health-pulse-prenatal-vitamins-banner health-pulse-prenatal-vitamins-banner
Preventive Care
Women's Health

Prenatal Vitamins for a Healthy Pregnancy

05 June 2024 · 5 mins read


Prenatal vitamins are an essential part of a healthy pregnancy. Learn about the benefits and when to start taking them for a healthy pregnancy journey.

Prenatal vitamins play a pivotal role in ensuring the health and well-being of both mother and baby during pregnancy. As you embark on this beautiful journey of motherhood, understanding the significance of these vitamins is crucial. 

Hence, the importance of a proper diet with all the essential nutrients should not be ignored. An expectant mother needs adequate vitamins and minerals to stay healthy herself and for the growing baby in her womb. 

Thus, prenatal vitamins are a good way to ensure that the expecting mother receives all the nutrients required for a successful and healthy birth.

What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are dietary supplements designed for pregnant women to fill in nutritional deficiencies, if any. 

Women are advised to take them both before and during pregnancy. Ensuring proper vitamin levels during pregnancy can contribute to a lower likelihood of complication and promote better health for both the newborn and the mother. 

Vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, and folic acid are among the daily requirements for pregnant women. These are essential for normal foetal development, growth, and healthy adult living.

Research shows that taking the right prenatal vitamins can reduce a wide range of pregnancy complications including anaemia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, and pre-eclampsia. Additionally, it can also reduce the risk of infant health problems such as anaemia, asthma, intellectual disability, low birth weight, neural tube defects, etc.

How Are Prenatal Vitamins Different from Regular Multivitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are created especially for expectant mothers. For example, they provide the appropriate levels of folic acid and iron to help the mother and child. The quantity of folic acid and iron in prenatal vitamins is what distinguishes them from conventional multivitamins.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body will also need to produce more blood to support the development of her placenta and baby. Pregnant women require 27 milligrams of iron daily. Most prenatal vitamins typically contain this increased amount. The labels allow you to verify the quantity.

Besides this, some prenatal supplements contain fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These fatty acids contribute to the baby’s growth, with DHA particularly building up in the baby’s brain and eyes during the third trimester of pregnancy.

These prenatal vitamins contain various kinds and quantities of vitamins, minerals, and other additions, like omega-3 fatty acids. 

However, the amount of folic acid and iron make up the majority of the differences between a prenatal vitamin and a multivitamin. While a prenatal vitamin is important for providing most of a woman’s daily vitamins and minerals, it is also critical to eat a well-balanced diet on top of it.

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins?

Because prenatal vitamins are meant for expecting mothers, they provide a host of benefits for both mother and developing baby, including the following:

  • Foetal development: Prenatal vitamins like folic acid help to support the early development of the baby’s neural tube which later develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
  • Prevents anaemia: Iron and some other prenatal vitamins help prevent anaemia in pregnant women.
  • Boosts bone health: Prenatal vitamins with Vitamin D contain calcium, which promotes the growth of your baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles, and nerves.
  • Reduce pregnancy complications: Prenatal vitamins support healthy pregnancy growth and aid in the baby’s proper development. Regular vitamin intake can help prevent birth abnormalities, low birth weight, and some premature births.
  • Support immune system: Vitamins A and C, iron, and zinc support healthy immune systems in women.

What Are the Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Pregnancy?

The following are some of the essential prenatal vitamins to consider if you are pregnant.

  • Folic acid: Assists in preventing neural tube anomalies that may cause severe abnormalities of foetal brain and spinal cord. It is recommended to start taking extra folic acid at least three months before becoming pregnant.
  • Iron: Helps the body create blood and the baby’s red blood cells. These blood cells carry oxygen to the baby that it needs to develop. Iron also prevents anaemia. 
  • Vitamin A: Important for baby’s immunity and visual development.
  • Vitamin B6: Important for the baby’s brain and neurological system development, and aids in the baby’s digestion of protein and carbohydrates.
  • Vitamin C: Shields and aids in the health maintenance of cells. It also aids women and their developing babies in producing collagen for their tendons, bones, and skin. 
  • Vitamin D: Controls the body’s calcium and phosphate levels, which are essential to maintain healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. 
  • DHA: An Omega-3 fatty acid that is important for a baby’s development and growth. DHA supplementation can also lower the risk of preterm birth.
  • Iodine: Essential for a pregnant woman’s thyroid to work healthily. 
  • Calcium: Helps women avoid losing bone density as their baby needs calcium for bone formation.

Why Is Folic Acid Important During Pregnancy?

Prenatal folic acid intake can boost the synthesis of red blood cells and reduce the risk of birth abnormalities of the spine (spina bifida) and the brain (anencephaly).

Folic acid aids in the formation of the neural tube, which in turn helps form the baby’s brain and spine. Adequate folic acid is essential for the healthy growth and functioning of the cells within this structure. Sufficient levels contribute to proper neural tube closure, which in turn positively affects the spine, skull, and brain, preventing any potential abnormalities.

Pregnant women require 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before they are pregnant and for the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. Unless a doctor advises a higher dosage due to specific health considerations, exceeding 400 mcg of folic acid per day may not necessarily provide added benefits in preventing neural tube abnormalities.

The daily folic acid recommendation for pregnancy is as follows:

  • Attempting to conceive: 400 mcg
  • First three months of pregnancy: 400 mcg
  • While breastfeeding: 500 mcg
  • Four to nine months of pregnancy: 600 mcg

When Should You Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?

The ideal time to begin prenatal vitamins is prior to conception. The CDC advises women to begin taking folic acid daily in order to prevent birth abnormalities at least a month prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy while pregnant.

Birth defects like congenital heart conditions, a cleft lip, etc., happen within the first 3 months of pregnancy. So, during those early phases when a baby’s brain and spinal cord are forming, it is crucial to have folate in the system.

Before becoming pregnant, it is advisable for women to spend some time with their obstetrician about prenatal vitamins to make sure they are obtaining the nutrients they require for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Do Prenatal Vitamins Have Side Effects?

Prenatal vitamins can have mild side effects, but the benefits far outweigh them. For instance, if a pregnant woman already has morning sickness, some prenatal vitamins can make her feel more nauseous. 

A healthcare professional might be able to recommend alternatives such as chewable (gummies), liquid or powder forms of prenatal vitamins.

Constipation can also be a result of the high iron content of prenatal vitamins. To alleviate constipation, try these prevention methods:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Increase fibre intake by eating more fruits and vegetables.
  • Engage in physical activity on a daily basis.
  • Consult a doctor about using a stool softener.

Schedule an Appointment at Pantai Hospitals

If you have just conceived or are planning to get pregnant in the future, it is best to speak to your doctor about prenatal vitamins.

At Pantai Hospitals, we offer comprehensive medical advice and delivery packages. Contact us to schedule an appointment with our team of O&G specialists today or learn more about our Obstetrics and Gynaecology Services at your nearest Pantai Hospital.

Pantai Hospitals have earned accreditation from the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for their dedication to patient safety and service quality.

This article has been medically reviewed by Obstetrics & Gynaecology (O&G) specialist, Dr Leow Chin Her.

Suggested Articles

Click to know more!