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What are Prenatal Vitamins?

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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Prenatal vitamins are supplemental vitamins that are designed to be taken specifically during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. They are multivitamins that contain many supplements that are meant to not only boost the health of the fetus and the mother, but also to prevent many common birth defects. Prenatal vitamins can be administered in many different forms, including capsule, liquid and chewable forms.

Prenatal vitamins are taken by expectant mothers mainly for the purpose of replacing deficient supplements in the mother’s diet. Primarily among these nutrients are folic acid, iron and calcium. Others that are also important include thiamine, riboflavin and vitamins A, B-12, C, D and E. By the definition of supplement, these are meant mainly to boost the levels of nutrients that might possibly be missing, and prenatal vitamins are meant to be used alongside a healthy diet, which is much more important in and of itself for a healthy pregnancy.

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The folic acid in prenatal vitamins is one of the most important nutrients, and it is important for the prevention of neural tube disorders of the fetus such as spina bifida. While the fetus is growing inside the mother, it can deplete extra calcium from the mother, causing her to lose bone density, and this is why the calcium itself is an important supplement. Iron is among the most important of the supplements found in prenatal vitamins because of its importance in helping to carry oxygen through the bloodstream in both the mother and the fetus.

Despite their importance during pregnancy, prenatal vitamins may not always carry the proper amount to supplement a healthy diet. This can be particularly true in the case of calcium, which is necessary in higher amounts than can be found in only a prenatal vitamin. More nutrients that prenatal vitamins may lack are essential fatty acids. Specifically, there is an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA that is important in the fetal development of the brain, nerve and eye tissues. DHA can be found in fish oils, and often an obstetrician will recommend an additional supplement of this important nutrient.

Sometimes, because of their high levels of nutrients, prenatal vitamins have been known to cause nausea in pregnant women. Complicating this is the fact that many women already experience high levels of nausea during pregnancy, and this is commonly known as morning sickness. In these cases, the woman’s doctor will usually have the patient switch to a different form of prenatal vitamin, such as chewables or capsules, in order to alleviate these symptoms.

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candyquilt
Post 3

I'm glad that the article mentioned DHA. It really is a very important nutrient during pregnancy. Thankfully, more and more prenatal supplements are incorporating DHA into the mix. So it's not always to take the DHA separately.

fBoyle
Post 2

@stoneMason-- Yes, many doctors nowadays are recommending prenatal vitamins while their patients are trying to get pregnant. So if you consider that time before pregnancy, the time during pregnancy and then the time during breastfeeding, that's possibly close to two years when prenatal vitamins have to be taken.

In order to take vitamins for so long, you need a supplement that you can take easily and that doesn't cause side effects. So I suggest speaking to your doctor again. If she doesn't mind you taking an over the counter prenatal vitamin, there are chewable ones you can purchase. These are much easier to swallow, they taste good and I think they're easier on the stomach as well.

stoneMason
Post 1

I'm not pregnant but I'm trying to get pregnant. My doctor recommended that I start taking prenatal vitamins now and also recommended a brand. The issue is that these vitamin tablets are rather large and difficult to swallow. I think they give me a little bit of upset stomach too.

I want to make sure that I'm healthy and I want a healthy baby too. I just don't know when I'm going to get pregnant and taking these tablets every day seems like a pain.

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