"Take your prenatal vitamins." You hear it at the mere suggestion of wanting to have a baby, the moment you announce your pregnancy, throughout the whole baby-growing-in-the-womb stage, and even during postpartum recovery. But what is the big deal? What do prenatal vitamins do, and if everyone's so set on you swallowing these horse pills day after day, when is the best time to take your prenatal vitamins? Experts say they’re necessary and the benefits outweigh your whining.
"There isn’t a pregnancy website, book, or doctor that doesn’t tell you to take your prenatal vitamins," Dr. Allison Hill, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way, tells Romper in an email interview. "It seems to be the one topic that everyone can agree on."
The reason for that, Hill explains, is a body of research that dates back to the 1970s when doctors discovered the relationship between low folic acid levels — found in 15 percent of women — and birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft lip.
Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, OB-GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, agrees, adding that a prenatal or multivitamin should include at least 400 micrograms to one milligram of folic acid. "A reputable prenatal vitamin will ensure you are getting adequate amounts of all the important vitamins to take during pregnancy," she tells Romper.
So what exactly is in the highly praised supplements? In addition to folic acid, Hill says they most often include some combination of calcium (approximately 250 milligrams), choline (approximately 450 milligrams), DHA (approximately 200 milligrams), iodine (approximately 250 micrograms), iron (20 to 40 milligrams), and vitamin D (approximately 600 international units). You will also notice zinc, copper, vitamin E, vitamin C, and vitamin A on the label.
Andrea Short, a maternity nutrition and wellness specialist, says DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, is another prenatal component that is important to pay attention to because of its benefits for healthy brain development.
"Even if you're consuming large amounts of foods that contain Omega 3s, it's probably not enough to create the DHA that is needed for pregnancy," Short says in an email interview with Romper. "This is why taking a prenatal vitamin that contains DHA is imperative, or taking a separate fish oil supplement if your prenatal is lacking."
Short also stresses that while a well-balanced diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats is crucial to a healthy pregnancy, morning sickness and busy days that don’t always go as planned in the food department mean a prenatal vitamin can fill in when certain vitamins and minerals are lacking. "It is by no means supposed to take place of healthy eating, but it fills in the gaps, supplementing what is missing," Short says.
So when's the best time to take that prenatal? According to the Mayo Clinic, you should really take it with a snack or before you go to bed at night, as it can make you queasy on an empty stomach. It's necessary though, so if you remember the vitamin better in the morning, take it with your breakfast.
Ross points out that it’s also important to clear your prenatal vitamin with your healthcare provider and discuss alternative brands if common side effects, such as constipation and upset stomach, appear.
As for stomaching them? You've got this.