Prenatal vitamins are one of the most important steps you should take throughout your pregnancy. Ideally, you should start taking prenatal vitamins when you are trying to conceive a baby.
By taking prenatals while you are trying to conceive, you are preparing your body for the challenging task that lies ahead. Some experts believe taking prenatals before you are pregnant might actually reduce your risk of a miscarriage after you become pregnant.
Taking prenatals before pregnancy is not always possible for some people, but taking them during pregnancy is essential. Prenatal vitamins contain the most important nutrients a new mother needs, including folic acid or folate. Taking extra folic acid lowers your chances of your baby being born with an incomplete spinal column, known as spina bifida.
In order for your baby to be protected, it is imperative you take folic acid as early as possible—ideally, in the first four weeks of fetal development. This can be a challenge if you were not already taking prenatals. Most people do not know they are pregnant until after they missed their period, which is usually about two weeks after conception. This is why some people of child-bearing age make a habit of taking folic acid even if they are not planning to become pregnant. Of course, we all know not all pregnancies are planned.
You can still get your folic acid in food. Folic acid is added to many breads and pastas and is found naturally in dark green and orange fruits as well as vegetables. Keep in mind, though, that taking a daily supplement offers more protection from spina bifida then eating the same amount of folic acid in food.
While you are pregnant, you should aim to take at least 600mcg of folic acid a day. If you have had a baby with a neural tube defect, you will have to take 4000 mcg or 4 milligrams of folic acid every day, starting at least a month before you get pregnant.
Some people struggle to take their prenatals, especially in their first trimester. Those who suffer from morning sickness and food aversions find that they cannot eat much food. Taking a prenatal on an empty stomach can leave you feeling sick and queasy. Another reason some women report upset stomachs is due to the high iron level that some prenatals contain. Not only could this cause an upset stomach, but it can also lead to constipation—which is already a problem during many prenancies. If you cannot take your prenatal, talk to your doctor about a prenatal vitamin with less iron or an additional folic acid supplement.
Taking something is better than taking no prenatals at all, especially during those first few weeks.
Source: “Prenatal Vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” Pregnancy Week by Week. Mayo Clinic. 1 May 2020.