prenatal vitamins

If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s wise to think about getting your body healthy and ready. Doing so gives your baby the best start from conception until birth.

Things to think about before getting pregnant include stopping doing things that can harm your baby such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain medications.

It also includes eating healthy foods and taking vitamins to boost certain nutrients. Learn why vitamins are helpful before getting pregnant and what vitamins to take when trying to get pregnant.

Vitamins To Take When Trying To Get Pregnant

It’s always best to get your vitamins and other nutrients by eating healthy foods daily. But let’s face it; sometimes, that’s difficult to do.

Think of a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin as insurance. It helps cover any gaps in your diet by adding the extra nutrients you need to stay healthy.

Regular multivitamin-mineral supplements are fine if you’re not pregnant. But doctors suggest special prenatal vitamins if you’re trying to conceive or are already pregnant. Compared to regular vitamins, prenatal vitamins provide more of these crucial nutrients for your baby’s growth:

  • Folic acid. This B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects — a serious defect in a baby’s brain and spinal cord. Prenatal vitamins provide 600-800 mcg of folic acid. If you don’t take a prenatal vitamin, take a daily multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.
  • Iron. It’s vital for making healthy red blood cells. While pregnant, your body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen and nutrients to you and your baby. Prenatal vitamins provide the extra 9 mg of iron needed while pregnant.
  • Calcium. Both baby and mom need this mineral for healthy bones and teeth. Your bones might suffer later if you don’t get enough calcium while pregnant. Prenatal vitamins provide extra calcium, but you should still eat a calcium-rich diet.
  • Iodine. This mineral helps make thyroid hormones. It’s also necessary for your baby’s brain and nervous system, so you need more when pregnant. Most prenatal vitamins provide the required 220 mcg.
  • DHA. This omega-3 fat is the same one found in fatty fish. It plays a vital role in normal brain and eye development. DHA is in some, but not all, prenatal vitamins.

Most prenatal vitamins provide the daily suggested amounts for these and other nutrients while pregnant. But not all formulas are the same. Ask your doctor if there’s a brand they suggest.

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When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins

Women’s health experts suggest starting prenatal vitamins at least three months before getting pregnant. Since you can’t predict when you’ll conceive, take a daily prenatal vitamin once you start trying for a baby. You can keep taking it while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Starting a prenatal vitamin before you conceive has many benefits. Mainly, it boosts your nutrient levels and prevents deficiencies. That helps keep all parts of your body (including your reproductive organs) healthy and working well.

Some research suggests taking a prenatal vitamin may boost your chances of getting pregnant or reduce the time to get pregnant. It may help prevent a miscarriage and raise your chances of a healthy mom and baby.

Your body undergoes significant changes during the first few weeks of pregnancy — before most people even know they’re pregnant. That’s when a baby’s brain and spinal cord form, and your blood volume rises fast.

If you’re low in certain nutrients before getting pregnant, you run a higher risk of health issues for your baby. Low folic acid levels make your baby more likely to develop a neural tube defect. And you are more likely to develop anemia if your iron levels are already low.

Starting a prenatal vitamin early also helps you get into a daily habit. That means you’re less likely to forget when you do become pregnant.

And there’s one more reason to think about starting a prenatal vitamin before you get pregnant. Starting one early may reduce morning sickness once you get pregnant.

Can Men Take Prenatal Vitamins?

Men can take vitamins before conception. If they’re missing certain nutrients from their diet, taking a supplement can help close those gaps. That may help support overall health and sperm quality.

But men have different nutrient needs than women. A prenatal vitamin isn’t going to hurt them, but they don’t need anywhere as much iron or folic acid. And men don’t require higher amounts of other nutrients because they don’t have to support a growing baby.

So it’s best not to share prenatal vitamins. Instead, men should choose a general vitamin and mineral supplement designed for their sex and age group. And just as with women, it’s always best to start with a healthy diet and use vitamins as a supplement.

How to Get Prenatal Vitamins

If you and your partner are thinking about getting pregnant, think about a preconception visit with your doctor. They can check you out and ensure your body is healthy and ready to be pregnant. A preconception visit is also an excellent time to discuss your health needs before, during, and after being pregnant.

Your health care provider can suggest any changes to your diet or refer you to a dietitian for a prenatal visit. They can also suggest the best prenatal vitamin for you, and they may provide a prescription.

If you don’t have a prescription, don’t worry — you don’t need one. You can easily buy prenatal vitamins over the counter at any drugstore or supermarket. If your insurance covers prescriptions at the pharmacy, it could reduce your out-of-pocket costs.

Prenatal vitamins have many benefits, even if you’re not pregnant. They’re worth taking if you’re thinking about getting pregnant. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about the best vitamin to meet your needs.

March of Dimes. Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy. LINK

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Good Health Before Pregnancy: Prepregnancy Care. LINK

Clinical Medicine Insights: Women's Health. The Impact of Preconceptional Multiple-Micronutrient Supplementation on Female Fertility. LINK

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.