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When To Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins: pregnant woman making smoothie

When Should Women Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

The to-do list for moms-to-be seems to go on and on and on, but there are a few must-dos for anyone carrying a bun in the oven. Finding a good prenatal vitamin is one of them. The question is, when should you switch over from your regular daily multi? Earlier than you might think. 

Let’s start with the basics.

Why Take A Prenatal?

Just as standard multivitamins help many of us fill nutritional gaps in our diets, prenatal vitamins help mothers-to-be ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need to fuel their bodies and support the growth and development of their bump.

Pregnant women have higher needs for a number of nutrients, most notably folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, says Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe and Only Me. 

  • Folate: helps prevent brain and spinal birth defects and supports growth and development of the fetus and placenta
  • Calcium and vitamin D: help build strong bones and teeth. (D also promotes healthy skin and eyesight.)
  • Iron: helps red blood cells deliver precious oxygen and nutrients to that growing bump—and ensures mama has the fuel she needs
  • Omega-3s: essential for brain development

Related: How Pregnancy Changed My Relationship With Fitness

Though not all prenatals pack additional amounts of all of these nutrients (multis don’t typically contain omega-3s), most prenatal vitamins provide more folate and iron than your standard multivitamin. 

“How much more depends on the prenatal, but folate levels typically jump to approximately 800 micrograms while iron levels jump up to more than 18 milligrams,” says Michels. Your average women’s contains around half as much of these two must-haves.  

Some prenatals might also include stomach-soothing nutrients, like ginger, Michels adds. (New Chapter’s Organic Perfect Prenatal Multivitamin offers this extra benefit.)

The Best Time To Start Taking A Prenatal

With their baby’s growth and development in mind, most women start taking a prenatal vitamin after they find out they’re pregnant, says Michels. However, that might not be the best time to start loading up on a prenatal’s much-needed nutrients.

“Ideally, women should start taking prenatal vitamins prior to conception,” says Michels. “It’s important for a woman to consider starting a prenatal prior to getting pregnant to ensure they have adequate nutrient levels at the time of conception.” After all, vital fetal development occurs immediately—often before women even realize that they’re pregnant. (Neural tube development, for example, begins in the first month of pregnancy.)

From there, Michels recommends continuing with prenatals throughout your entire pregnancy. 

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“Your health-care provider might also recommend you continue to take prenatal vitamins after your baby is born—especially if you’re breast-feeding,” says dietitian and personal trainer Jenna Appel, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.P.T. In this case, your little one still depends solely on you for the nutrients they need. 

What To Look For In A Quality Prenatal

In some cases (like if you’re carrying twins or triplets), your doctor may recommend a prescription prenatal, says Appel.

Otherwise, you can pick up a prenatal vitamin from a trustworthy retailer like The Vitamin Shoppe. Michels recommends looking for a product that uses non-GMO and organic ingredients. Watch out for preservatives, chemicals, and artificial colors or sweeteners, too.

Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe, recommends looking for the following amounts of key nutrients:

  • 600 to 800 micrograms of folate
  • 18 to 27 milligrams of iron
  • 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3

As a bonus, consider taking a prenatal that also contains:

  • 150 to 220 micrograms of iodine (crucial for brain, nervous system, and thyroid development)
  • At least 2 milligrams of vitamin B6 (higher intake may help ease morning sickness)

On top of these key nutrients, your prenatal should also contain the usual vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, copper, and zinc, Michels says. 

A couple of good options: Garden of Life mykind Organics Whole Food Once Daily Prenatal and Solaray Food-Based Once Daily Prenatal. 

To really cover your bases, you can also talk to your doctor or a dietitian about incorporating additional calcium, magnesium, and omega-3 (especially DHA) supplements, as well.

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