What Are Prenatal Vitamins? Your Complete Guide

Peifen Chou RD

Medical reviewed by Peifen Chou, RD

Obstetrics and gynecology, lactation instructor, integrative medicine, aromatherapist, holistic nutritional consulting, functional medicine, and pet nutrition.

A diet having all the nutrients is essential for everyone. But, having a complete dose of nutrients during pregnancy is even more important. Your body needs essential vitamins to support the baby’s development. Also, they help you carry out a healthy pregnancy.

So, ensuring your vitamins and nutrients through diet and supplements is important. To know, here is a complete guide to prenatal vitamins.

What are prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are supplements that contain a dose of vitamins and minerals you need to carry out a healthy pregnancy (1). Generally, your healthcare provider may suggest them at the time you are planning pregnancy and during pregnancy. 

These supplements have specific minerals and vitamins essential to support healthy pregnancy (2, 3)—for example, folic acid, iron, calcium, etc. 

Why prenatal vitamins are important?

Proper nutrition is vital for expecting mothers and growing babies (4, 5). This is because it helps to develop all the organs and systems of the fetus. 

A good diet with a dose of supplements can help you in many ways:

  • Folic acid helps to avoid neural tube defects in babies (3).
  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements are essential for the healthy development of a baby’s bones (6, 7).
  • Some supplements also have fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (commonly referred to as DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), which help in the overall development of the baby (8, 9).

Also, you need 27 milligrams of iron daily during pregnancy compared to normal women who need 18 milligrams daily (10). Usually, to fulfill this need, you require supplements.

What is the best prenatal vitamin?

The best prenatal vitamin for you will be the one that fulfills all your daily nutrient requirements. However, you must contact your doctor before starting these. For example, the dose and type of medication depend on your pregnancy, age, diseases, or other factors. 

For example, you can discuss food allergies. Therefore, you must consult your doctor. In general, these vitamins with folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamins A, B, and C are best (11).

Also, your doctor may advise 4 milligrams (4,000 micrograms) of folic acid to avoid the baby’s neural tube defects (12). 

What to look for in vitamins

Here are some vitamins and minerals you should look for:

Folic acid or folate

Folic acid or folate is important to avoid birth defects in babies. Also, it avoids problems associated with the baby’s brain development (13). Therefore, the doctor recommends taking folic acid if you plan to have a baby. It is also important in the first trimester as there is foundational development of the brain and spinal cord (3). 

Having 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily is important for pregnant women (14, 15). It can also be sourced from green leafy vegetables and some kinds of nuts, etc (16).


Iron is important for the formation of Red Blood Cells. The RBCs carry oxygen to the baby, which is crucial for overall healthy development (17). A pregnant lady must have 27 grams of iron daily for the baby’s healthy development (11). It is also found in leafy greens, nuts, lean meat, poultry, and seafood (18). Also, remember to include vitamin C-rich food like citrus fruits with plant-based iron (19).


Calcium is another important mineral that aids in bone growth. It helps the body to draw calcium to form bones and teeth (20, 21, 6). Therefore, for healthy development, it is important to consume calcium-rich foods and supplements. You can also get it from spinach, milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, etc (21).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential as it helps the body to absorb calcium (22). So, it is important for a baby’s overall development, including bone, teeth, immune function, etc (23). Especially during pregnancy, you may need at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day (24). You can also source it from salmon, fatty fish, etc. (24).


Iodine is essential as it helps to form thyroid hormones, which are necessary for growth. Sufficient levels of thyroid hormone in the mother ensure healthy development of the fetus’s brain and nervous system (25). 

The daily need for iodine for pregnant women is 250 micrograms(µg) (26). Some good sources of iodine are seaweed, cod, yogurt, and iodized salt (27).


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a kind of fat known as omega-3 fatty acid, which helps in a baby’s growth and development. DHA supplement especially aids a baby’s brain and eye development (28). Some good sources of DHA are salmon, trout, anchovy, halibut, catfish, shrimp, and oyster (29). Also, avoid eating fish that are high in mercury or reduce the serving because it can be harmful to the baby (30).

What else in prenatal vitamins

Other important supplements could include choline, Vitamin E, A, B, C, K, etc., and other important minerals and vitamins, depending on different health issues. You can have them after the consultation with your doctor.

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

It would be best if you started taking a prenatal vitamin before trying for conception. If you had a pregnancy earlier with birth disabilities, discussing it with your doctor is important. They may suggest folic acid before conception. 

What prenatal vitamins to take to get pregnant?

Currently, there is no evidence that a prenatal vitamin can help you get pregnant. The approach is to have a healthy diet having all the nutrients. Having plant-based food and complex carbohydrates, good fats, protein, minerals, and vitamins has a beneficial effect on female fertility (31). Meanwhile, consuming less saturated fats and high-sugar foods for both men and women is recommended (32). 

You can consult your doctor about the supplements if you want a baby. Also, they may recommend the supplements you are on the lower side of in your tests. 

Do prenatal vitamins have side effects?

Yes, there can be some side effects of prenatal vitamins. But, it can be managed with substitutes and after a discussion with your doctor. Some of the common side effects are:

  • Many women have morning sickness and nausea in the first trimester (33). It may increase when you have a prenatal vitamin. You can take your vitamin later in the day or opt for other substitutes you can tolerate. 
  • If you take iron supplements, you may experience stomach issues (34). Consult with your doctor and dietitian if you experience any discomfort. Take self-help measures first by having a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of water, and ensuring a balanced diet with key nutrients. 
  • Vitamin A can cause toxicity and congenital malformations in the fetus (35). Then, you must discuss your daily requirements with the doctor.

Also, It’s important to specify your diet and then plan the vitamins. Discuss your allergies and other symptoms to have these supplements safely. Moreover, having a healthy diet and staying active will help you greatly. 

When should I stop taking prenatal vitamins?

You can take them during the entire pregnancy (36). But, after giving birth, back the dose to the requirement of normal women. Also, discuss it with your doctor for more professional advice.

Tips for taking prenatal vitamins

Here are some tips:

  • Always discuss the supplements’ minerals, nutrients, and vitamins with the doctor.
  • Take them with food to avoid nausea.
  • You can space them out for better intake.
  • Hydrate well.
  • Store them in dry and closed containers.

Foods that contain prenatal vitamins

Many foods have these important vitamins. For example, fortified cereal, lean meats, salmon, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, salmon, beans, nuts, etc. Therefore, eating a balanced diet is still fundamental to maintaining prenatal health, rather than just taking vitamins. 

Are prenatal vitamins necessary?

Yes, usually, they are necessary to support a healthy fetus’s development since people seldom have a fully nutritious diet. Lacking some important vitamins and minerals can be harmful.

Do prenatal vitamins work?

Yes, it leads to making sure to intake important vitamins. In addition, they support a healthy pregnancy and baby in many ways.

How many prenatal vitamins should I take a day?

Your doctor may suggest one serving of a daily prenatal vitamin. But, the dose depends on your unique factors. Therefore, you must discuss it with your doctor.

When is it too late to start taking prenatal vitamins?

It is never too late to start taking a supplement. However, if you have missed them, discuss them with your doctor. A good strategy can help you have the maximum advantages of these supplements. 

Should I take 2 prenatal vitamins with twins?

You should take the same amount as required for any pregnant woman. Also, discuss it with your doctor for the best advice. 


Taking prenatal vitamins may support the baby and yourself. These vitamins help maximize support to develop from the cell to the organ level of the fetus. So, discuss your requirements with the doctors. In addition, always have a good diet with all the nutrients, and stay hydrated and active. Moreover, be happy around your loved ones.

How Do You Feel About This Article?

Peifen Chou RD

Medical reviewed by Peifen Chou, RD

Obstetrics and gynecology, lactation instructor, integrative medicine, aromatherapist, holistic nutritional consulting, functional medicine, and pet nutrition.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Best 50 foods, recipes & 14-day meal plans for diabetes management

    *Note: It might take a few minutes.

    Kindly check your spam if you don't find it in your inbox.