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What are Prenatal Vitamins

June 11, 2024

Pregnancy brings about a new set of demands on a woman's body. Her body has to support the growth and development of the fetus and should also be strong enough to fight foreign invaders and germs in both bodies. To sustain this increase in demand, she will need more nutrition and vitamins than before. This is where prenatal vitamins become a crucial part of pregnancy nutrition.

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What are Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements a pregnant woman requires before and during her pregnancy. She requires more vitamins and minerals during her pregnancy, and it is not feasible to meet these demands through her diet alone. Not receiving these essential vitamins and minerals can also affect fetal development and the mother's health.

Prenatal vitamins come in various forms and different combinations. Different doctors may prescribe different dosages of prenatal vitamins depending on the pregnancy, the mother’s health, medical history, etc. Prenatal vitamins aim to provide the mother with sufficient nutrients to support the healthy development of the baby.

The Need for Prenatal Vitamins

Folic acid is one of the most essential vitamins a pregnant woman requires right from the time she starts planning her pregnancy. A folic acid deficiency can lead to neural tube defects and affect the fetal brain and spine development.

In most cases, once a woman decides to start trying to conceive, her doctor will suggest she start taking folic acid supplements. However, only some consult a doctor or plan so much in advance. In such pregnancies, the woman will start taking folic acid supplements only after confirming pregnancy. There is nothing wrong with this either; hence, there is nothing to worry about.

The next most important prenatal vitamin is iron. Iron is essential for forming red blood cells, which carry oxygen to various body parts. A pregnant woman cannot have an iron deficiency, as it will not only affect the oxygen and blood supply to the baby but can also make her anaemic. Anaemia in pregnancy is a serious complication.

Common Prenatal Vitamins

As mentioned above, iron and folic acid are the most common prenatal vitamins doctors prescribe during pregnancy. Other commonly prescribed prenatal vitamins include:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D and B12
  • Calcium
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Riboflavin
  • DHA or Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • Magnesium

Multi-vitamin tablets contain all the above and some more essential minerals and vitamins in limited quantities.

Also Read: What Happens if Vitamin D is Low in Pregnancy?

When Should You Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins contain essential nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. So, one should take them just before or right from the beginning of pregnancy. All doctors will prescribe them once they confirm pregnancy. Ensure you take the best prenatal vitamins as prescribed, and do not skip any of them.

Side Effects of Prenatal Vitamins

Prenatal vitamins for women are nothing but vitamin and mineral supplements. They only add nutrition to your body and will not harm it. However, a sudden increase in a vitamin or mineral in your body may cause some mild side effects.

1. Effects of Iron

A sudden increase in iron intake can be difficult for your body to digest. You may experience constipation due to excess iron in your blood. Constipation is also one of the common side effects of pregnancy, caused due to the changing hormonal balance. When you take iron supplements, keep the following in mind

  • Avoid taking prenatal vitamins with iron when you consume calcium (give an hour gap between your iron supplement and any foods containing calcium, like milk, yogurt, etc.).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Include more fibre-rich foods to help with digestion.
  • Do mild exercises after getting your doctor's approval.
  • Stay physically active unless your doctor has advised otherwise.
  • If the constipation is severe, ask your doctor for a different iron medicine or a stool softener.

2. Effects of Folic Acid

Some possible side effects of folic acid are:

  • Nausea – Nausea or morning sickness is common in pregnancy. If taking folic acid increases this feeling, avoid it on an empty stomach. Take it right after a meal or a light snack.
  • Appetite Loss—If folic acid curbs your appetite, take it when you usually feel hungry. If big meals are difficult to eat or digest, eat nutritious snacks multiple times daily.
  • Bloating – Physical activity, increased water consumption, and fibre-rich foods can reduce bloating. However, if it continues, talk to your doctor and find a suitable alternative.
  • Allergic Reaction – In rare cases, women may have an allergic reaction to a component in their folic acid tablet. If you notice any such reactions, rush to your nearest hospital immediately and inform your doctor.

Who Should Avoid Prenatal Vitamins?

Though prenatal vitamins are highly recommended before and during pregnancy, one should avoid them in the following cases:

  • Allergic Reactions - In rare cases, some women may have allergic reactions to certain prenatal vitamins. So, avoiding the prenatal vitamins that cause allergic reactions is advisable.
  • Other Health Complications- If you are suffering from other underlying health conditions. your doctor may not prescribe prenatal vitamins, as it may interfere with your existing medications.

It is important to let your doctor know about all the medications you are currently taking and if you have reactions to any of them. This can help them prescribe the right prenatal vitamins or avoid them completely.

What Happens When You Miss Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are essential for modern medicine and pregnancy. Missing these prenatal vitamins may cause deficiencies or affect the baby's development. It can also increase the risks of various complications as the pregnancy progresses. However, there is no guarantee that such complications will arise if you miss prenatal vitamins.

When you miss taking your prenatal vitamins despite the doctor’s recommendations, it increases the risk of developing complications or health issues during or after the pregnancy - for both the mother and the baby.

Conclusion

Prenatal vitamins provide the extra vitamins and minerals the body requires to support the development of a new life. A lack of these essential nutrients can affect the quality of development or the baby's health. If you are not convinced about prenatal vitamins, have a detailed discussion with a reputed doctor instead of skipping them on your own. Not following a doctor’s recommendations or self-medicating is not a risk worth taking during pregnancy.

FAQs

1. What do prenatal vitamins do?

  • Prenatal vitamins provide your body with the essential nutrients to support the baby's development. Getting all these extra vitamins and minerals through food sources is not simple. Prenatal vitamins make these vitamins and minerals easily available and are easier to absorb, too.

2. Is it ok to take prenatal vitamins if not pregnant?

  • It is not recommended to take prenatal vitamins without a doctor’s prescription. Though many doctors recommend taking folic acid 3 months before conception, and some doctors may even prescribe prenatal vitamins post-pregnancy, to support lactation, you should avoid self-medicating.

3. When should I start prenatal vitamins?

  • Apart from folic acid, all other prenatal vitamins are generally prescribed only after pregnancy confirmation. Consult your gynaecologist to know when you can start taking prenatal vitamins and avoid self-medication.

4. Do you need prenatal vitamins?

  • Taking prenatal vitamins is highly recommended for pregnancy, as they can help reduce the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects, congenital health complications, and deficiencies. Though not a compulsion, doctors recommend prenatal vitamins to reduce various risks.

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