One of the first questions your OB-GYN will ask you during your initial prenatal appointment is if you're taking your vitamins or not. Chances are, they will also hand you a fist full of samples for their favorite brand, plus coupons and myriad other supplements like vitamin D and DHA. With the exception of gummy versus capsule, there's not a lot of difference between all those vitamins. Do you even need a prenatal, or can you keep your regular routine supplements? Are they the same? Can you take a multivitamin instead of a prenatal?
According to recent research, there is some debate over the need for a prenatal complex vitamin or simple folate and vitamin D. While it is ideal to get the vitamins and nutrients you need by your diet, Mayo Clinic pointed out that we as humans simply aren't that reliable when it comes to feeding ourselves. The idea behind taking a prenatal is to ensure that your developing fetus gets all of the nutrition it requires irrespective of the maternal diet. The prenatal formula is designed with the specific needs of a gestating mother in mind, bumping up the folate, vitamin D, DHA, and iron, according to The Mayo Clinic. They appear in far different levels than they do in your basic multivitamin, making them indispensable.
Most prenatal vitamins now feature extra vitamin D, calcium, and DHA, all the nutrients the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) notes are critical for the formation of a healthy baby. Multivitamins vary widely and some are highly specialized. There are multivitamins for women who lift weights, multivitamins for people with bad hair, I've even seen formulas for women who have cats. There's one out there for everyone.
My point is that while it may seem like no big deal to just continue along with the vitamins you have been taking, it's not the best idea. Some of these vitamins have ingredients like ginseng or other herbs which may be contraindicated for pregnancy, reported Healthline. Thankfully, while multivitamins used to be the cheaper option, complex prenatal vitamins are now about the same price as many multivitamin formulas. For example, the prenatal I've taken forever, is about $5.50/month. Price wise, that's pretty comparable to basic multivitamin formulas from Amazon or Target. It has extra vitamin D and added DHA. It also doesn't make you have the raging fish burps, so bonus. (Raging fish burps are a real thing, and if you've never experienced them after taking a fish oil supplement, I don't suggest trying them out purely for the experience. Your imagination is all you need.)
The benefits of solid nutrition during pregnancy are not to be overlooked, according to ACOG. Folate is key to preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida and microcephaly and vitamin D helps form baby's bones while decreasing your risk for developing preeclampsia, noted BJOG. DHA, the essential fatty acid found in fish, flax, and walnuts is a crucial building block of your baby's brain, too. There's a reason it's called "the smart nutrient." As for iron, it keeps you running while you're baking an entirely new human, according to the ACOG article.
Multivitamins, while they may seem like a great idea, simply aren't designed with your baby's developing brain in mind. They're not looking at your increased blood volume or energy for a pregnant woman. They're formulated for your average, everyday human, not a superhuman baby making factory that requires special nutrition. However, there is evidence that you shouldn't be taking your prenatal indefinitely, so once you're done with pregnancy and breastfeeding, and you're no longer trying to conceive, it's OK to get back on your daily multivitamin and leave the specialty pills for pregnancy.
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