What are prenatal vitamins and why are they important?

The joyful day you have long anticipated has arrived—you’re pregnant! And that new mama glow that everyone talks about has already kicked into full force. But the exciting news (and the glow) are immediately dulled by one thought: Am I healthy enough to be pregnant? Enter: prenatal vitamins. What are they? Do you need to take them? If thinking about prenatal vitamins feels overwhelming and complicated, we’re here to help calm your nerves and give you the basics so you can get back to that glow.

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Prenatal vitamins: supplement to a healthy diet

A healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy diet. The goal is to structure what you eat so all of your nutrients needed for a healthy growing baby come from the foods you eat. What if you don’t? If you’re concerned that your diet does not meet nutritional needs, your healthcare provider may recommend a prenatal vitamin.

Prenatal vitamins are intended for women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant. If you are planning to become pregnant, you may need to take them before you actually get pregnant, and then continue taking them throughout pregnancy.

Although prenatal vitamins are important to ensure a pregnant woman is getting the nutritional support she needs for a baby, they are intended to supplement a healthy diet, not act as a substitute for a less-than-stellar diet (here’s looking at you fast food!). In short: eat healthy foods and take prenatal vitamins to cover your nutritional bases.

What’s included in prenatal vitamins?

The ingredient list includes not only the right type of minerals and vitamins, but also the right amount. Each pregnancy is different, meaning it is important that you talk to your healthcare provider to match the supplements to your unique health needs.

It’s hard to get out of a discussion about prenatal vitamins without mentioning folic acid (or folate). There’s a reason why folic acid is on the most-discussed list of prenatal vitamins. Folic acid is a B vitamin that assists in reducing the chance of neural tube defects of the brain and spine. So, what are other vitamins and minerals that make the cut for the prenatal list? Here’s what you should see on the label:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (not all prenatals contain this one)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

More is better, right?

When it comes to soaking up all those important vitamins and minerals, more is not necessarily better when it comes to synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals that are in prenatal vitamins. Always follow the instructions noted on the label and talk with your healthcare provider about a nutritional game plan to make sure you and baby are getting the just-right vitamins and minerals and the just-right amounts of each.

When it comes to healthy baby development, start with looking at the food you eat. The more nutrients and minerals you get from your diet, the better. And then prenatal vitamins are the one-two nutritional punch you need for that healthy baby you’re growing. Always talk to your healthcare provider about your specific nutritional needs!