When you’re pregnant, there’s a pretty long list of things to remove from your diet—raw meat and fish, unpasteurized milk and cheese, some deli meats and alcohol, to name a few. But there’s one thing experts all agree you should add to your diet when you’re expecting: a prenatal vitamin.
Prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically to support women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or who are breastfeeding. They almost always include nutrients like calcium, iron and folate since a woman’s need for these nutrients are heightened when she’s expecting. Folate is particularly important in the early weeks of pregnancy since it helps protect against neural tube defects like spina bifida, which can develop very early on in pregnancy—often before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant.
For that reason, most doctors recommend women start taking prenatal vitamins and supplements even before conception. For all the details on the best time to take a prenatal, potential side effects and more, we caught up with Perelel Medical Co-Founder, Dr. Banafsheh Bayati, MD, OB/GYN, FACOG.
First, why is it important to take prenatal vitamins?
Your nutrient needs during pregnancy are higher than ever. Nutrients like folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin C are of particular importance. Taking a prenatal vitamin can help ensure you meet the increased demand for these nutrients, especially if you aren’t getting adequate quantities through your diet.
Since some women may require targeted supplements—this depends upon health status and medication history, Dr. Bayati encourages expecting women to speak with their doctor for a personalized supplement plan that will best support a healthy pregnancy.
When is the best time to take prenatal vitamins?
According to Dr. Bayati, the increased need for additional nutrients starts as early as the first month or two of pregnancy—which is often before women even realize they are pregnant. Thus, she says, it’s important that the nutrient stores in your body are ready to support a pregnancy even before you get a positive pregnancy test.
“Even if a woman has an excellent diet, it’s still critical that she optimize minerals, such as iron, and vitamin levels prior to becoming pregnant. Starting three to six months before a desired pregnancy with a folate-based prenatal that contains adequate amounts of vitamin D and omega-3 DHA is a great way to optimize her health and the health of the baby, and protect against birth defects.”
Even if you’re not planning a pregnancy any time soon, Dr. Bayati still suggests supplementation.
“Since more than half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, every woman of reproductive age who might get pregnant should consider taking at least a folate supplement regularly, if not a prenatal vitamin,” she says.
Are there any side effects to prenatal vitamins I should watch out for?
Due to the higher concentrations of certain nutrients, prenatal vitamins can come with some minor side effects like constipation and nausea. To combat these effects, healthcare providers will typically suggest drinking plenty of fluids, upping the fiber content in your diet, staying active, and possibly taking a stool softener to help relieve some of these symptoms.
“Occasionally there are reasons why you should not take a prenatal vitamin that contains certain ingredients, like iron for those with an iron storage disease. But this is exactly why it’s important to discuss your plans with your doctor and find the right prenatals for you,” Dr. Bayati says.
Is it safe to take prenatal vitamins when not pregnant?
In addition to benefiting unborn babies, prenatal vitamins support skin, hair and nail health, as well as energy and mood. They may even have positive implications for both male and female fertility, thanks to the CoQ10 content (that’s why we’ve included 50 milligrams of CoQ10 in our Conception Support Pack, which is specifically formulated to prep your body for pregnancy).
But, Dr. Bayati says, anyone considering taking prenatal vitamins should first consult with their healthcare provider.
“Supplements should be taken with care to make sure they are clean and smartly designed for your needs. They can be prescribed to help patients who are looking to optimize their health,” she says.
What makes Perelel’s prenatal vitamins different?
There’s a lot of pressure to select the best prenatal vitamin. After all, it’s one of the first and most important things you can do for your unborn baby. But with so many options available, it can be quite an overwhelming decision. So unless you’re a doctor or a scientist, choosing the best prenatal vitamin for your baby can be an intimidating and scary decision.
That’s where we come in. Ours is the first and only prenatal vitamin company to be founded by an OB/GYN alongside a team of top maternal-fetal medicine and fertility doctors. Our formulas are designed with clinically-tested ingredients at doctor-recommended doses. They’re gluten free, soy-free and non-GMO, and they don’t contain any colorants or synthetic fillers.
And, because your needs change throughout your pregnancy journey, our vitamin packs do, too. We provide vitamins and minerals tailored to each unique stage of the motherhood journey: preconception, each trimester, postpartum, and beyond throughout motherhood. As your body changes, Perelel dynamically changes with you to give you the exact nutrients you need—in the right doses, at the right time. Plus, since you have enough to remember (and because pregnancy brain is a real thing), we offer a convenient subscription service—we’ll send you everything you need for each trimester, at the exact time you need it.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.