When it comes to the realm of pregnancy and birth, there seems to be a countless list of things to do as you prepare your body to bring a baby into the world.
There's a LOT of information out there, and there's no denying it can be overwhelming to try and work out exactly what you should be doing for your baby's (and your own) health.
One thing you might have heard of is the importance of taking your vitamins throughout this period.
Prenatal vitamins and postnatal vitamins are essential supplements to assist with both the mother's health and the development of the baby, but many women might not know what exactly these supplements do, why they are important, or what the differences are between prenatal and postnatal vitamins.
Lucky for you, we are here to help. In this article, we will discuss prenatal vs postnatal vitamins, how they differ from one another, and when you should be taking each of them.
What's the difference between prenatal and postnatal vitamins?
The difference between prenatal and postnatal vitamins is actually pretty simple. In short, prenatals are designed to be taken prior to and during pregnancy, while postnatals should be taken for six months after birth (or longer if you are breastfeeding).
Prenatal vitamins are recommended to be taken for the duration of a pregnancy, and additionally in the three month leading up to conception (if possible!). Getting your macro and micronutrients in is important through all stages of life, but even more so during pregnancy.
Ideally your nutritional needs would be covered by the food you eat every day, but that's sometimes easier said than done — especially if you're suffering from any kind of sickness and nausea.
Post-pregnancy, it's easy to assume you don't need to take vitamins anymore, but it's actually the opposite! The postpartum period is one of the most demanding phases of life both physically, mentally and emotionally.
With the majority of nutrient stores lost during delivery, it is common for new mothers to lack the essential nutrients to support both their own body and their baby's (particularly through breast milk while breastfeeding).
This is called postpartum depletion, and it can lead to brain fog, tiredness, hair loss and mood changes. And, this is what many postnatal vitamins are designed to treat. While postnatal vitamins can have similar ingredients to prenatals, many varieties are specifically formulated with different combinations for your post-birth needs.
So, now that we understand the basic difference between postnatal and prenatal vitamins, let's dig a little deeper into how exactly you can get the most out of your vitamins to support the nutritional demands of your own body along with your little one!
What do prenatal vitamins do?
Prenatal supplements serve two primary functions; to support the health of the mother and promote the development of the baby.
Some examples of the essential nutrients a prenatal vitamin should include are folate, which can help prevent neural tube defects and Docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) which assists with brain growth and cognitive development.
Additionally, iron supplementation will assist in preventing you from becoming anaemic, while also supporting the baby's development. In fact, during pregnancy, your body's total demand for iron increases a lot, so your prenatal vitamin should help ensure you are getting an adequate daily dose.
What do postnatal vitamins do?
Postnatal vitamins serve a number of important functions when it comes to the nutritional needs of both new mothers and the breastfed infants.
As we've mentioned above, many postnatal vitamins will contain similar ingredients to your prenatal, but they will have different amounts to cater for your needs in this new stage.
Throughout the postpartum period your nutritional demands increase across the board, with some of your major requirements including replenishment of nutrient stores, meeting nutrient needs during lactation, and of course assisting in your baby's nourishment if you are breastfeeding.
When it comes to ingredients, there are a few important ones to look out for.
The best postnatal vitamins should contain nutrients such as iron (to prevent anaemia and rebuild iron stores after birth) B vitamins to support cell formations and energy levels, and vitamin D (which promotes healthy bones and immune systems, and can support mental wellbeing)
Additionally, nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and choline should all be included in your postnatal vitamins to assist in your postpartum recovery and overall health and wellbeing.
Can I keep taking prenatal vitamins after pregnancy?
In short, yes! You can and should continue taking a prenatal vitamin after pregnancy, particularly breastfeeding mothers. As breastfed babies are completely dependent on you (and your breast milk) for all their nutrient needs, it is a great idea to continue taking supplements after pregnancy.
While many women opt to continue taking the prenatal vitamins they took throughout their pregnancy, as we've mentioned above, postpartum women do have specific nutritional needs.
After all, during this period you are simultaneously recovering from giving birth AND creating milk supply to support growing baby! This is why you might want to swap your prenatal supplement for a postnatal supplement in those first few weeks postpartum.
How long should I take postnatal vitamins after giving birth?
There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to anything health-related, particularly pregnancy!
The right time for you to stop will depend on your health, hormonal changes, and levels of certain nutrients needed.
However, the general recommendation for most women is once your baby reaches six months or you stop breastfeeding (whichever comes later) in which you can switch back to a regular multivitamin.
When should you switch from prenatal to postnatal vitamins?
In short, you can switch your prenatal vitamins to postnatal vitamins as soon as you have welcomed your new baby into the world.
As postnatal vitamins can often assist with milk supply or recovery from delivery and are uniquely designed for the postpartum period, start taking these sooner rather than later.
In addition to recovering from the immense task of giving birth, the mother’s body is going through hormonal changes and physiological changes, not to mention a huge change in routine and new daily demands thanks to the little human you’re looking after!
Should you take a prenatal or postnatal while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding women have a variety of nutrient needs, so it is strongly recommended to take a postnatal supplement throughout this period to support your body and simultaneously ensure your breast milk is providing your baby with all the nutrients it needs.
It is imperative for breastfeeding mothers to get enough vitamin D, vitamin C, fatty acids and calcium.
The World Health Organisation also highlights the importance of taking supplements to help keep up iron levels, especially in the period after birth as your iron stores become depleted after delivering a baby.
We always recommend speaking to a medical professional for further advice on prenatal supplements, postnatal supplements, and your nutritional needs as you look after yourself and your new baby.