Family Planning: Prenatal Care and Prenatal Vitamins
Overview
Prenatal care is essential to your health and, more importantly, to the health of your unborn baby. Good prenatal care includes establishing good nutritional and health habits before and during pregnancy as well as having routine prenatal exams performed by your doctor. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, babies born to mothers who do not get prenatal care are 3 times more likely to be born with a low birth weight. This agency also states that before becoming pregnant, women can take several important steps, such as:
  • Taking at least 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily at least 3 months before conception in order to decrease the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, discussing with your doctor your plan to become pregnant
  • Stopping use of alcohol and tobacco
  • Avoiding contact with toxic or harmful chemicals and materials
  • Discussing your current medication profile with your doctor to determine whether any medications or herbal supplements should be discontinued to prevent adverse effects
  • Making sure your vaccinations are up-to-date
The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the ideal way to get the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. However, if you are planning to become pregnant, or are already pregnant or breast-feeding, higher amounts of certain nutrients are essential for the health of both mother and baby.

Prenatal vitamins provide nutrients that are vital for proper fetal development. Prenatal vitamins are an important part of pregnancy nutrition and should be used in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet.

Your pharmacist can help you choose a prenatal vitamin to help you get all the essential nutrients that you and your baby need during this important time in your life. Prenatal vitamins are available in many formulations, including pills, capsules, chewable tablets, and liquids. Your primary health care provider will probably suggest a specific brand of prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins are available as prescription and nonprescription products. Your pharmacist can discuss OTC products, drug–drug interactions, and side effects.

Prenatal vitamins typically contain key nutrients such as folic acid (folate), calcium, iron, and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). Vitamins found in prenatal supplements include vitamins C, D, and E, and other B vitamins. Many prenatal vitamins are also formulated with omega-3 fatty acids to aid in the brain and eye development of your baby. Pregnant women should obtain at least 200 mg of DHA daily.

Taking Prenatal Vitamins
Ideally, prenatal vitamins should be taken on an empty stomach with water; however, if you experience nausea while taking prenatal vitamins, you can take your vitamin at bedtime with a light snack. Consult your primary health care provider immediately if you experience extreme nausea. The iron in some prenatal vitamins may cause constipation, but several measures can be taken to prevent or decrease the likelihood of constipation, including:
  • Always staying hydrated
  • Including more fiber in your diet
  • Asking your primary health care provider about using a stool softener

You should always select vitamin supplements from reputable manufacturers and inform your primary health care provider of all medications (prescription and nonprescription) that you are taking, including vitamins and minerals. Make sure that you do not take any other vitamin or mineral supplements while taking prenatal vitamins, unless your primary health care provider recommends it.

It is also important for you to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, routinely exercise, get an adequate amount of rest, and continue routine visits with your doctor throughout your pregnancy. During your pregnancy, you should always discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Resources for Patients
American Pregnancy Association
March of Dimes

Resources for Pharmacists
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
National Women’s Health Resource Center
March of Dimes Information for Health Care Professionals
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