What are prenatal vitamins and when should you be taking them?

We’ve all heard of prenatal vitamins, but what exactly do they do? And when should you be taking them? Let’s cover everything you need to know before you start taking the infamous supplements.


 What are they?


Prenatal vitamins are supplements to your diet that are intended to provide the vitamins and minerals you need prior to and during pregnancy (1). In an ideal prenatal vitamin, you will want to look for folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C in the highest quantities. Other vitamins and minerals that are great to have in your supplement are thiamin, riboflavin, and B12 vitamins (2).


There are wide benefits to these vitamins and minerals for everyone, but there are specific reasons why you should make sure to have them when you are looking to have a child. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects, which is very important to think of early on in the pregnancy. In fact, many neural tube defects occur even before a woman knows she could be pregnant, which is why some doctors recommend prenatal vitamins for anyone who has the ability to get pregnant, rather than just those who are actively trying to become pregnant. 


When should you be taking prenatal vitamins?


As mentioned, some doctors may recommend you take prenatal vitamins at all times if you have the ability to become pregnant. This way, you won’t risk the health of an unplanned pregnancy. However, if you are confident in your birth control method and only wish to take prenatal vitamins when you are attempting to become pregnant, this is not necessary. Rather than taking the prenatal vitamins at all times, you can aim to start taking prenatal vitamins at least a month before you think you will become pregnant. This is to ensure that your baby is getting the nutrients he or she needs before you show any signs of pregnancy, such as a missed period (which may take a month to notice!).


Then, you’ll want to continue taking prenatal vitamins for at least the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy (3). This will help your baby develop during one of the most critical and formative points of your pregnancy. While some doctors may say you can stop taking prenatal vitamins at this point, it is crucial that you speak to your own doctor to find out what is right for you and your baby. Your medical history may help advise your doctor as to what prenatal vitamins you should be taking and for how long, as well as if you should switch your supplements at any point.



Having a baby is a very delicate thing, so it is important that you plan ahead (when it’s possible). Even if you aren’t planning to have a baby anytime soon, you may want to discuss prenatal vitamins with your doctor at your next yearly checkup. Whether or not you have to use the knowledge at any point soon, your doctor can fill your toolkit with what you need in the case of an unplanned pregnancy.

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