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Do you really need to start taking prenatal vitamins before conception?

Do you really need to start taking prenatal vitamins before conception?

Optimizing your nutrition before you get pregnant can set you up for a healthier pregnancy and prepare your body to grow a tiny human. To get ready, your doctor or midwife may have suggested eating well, exercising, and taking a multivitamin supplement. But do you need to seek out a prenatal-specific vitamin? There are so many on the market, and they can be quite expensive, so let’s break down what you really need while TTC.

Trying to conceive? What you should know about prenatal vitamins

It should be possible to get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat. Unfortunately, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. population in general is not eating a healthy diet, leaving gaps in our nutrition to be filled. Since pregnant women require extra nutrients, your supplement should provide you with everything you need – specifically, folic acid and iron.

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that protects against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Getting enough folic acid through supplementation and diet is critical prior to becoming pregnant and in the early days of pregnancy, when the neural tube is developing. Your supplement should have at least 400 mcg of folic acid. You can also consume foods high in folic acid, such as beans, leafy green vegetables and cereals and grains that are enriched or fortified.

Iron is integral for women who plan to become pregnant or who are pregnant. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and in pregnancy can lead to preterm labor, low birth weight, or infant mortality. Unfortunately it can be difficult to get enough iron from foods, so your doctor or midwife may suggest taking a supplement while TTC and during pregnancy. Women 19 to 50 years old who are not pregnant need 18 mg of iron per day, and pregnant women need 27 mg per day. Meats, poultry, and fish are good sources of iron, as are many of the foods listed above that are high in folic acid. Having a source of vitamin C can make iron easier to absorb, so consider adding some strawberries to your spinach salad, red bell pepper to your broccoli, or take your iron supplements with a small glass of orange juice.

Other things to consider

Each woman has individual needs, so talk with your doctor or midwife before starting a supplement. You may need additional vitamins or minerals and your provider can help identify the best option for you. Folic acid and iron can be found in prenatal vitamins, regular women’s multivitamins, or sold individually. Remember, supplements are meant to do just what they say – supplement our diets. Taking vitamins shouldn’t replace healthy foods in your diet like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. By enjoying a variety of healthy foods you can maximize your nutrition and fertility while trying to conceive!

About the author:
Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.

  • Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. Available at: Accessed May 31, 2017.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at
  • “Neural Tube Defects.” march of dimes. March of Dimes Foundation, April 2016. Retrieved August 25 2017. 

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