Prenatal Vitamins

Pregnant women are advised to take prenatal vitamins for the healthy development of the baby. Particularly, folic acid, an important prenatal vitamin, and iron prevent developmental abnormalities in the growing baby. The common questions on prenatal vitamins are answered here

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2020 11:29 GMT

Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal Vitamins

The nutritional status of an expectant mother has a direct say on the growth and development of the growing baby. Vitamins and minerals play a vital role in the development of the fetus during pregnancy and as well in the elimination of risks involved in fetal growth. In order to ensure that the pregnant mother’s nutritional requirements are adequately met, prenatal vitamin supplements are highly recommended. 

Why should I take a prenatal vitamin supplement? Isn’t the nutrition I get from food sufficient?

Even if you were to take the perfect spread of nutritionally-rich foods, you cannot be sure that you get the right amounts of essential vitamins and minerals needed for your baby. Most importantly, pregnant women need additional amounts of folic acid and iron which may not be supplied by their regular diet. Besides, pregnant women who follow dietary restrictions like vegetarians and vegans may not get an all round nutrition from their diet. Women with food allergies or intolerances like lactose intolerance carry a risk of insufficient nutrition during pregnancy. Also, women pregnant with twins need extra nutritional sources as their diet alone cannot be relied upon.

What exactly does a prenatal supplement contain?

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Most prenatal supplements contain the following:

• Folic acid, an important vitamin of the B group vitamins

• Iron, an essential component of red blood cells formation

In addition, some prenatal supplements may also include:


•Vitamin D

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•Other vitamins such as vitamin A, C and E

•Minerals like zinc, iodine and copper


How do I take prenatal vitamins?

  • Folic acid is naturally present in green leafy vegetables, beans, orange juice, peanuts, enriched bread and pasta and fortified cereals. Over and above the intake of folic acid rich food sources, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women to take prenatal vitamin supplements containing folic acid. A daily dose of 600 micrograms of folic acid from all sources, including both food and supplements, is required for a pregnant woman. 
  • Animal foods rich in a particular type of iron called the heme iron, like fish, poultry and red meat can serve sufficient amount of iron needed for a pregnant woman. Iron is also included in prenatal vitamin supplements. A daily dose of 27 mg of iron is mandatory during pregnancy. 


What are the benefits of folic acid and iron during pregnancy?

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  • Ensuring that the pregnant woman meets adequate levels of folic acid is beneficial for the following reasons:
  • Taking folic acid before conception and in the early pregnancy stages prevents neural tube defects in the growing fetus, that is, defects in the formation of brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • During pregnancy, there is a surge in the mother’s blood volume as oxygen and nutrients are carried to the fetus through the blood. As a result, her body gets busy generating blood components such as red blood cells and hemoglobin continuously throughout pregnancy. Both folic acid and iron are important for the process of red blood cells formation. A deficiency in either folic acid or iron or both can lead to anemia which increases the risks of premature birth and low birth weight in newborns.
  • Folic acid also plays a role in preventing preterm birth. Preterm birth is the delivery of a baby before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. While there can be several reasons associated with premature birth of babies, research strongly suggests that sufficient levels of folic acid intake by the expectant mother before and after conception can greatly reduce the risk of premature babies. 
  • Other roles folic acid plays in pregnancy are prevention of congenital heart disease and oral clefts. 

When should I begin to take prenatal vitamins?

Women who are planning to conceive must begin to take prenatal vitamins. By week 5 of pregnancy, the development of neural tube is completed. That means, even before you realize you are pregnant, the most important role of folic acid in pregnancy is already played. That is why taking folic acid when you are planning for conception is imperative.

It is best to consult your doctor to decide on the right amount and brand of a prenatal supplement which will best suit you. If you are visiting a doctor for the first time after conception, you must inform the doctor if you are already on a dietary supplement. Unnecessary high doses of folic acid and iron can lead to adverse effects. 

• Prakesh S. Shah, Arne Ohlsson. Effects of prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcomes: a meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2009 Jun 9; 180(12): E99–E108. 
• James A Greenberg, Stacey J Bell, Yong Guan, Yan-hong Yu. Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Summer; 4(2): 52–59. 
• Salim Al-Gailani. Making birth defects ‘preventable’: Pre-conceptional vitamin supplements and the politics of risk reduction. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2014 Sep; 47: 278–289.  
• ACOG. Nutrition during Pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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