Taking Prenatal Vitamins Before Pregnancy

If you’re planning to become pregnant, starting a prenatal supplement even before you’re pregnant is a smart choice. Research has shown that taking prenatal vitamins before pregnancy and during pregnancy lowers the risk of birth defects, low birthweight, early delivery, and even preeclampsia (T. Scholl, 2008). Taking prenatal vitamins in the early stages of your pregnancy might even reduce your risk of post-partum depression (Dagher & Shenassa, 2012).

When Should I Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

As soon as you’re considering becoming pregnant, you should get in the habit of taking a prenatal vitamin every day. One important ingredient in prenatal supplements in folic acid. Regardless of your intention to become pregnant, it is recommended that all women, ages 18–45, consume 400 µg of folic acid every day (CDC, 2008). However, folic acid is only one component of prenatal vitamins.

Why Not Wait Until I Know I’m Pregnant?

Many benefits of taking supplements to give your baby the nutrients it needs to thrive are associated with taking supplements before pregnancy or early in a pregnancy (Sauder et al., 2016; T. O. Scholl et al., 1997). The time between when you conceive and when you’re sure you’re pregnant is critical to the development of your baby. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to give your child the strongest foundation possible.

Will Starting Prenatal Vitamins Early Make My Children Obese?

Because some studies have reported obesity in animal offspring when prenatal vitamins are given to the mother, some women wonder if taking prenatal vitamins too early will lead to obese children. This was enough of a concern that researchers at Harvard carried out a study to see if mothers taking prenatal vitamins was associated with high rates of obesity in their children. The Harvard study found that mothers taking prenatal vitamins did not have children with higher obesity rates than average (Dougan, Willett, & Michels, 2015). In fact, research shows that proper nutrition before and during pregnancy leads to children with healthier birth weights (T. Scholl, 2008).

How Are Prenatal Vitamins Different From Regular Women’s Multivitamins?

Both prenatal vitamins and multivitamins have different ingredients depending on the brand you choose. In general, you will find that they have many ingredients in common but aren’t the same product. The amounts of individual vitamins or minerals will usually vary between a regular multivitamin and a prenatal vitamin. Iron and folic acid are nearly always recommended before and during pregnancy, but most physicians also recommend additional supplemental nutrients (Sauder et al., 2016), and those might vary depending on the brand of vitamin.

Most prenatal vitamins include some amount of calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C, and folic acid. Amounts will vary, but some common amounts you may see are listed in the table below:

Calcium

1000 mg

Vitamin D

0.015 mg

Iron

27 mg

Vitamin C

80 mg

Folic acid

0.8 mg

While taking even regular multivitamins is an improvement over taking nothing at all, a multivitamin specifically formulated for women who are planning to become pregnant or are already pregnant is a better choice when you’re considering having children.

What if I Don't Plan on Becoming Pregnant?

You may have seen articles that claim you should take prenatal vitamins even if you don't plan on becoming pregnant because they might improve hair or nail growth, but that's not good advice. Prenatals are specifically formulated to assist a woman's body before or during the time it's supporting a new, growing life. Taking prenatals when you don't plan to become pregnant can throw nutrients out-of-balance and isn't generally a good idea.

Pregnancy is far from the only time women should be concerned with nutrition. Even if you don’t see children in your future, it’s vital to take in adequate levels of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at it’s best. A multivitamin is an excellent way to ensure you’re getting the essential nutrients your body needs.

 

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References:

CDC. (2008). Use of supplements containing folic acid among women of childbearing age--United States, 2007. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 57(1), 5–8.

Dagher, R. K., & Shenassa, E. D. (2012). Prenatal health behaviors and postpartum depression: Is there an association? Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 15(1), 31–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-011-0252-0

Dougan, M. M., Willett, W. C., & Michels, K. B. (2015). Prenatal vitamin intake during pregnancy and offspring obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 39(1), 69–74. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2014.107

Sauder, K. A., Starling, A. P., Shapiro, A. L., Kaar, J. L., Ringham, B. M., Glueck, D. H., & Dabelea, D. (2016). Exploring the association between maternal prenatal multivitamin use and early infant growth: The Healthy Start Study. Pediatric Obesity, 11(5), 434–441.

Scholl, T. (2008). Maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy. In Nestle Nutrition Workshop Series: Pediatric Program (Vol. 61, pp. 79–86). https://doi.org/10.1159/000113172

Scholl, T. O., Hediger, M. L., Bendich, A., Schall, J. I., Smith, W. K., & Krueger, P. M. (1997). Use of multivitamin/mineral prenatal supplements: Influence on the outcome of pregnancy. American Journal of Epidemiology, 146(2), 134–141. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009244