphate in the body. This helps keep bones, teeth, and even muscles healthy. While pregnant, vitamin D promotes the development of the fetus’ bones and teeth, too. People in areas with little direct sunlight or who spend more time indoors often lack vitamin D, making supplements even more important.
Almost all B vitamins are helpful prenatal vitamins. They help release energy from food, as well as ensure the nervous system and skin are healthy. Some expectant mothers find that vitamin B supplements, especially vitamin B6, help relieve nausea and vomiting resulting from morning sickness. Individuals who consume vegetarian or vegan diets may need to increase their vitamin B12 intake or risk anemia.
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate and folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, helps the body form healthy red blood cells. Beyond this, their most important role as prenatal vitamins is reducing the risk of neural tube defects. However, some research shows that many pregnant women over-supplement their folate intake, which can also cause health issues.
Vitamin A has a role in many different functions, including defending against illness and infections, improving vision in dim light, and keeping the skin healthy. During pregnancy, vitamin A helps with the development of the vertebrae, spinal cord, limbs, eyes, ears, and heart. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States, so supplements are usually not necessary.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C is integral to proper health. It also helps the body absorb iron, making it a helpful vitamin during pregnancy. People who smoked before pregnancy should take supplements or add vitamin C to their diet. A review of 29 trials found that a combination of vitamin C and vitamin E supplements reduced the risk of placental abruption.
Vitamin K helps blood clot and wounds heal and may even keep bones healthy. Few expectant mothers require vitamin K supplements during pregnancy. However, certain anti-seizure medications can increase the risk of vitamin K deficiency in the fetus. Anyone taking these medications while pregnant should discuss taking a supplement with their doctor.
While not a vitamin itself, iron is an important mineral that many prenatal multivitamins provide. It is also a key nutrient during pregnancy. Not only does iron help the body supply oxygen to the fetus, but it also prevents anemia and supports the development of both the fetus and the placenta, helping ensure a healthy birth.
Many prenatal multivitamins also provide plenty of calcium. This nutrient, in combination with vitamin D, helps the fetus develop healthy teeth and bones. Studies also show that calcium supplements help reduce the risk of preterm delivery in certain circumstances. It may also prevent pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia.
When to Take Prenatal Vitamins
If planning a pregnancy, begin taking prenatal vitamins before conception. Additionally, all adults should meet expert recommendations for vitamin intake. Doing so ensures the fetus develops properly even before a person realizes they are pregnant. For example, the vital neural tube develops during the first month of pregnancy, which is often before a person begins taking prenatal vitamins.
A 2019 study from Purdue University found that a significant amount of pregnant females are deficient in vitamins A, B6, C, D, K, and E, as well as many other important nutrients. Because a mother’s diet directly impacts the fetus, this lack of nutrients causes many birth defects. Low iron or vitamin B levels leads to anemia, which then causes preterm deliveries, low birth weights, or even death. Folate deficiencies often cause spinal issues and many other problems.