It starts before you even know it!
Why take a supplement?
During pregnancy, your needs for some micronutrients go up, and it is a good idea to take a prenatal multivitamin to make sure that you cover your needs. The prenatal supplement in a complement to a (hopefully) well-balanced diet. Some women will experience nausea, vomiting and other discomforts that can either limit their food intake or force them to exclude whole food groups (and the nutrients that come with these foods). The supplement is like a safety net to ensure you have enough micronutrients that are important for you and baby during pregnancy.
A supplement never replace a healthy diet, but can provide a little extra nutrients needed during pregnancy.
Why a prenatal and not just a regular multivitamin?
Better take what is tailored to you! Prenatal multivitamin are targeted for pregnant women and their specific needs. It makes sense! Although they contain more nutrients than you probably need if you eat well, they also contain the most important nutrients in the appropriate dose range.
A prenatal multivitamin is designed for your needs as a pregnant women, while regular multivitamins are not.
Why start before being even pregnant?
Folic acid, baby. Folic acid.
Folic acid is recommended to prevent neural tube defects for your baby. The neural tube will become the spinal cord and brain of your baby. Its formation happens in the very first weeks of pregnancy. You might not even know yet that you are pregnant. Because folate is super important for proper neural formation, it is recommended to start taking a prenatal BEFORE you try conceiving.
Health Canada recommends to start taking a prenatal multivitamin containing at least 400 micrograms (that is 400 ug, or 400 mcg or 0.4 mg, depending on the units used on the prenatal label) of folic acid, 3 months before conceiving. Now, good on you and your partner if you can time conception precisely, otherwise it’s a good idea to start taking a prenatal multivitamin as soon as you and your partner are thinking to expand the family. This way you can ensure you have proper folate intake for when the magic happens! Check this post if you want to know how to select your prenatal multivitamin.
Health Canada recommends a daily prenatal multivitamin containing at least 400 mcg of folic acid to women who are planning to conceive.
Should I be worried about neural tube defects?
The neural tube is foundation of the brain, skull and spine of the fetus. Neural tube defects can occur when there is a lack of nutrients such as folic acid, or due to genetic abnormalities (that you can’t control). Neural tube defect can lead to stillbirth or disability. Because the consequences are important, Health Canada recommend a prenatal supplemental to all women who are trying to conceive.
Don’t wait to be pregnant to take a prenatal multivitamin. Key growth steps occur in the very early weeks of pregnancy.
What will happen if I don’t take a prenatal multivitamin?
The best way to put all chances on your side will always be to have a balanced diet (and lifestyle). No surprises here. But even then, there are just associations, not cause-effects between healthy diet and healthy child. It is not because you have a super duper healthy lifestyle that you have no risk of any complications, and the opposite is also true (unhealthy lifestyle is not a guarantee of problems). Perhaps nothing will happen if you don’t take your prenatal multivitamin, perhaps you or baby will experience complications… no one knows!
We recommend a prenatal multivitamin 3 months before conception as a (fairly cheap) way to put all chances on your side. We also know that pregnancy comes with cravings, food aversions and morning sickness that all make it hard to have a balanced and healthy food intake…and retains what you eat! In these cases, the prenatal multivitamin can provide the important nutrients for you and baby.
Prenatal multivitamins are not a guarantee of a healthy baby, but they lower the risks of nutrients deficiencies.
I keep forgetting to take my pill
If you forget to take it some days, don’t panic, and don’t double up to make up for pills you’ve forgotten to take. Just continue taking 1 dose per day, as per the indications on the bottle. To remind yourself to take your pill:
- eat it always at the same time of the day (week + weekend) so you create the habit
- buy a pill organizer so you know if you’ve taking it or not that day
The biggest challenge with prenatal multivitamins is to remember to take one a day!
I think I might already be pregnant…
If you realize you are pregnant and you are 2, 3, 4 months in, start taking the prenatal then. In real life, not all pregnancies are planned! There is nothing you can change about the past, so no point in stressing out that you have not taken your prenatal multivitamin (easier said then done). Your doctor/midwife runs all sorts of tests to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and that baby is growing well. If you are worried, talk with them.
In complement of a healthy lifestyle, a prenatal multivitamin puts chances on your side of having all the nutrients you and baby needs.
Government of Canada: Dietary Reference intake
Health Canada: Multivitamin and mineral supplements
Sanghavi M, Rutherford JD. Cardiovascular physiology of pregnancy. Circulation. 2014;130:1003-1008. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/130/12/1003.full
Government of Canada: Folic acid, the sensible guide to a healthy pregnancy.
Biesalski HK, Tinz J. Multivitamin/mineral supplements: rational and safety. A systematic review. Nutrition. 2017 Jan;33:76-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27553772
Manson JE, Bassuk SS. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: What Clinicians Need to Know. JAMA. 2018. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.21012. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2672264