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What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

What Are Prenatal Vitamins?

Check out our guide to prenatal vitamins and the nutrients both you and your baby need to thrive and grow.

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are pretty amazing. Their job is to provide essential nutrients you need during pregnancy that you can’t always get from diet alone. They also support your baby's development, both before and after they're born. Plus, prenatal vitamins are not just for expectant mommies; women who are thinking about having a baby, are trying for a baby, or are breastfeeding should be taking them, too.

Recommended vitamins and minerals during pregnancy

What nutrients do you need and how much? Together with a healthy diet, prenatal vitamins may help you obtain the American Pregnancy Association’s recommended daily allowances of the following vitamins and nutrients:1

  • Folic Acid/Folate (400-800 mcg)
  • Vitamin D (5 mcg/600 IU)
  • Vitamin E (15 mg)
  • Vitamin C (80-85 mg)
  • Thiamin/B1 (1.4 mg)
  • Riboflavin/B2 (1.4 mg)
  • Niacin/B3 (18 mg)
  • Calcium (1,000-1,300 mg)
  • Iron (27 mg)
  • Zinc (11-13 mg)

What to look for in prenatal vitamins

A well-balanced diet composed of carbs, proteins, minerals, fruits, veggies, fats, and vitamins can provide many nutrients you’ll need to support a healthy pregnancy and your baby’s growth and development. But with quite a few extra nutritional demands that come with creating a new human, even the best diet can fall a little short. That’s where prenatal supplements come in. They provide important vitamins and nutrients you and your baby need, along with a healthy dose of peace of mind.

But with so many prenatal vitamin brands to choose from—along with their varying claims, nutrients, and ingredients—it can be confusing trying to figure out what nutrients you need most. That’s why we did the research for you, so you know what to look for in prenatal vitamins.

Folate, Calcium, Iron, Iodine

Folate for fetal development

Folate is a B vitamin and an absolute must for expectant mamas. Think of it as a nutrient—nourishing your baby’s developing nervous system and protecting them against certain birth defects, including spinal cord and brain abnormalities. While incorporating folate-rich foods into your diet is important, taking a prenatal vitamin can help fill any nutritional gaps.

Foods that have folate include:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Consider this: Some women can’t fully absorb folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) found in most prenatal supplements. Enfamom™ Essential Prenatal Multivitamin has the active form of folate that women can fully absorb—ensuring mom and baby get this vital nutrient they both need.

Calcium for bone health

Calcium is just as important to look for in a prenatal supplement. That’s because it’s critical for the development of your baby’s precious little bones. Yummy foods like yogurt and cheese are sources of calcium, but a prenatal vitamin with calcium helps ensure that you and your baby get the levels you need, which can be even more challenging if you’re lactose intolerant or just aren’t fond of dairy.

Consider this: Your body can't make calcium, so you need to get it from food or supplements. While you're pregnant, try to get at least 1,000 mg of calcium every day.

Iron for red blood cells

Iron supports your body’s red blood cell production—those cells that carry oxygen throughout your body and to your baby. Since your blood volume increases during pregnancy by 30-50%,2 your iron requirements increase, too. Iron supports placenta and fetus development and reduces the risk of anemia.

Consider this: Severe anemia can increase your risk of having a premature or low birth weight baby. Loading up on more iron-rich foods like dark meat, fortified cereals, and spinach and taking a daily prenatal vitamin with iron may help you avoid becoming anemic.

Iodine for you and your baby’s thyroid

Iodine helps support you and your baby’s thyroid hormones, which play a role in your little one’s brain and nervous system development.

Consider this: The body doesn’t make iodine, so it can only be obtained through diet. The most common source is iodine-fortified salt and supplements, including prenatal vitamins.3

What about other nutrients?

Other nutrients may impact the health and wellbeing of you and your developing baby as well.

Omega-3 DHA for brain health

It’s a no-brainer why omega-3 DHA gets a lot of buzz in the baby community. That’s because it’s a fatty acid that aids in your baby’s brain health and cognitive function. Since this nutrient is found in foods like trout and sardines, it can be a little tougher to get the right amount from diet alone. Prenatal supplements with omega-3 DHA can play an important role in supporting brain health for your future Einstein.

Consider this: Typically, obtaining the amount of omega-3 DHA recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women requires taking multiple pills or a prescription. Enfamom has expert-recommended omega-3 DHA in just one easy-to-take soft gel.

Choline for brain and spinal cord development

Choline plays a role in your baby’s cognitive development. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recognized choline as a “brain-building” nutrient.4

Consider this: Sources of choline include eggs, chicken, fish, and pork.5

When to start taking prenatal vitamins

The optimal time to begin taking prenatal vitamins is when you start trying to conceive. It can be especially important to take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. One study has shown that women who took 400 micrograms of folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy were able to reduce their baby’s risk of being born with a severe brain or spinal birth defect by up to 70%.6

Side effects of prenatal vitamins when pregnant

Prenatal vitamins offer many benefits, but as with many supplements, you may experience some side effects, such as nausea. Speak with your doctor if you’re having digestive issues. They may suggest switching to chewable or liquid vitamins, which may be better for your more sensitive pregnant belly.

Prenatal vitamins with iron can be associated with constipation. Some ways to help combat constipation include:

  • Keeping hydrated and drinking plenty of water
  • Eating a fiber-rich diet
  • Taking a stool softener, but get a green light from your doctor first
  • Stay on the move and exercise with your doctor’s OK

Now that you know what prenatal vitamins are and what nutrients to look for, talk with your doctor about a prenatal multivitamin that’s best for you and your baby.


1 Pregnancy Vitamins and Nutrients

2 How to Treat Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy

3 How to Treat Iron Deficiency Naturally

4 Early Childhood Nutrition

5 Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies

6 AMA backs global health experts in calling infertility a disease

All information on Enfamil, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment, care, or help because of information you have read on Enfamil.