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Women's Health

Do prenatal vitamins work?

Thu 6th February, 2020

Reviewed by: Dr. Vamsee Thalluri

In life, we’re often told that prenatal vitamins are an important nutritional supplement. It’s said that prenatal vitamins help you and your baby get the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy, but it’s easy to find yourself wondering if they actually make any difference at all.

When we’re looking after something as precious as new life, it’s hard to argue against ‘what the doctor ordered’.

Spoiler alert: In the context of whether they actually work, the stance we’re taking is prenatal vitamins are totally worth it. Let us explain why.

Prenatal vitamins are formulated with two very important nutrients: folic acid and iron. These nutrients are both essential for a baby’s growth and development for two core reasons.

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects

The development of the neural tube, one of the most important fetal developments, is crucial. Taking place within the first 21-28 days, it eventually forms the brain and spinal cord of your baby.

Folic acid is like a superfood for DNA, helping with the production and the making of new cells. Ensuring you have sufficient levels of folic acid in your body during this stage is key to your baby’s spinal development going to plan.

In an ideal world, you’d get all of those essential vitamins and nutrients from your normal diet, but hey! Morning sickness waits for no woman.

Because this development happens so early in the pregnancy, taking prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy is the only known way to lower the risk of neural tube defects. In fact, this study reports folic acid supplementation reduces the risk for neural tube defects by 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

Unfortunately, there is no cure yet for these spinal defects, making prenatal vitamins your first line of defence!

It's especially important to take increased folic acid if you're also taking antiepileptic medications like Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, Primidone, and Phenobarbital, because they interfere with folic acid metabolism.

Taking prenatal vitamins three months before and during your pregnancy is the best and easiest way to make sure you’re fully stocked on folic acid, which will help lower the risk of problems with your baby’s brain and spine.

Iron helps the mother avoid becoming iron deficient

You need to consume higher amounts of vitamins and nutrients when you are pregnant. You are creating another life after all!

In an ideal world, you’d get all of those essential vitamins and nutrients from your normal diet, but hey! Morning sickness waits for no woman, and it won’t be long before your baby is making their demands known with some truly odd cravings and aversions.

Between throwing up all the good stuff and binging on those sweet treats you’re craving, it can be hard to meet nutritional needs from your food intake alone.

Taking prenatal vitamins can help cover all of your bases when your diet isn’t always up to scratch.

Anemia is another common side effect of pregnancy to look out for. Your body ups its red blood count in the later half of your pregnancy, and your blood is working overtime to supply you and your baby with the good stuff (fun fact: you can expect to have an increase of up to 50 per cent more blood volume during your pregnancy). Red blood cells use iron as their base.

It makes sense then to increase the amount of iron in your body, and while you can definitely find plenty of iron rich foods, it can be hard work trying to monitor exactly how much of what food you should be trying to eat every day.

Taking prenatal vitamins all the way through your pregnancy will ensure you’re getting your daily dose of iron, providing literal fuel for your baby. That’s a win.