Woman taking prenatal vitamins in the mirror.

When you start to think about trying for a baby (or perhaps you’re early in your pregnancy), one of the first things you should do is to start taking a prenatal vitamin. It’s an important and easy step to take for your own health, the health of your pregnancy, as well as the health of your future little one. Here’s everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.

Why Are Prenatal Vitamins Important?

Prenatal vitamins contain all of the recommended daily vitamins and minerals a mama-to-be’s body needs before and during pregnancy—which helps in turn to ensure your growing baby also gets what they need. In fact, some of the vitamins and minerals found in a prenatal vitamin can even help lessen the chance of birth defects.

For some women, taking a prenatal vitamin before getting pregnant can even help reduce the dreaded nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness…a great reason to take a prenatal vitamin in and of itself!

How Is a Prenatal Vitamin Different From a Normal Multivitamin?

Prenatal vitamins are made specifically for pregnant ladies, and specifically contain the recommended levels of folic acid and iron to support you and your pregnancy.

You should take a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid (also known as folate) every day, as folic acid helps prevent major birth defects of the fetus’ brain and spine (called neural tube defects). Pregnant mamas actually need 600 micrograms of folic acid each day—but because it’s hard to get this much from diet alone, your prenatal vitamin should have at least 400 micrograms (and up to 800 micrograms).

Your body will also need to make extra blood to support the development of your placenta and baby during pregnancy. Women who aren’t pregnant need 18 milligrams of iron each day—while pregnant women need 27 milligrams per day. This increased amount is usually found in most prenatal vitamins (make sure you check your labels!).

Some prenatal vitamins also contain fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (commonly referred to as DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These “good fats” help with baby’s development—with DHA specifically accumulating in the brain and eyes of the baby, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Other vitamins and minerals that are important during pregnancy include: calcium, vitamin D, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and vitamin C. While a prenatal vitamin is important for delivering a bulk of your daily vitamins and minerals, it’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet on top of it to make sure you’re getting all of the good stuff to help your body grow your baby.

When Should I Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?

When you decide to try to conceive, it’s a good idea to begin taking a daily prenatal vitamin right away. Ideally you should start prenatal vitamins at least one month before pregnancy—and CERTAINLY during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when baby’s development is at its most critical point.

Many providers recommend that mamas should continue taking prenatal vitamins the entire way through their pregnancy—and if you’re breastfeeding, throughout the length of time you breastfeed or pump for your baby. Long story short—in most cases if mama is getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals in her diet, her growing baby (whether during pregnancy or breastfeeding) will too!

You should take some time to discuss prenatal vitamins with your provider before getting pregnant to ensure you’re getting what you need for a health pregnancy and baby. Based on your health history, diet or bloodwork, your provider might recommend additional vitamins or minerals to supplement your prenatal vitamin.