Confused about which prenatal vitamins you should take during your pregnancy? Here’s everything you need to know…
When you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant, the list of things that you need to do (and need to avoid) to make sure your pregnancy is the healthiest it can be, can feel a little overwhelming. Navigating a new pregnancy is tough!
The to-do list can seem endless. But one of the most important things to consider right from the start, is which vitamins you need to ensure you and your baby get off the healthiest of starts.
Why do I need to take prenatal vitamins?
When it comes to getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals during your pregnancy, the best advice is to ensure you maintain a healthy, balance diet. Good nutrition in pregnancy is vital for the healthy growth and development of your baby. So, you need to consume enough nutrients to meet your baby's needs, as well as your own.
But despite eating the right foods, during pregnancy most women often find they fall short on some of these key nutrients — most commonly these are iron, folate (folic acid), iodine and calcium.
What nutrients do I need during my pregnancy?
If you're pregnant or trying to conceive, you need more of some nutrients, including protein, folate, iodine, iron and calcium. You can top up these nutrients by taking additional supplements, in the form of prenatal vitamins.
folate (called 'folic acid' when in supplement form) helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. These defects are serious abnormalities of the fetal brain and spinal cord. Ideally, you'll begin taking extra folic acid at least 3 months before you become pregnant.
iodine is needed for brain and nervous system development.
iron helps prevent anaemia in the mother, as well as premature birth and low birth weight in the baby.
vitamin B12 and vitamin D are also particularly important since they support the development of the baby's nervous system (B12) and skeleton (D). Adequate vitamin C intake also helps improve the adsorption of iron from your diet.
- calcium is also important for pregnant women. It can help prevent you from losing your bone density as the baby uses calcium for its own bone growth.
Which are the best prenatal vitamins?
You can purchase prenatal vitamins over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy. Your health care provider might recommend a specific brand or leave the choice up to you.
Beyond checking for folic acid and iron, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains calcium and vitamin D. These help with the development of your baby's teeth and bones. It also might be beneficial to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and iodine.
The amounts of nutrients needed may vary depending on your personal circumstances. For example, if you've given birth to a baby who has a neural tube defect, your health care provider might recommend a separate supplement containing a higher dose of folic acid — such as 4 milligrams (4,000 micrograms) — before and during any subsequent pregnancies.
You should also only take the recommended dosage advised by your health practitioner. Avoid taking any extra prenatal vitamins or multivitamins in excess of what you need. High doses of certain vitamins (like vitamin A) can be harmful to your baby, so speak to your doctor beforehand to find out which vitamins you need to take.
What dosage should I take?
FOLATE: 400 – 500 micrograms daily for most women, starting at least one month (ideally 3 months) before pregnancy. This is the most important supplement for all pregnant women, as taking folic acid supplements can prevent birth defects.
IODINE: 150 micrograms daily for all women. Start as soon you know you are pregnant and continue throughout breastfeeding (you can start before you get pregnant if you wish).
CALCIUM: Along with a calcium rich diet, it’s advised for pregnant women to get at least 1000 mg calcium daily to strengthen bones, as the baby uses a lot of calcium for its own bone growth. The average consumption through diet is around 300 mg, although of course this varies from person to person. If you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium, you can take a calcium supplement to bring your levels up to the recommended 1000 mg per day.
IRON: If you’re pregnant, you’re more at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia — a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. Your doctor will carry out a blood test to check your blood levels, and if they are low, will recommend an iron supplement.
Which prenatal vitamin brands should I use?
Here are our pharmacist Dan’s recommendations below, with the amounts of ingredients in each for comparison between the different brands.
- Swisse Ultinatal Pre-Conception & Pregnancy Multivitamin
Elevit Pregnancy Multivitamin 100 Tablets
Blackmores Pregnancy Gold 60 Capsules
Fefol Multi-Pregnacy 60 Capsules
Loved our guide to prenatal vitamins? We've got plenty more women's health advice on our Health & Wellness Edit, guaranteed to give your body a well-deserved boost. Considering switching to a menstrual cup? Here are 11 questions about menstrual cups you're too scared to ask, plus, if you have any burning vagina questions, we've got you covered.