Prenatal vitamins are specially created supplements for pregnant women. Taking prenatal vitamins ensures that a mother and her unborn baby receive adequate nutrition during the entire pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins, available over the counter or through a prescription, contain essential nutrients, including folic acid, calcium and iron, which women may not get enough of from their diet while pregnant. Taking prenatal vitamins also helps to prevent birth defects in the unborn child.
One of the most important ingredients in prenatal vitamins is folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin that is especially vital during the first month of a woman’s pregnancy when the newborn’s brain and spinal cord begin to develop. Taking prenatal vitamins that contain folic acids help to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, including spina bifida, a condition that may lead to paralysis or mental deformities in newborns. In addition, folic acid supplements lower the risk for preeclampsia, a condition in which an expectant mother develops symptoms like high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
Taking prenatal vitamins with iron supplements is also useful during a woman’s pregnancy. Inadequate intake of iron, along with changes in the blood, may lead to anemia in expectant mothers, especially near the last trimester of pregnancy. Anemia may also lead to problems for newborns, including low birth weight and premature birth.
Calcium is another important supplement in prenatal vitamins. Calcium helps a newborn to develop healthy bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles. Taking prenatal vitamins with calcium also aids a woman from developing bone loss while she is pregnant.
Other important nutrients found in prenatal vitamins include vitamins A, C, and D, as well as potassium and zinc. During pregnancy, vitamin A is needed to ensure proper fetal growth and a healthy birth weight, and vitamin C helps to build healthy gums and also assists with iron absorption. A lack of vitamin D during pregnancy may lead to rickets, abnormal bone development, and delayed physical growth in newborns. Proper potassium is needed to sustain fluid balance in cells, and zinc is a nutrient that allows the baby’s body tissue to develop properly.
A woman should discuss taking prenatal vitamins with her doctor to find out whether it is best to take prescription vitamins or over the counter. In many cases, doctors recommend that women take prenatal vitamins throughout the entire pregnancy. Also, if a woman is trying to conceive, it is recommend she take prenatal vitamins as early as three months prior to conception. Women who are vegetarians, lactose intolerant, or expecting multiple births, will particularly benefit from taking prenatal vitamins. Some prenatal vitamins, especially those containing iron supplements, may lead to constipation or cause an upset stomach.