What Happens If I Don't Take Prenatals Regularly?

Jun 28, 2022 Pregnancy Tips

What Happens If I Don't Take Prenatals Regularly?

Quick Health Scoop

  • Prenatal multivitamins contain key nutrients specifically formulated to support a pregnant woman and her growing baby.
  • Key ingredients in a prenatal multivitamin include Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, DHA, and Choline, and women of childbearing age should take a prenatal multivitamin every day.
  • If a prenatal dose is missed, women should not double up on dosage or take more than one prenatal multivitamin a

While a well-balanced intake of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein are important, a daily prenatal multivitamin helps address nutrient gaps missing from the diet to support the health of the mother and her developing baby.

When it comes to ensuring a healthy pregnancy and having a healthy baby, you should start making healthy choices even before you are pregnant. That means eating a well-balanced, healthy diet; getting a pre-pregnancy health check-up; quitting smoking; getting to a healthy weight; and taking prenatal vitamins.

In fact, health experts recommend that expectant moms (and women trying to conceive) take prenatal vitamins with at least 400 mcg of Folate (a.k.a. Folic Acid). Why? Because prenatal multivitamins are specially formulated to meet the nutritional demands of pregnancy. And prenatal multivitamins contain the right dosage of a key nutrient—Folic Acid— adequate folic acid in healthful diets may reduce a women’s risk of having a child with a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord. Women who are trying to conceive should start taking a prenatal multivitamin right away and continue to take it daily throughout pregnancy, because adequate amounts of certain nutrients, like folic acid, are needed at the time of conception for a healthy pregnancy. Consuming adequate folic acid at least one month prior to conception and throughout pregnancy as part of a healthy diet may reduce a woman's risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord defect. The neural tube (which later becomes baby's spinal cord, spine, brain and skull) forms between days 17 and 30 of gestation, before many women know they are pregnant. as half of all US pregnancies are unplanned. Because so many women don’t yet realize they are pregnant during the baby’s critical development phase, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of Folic Acid every day. [3] 

But some women don’t take prenatal supplements either at all or until after they’re pregnant. In fact, according to a March of Dimes study, only 34 percent of women surveyed said they started taking a prenatal multivitamin before they knew they were pregnant. Among minorities, that number drops to 27 percent for Hispanic women and plummets to just 10 percent for African-American/Black women. [4]

What happens if you don’t take prenatals? Learn about essential nutrients your body and baby need during pregnancy.

Do I Need To Take Prenatal Multivitamins Every Day During Pregnancy?

Yes, a good prenatal multivitamin is specifically formulated with just the right amounts of key nutrients that a pregnant woman and her healthy baby need every day. Like “regular multivitamins,” prenatal multivitamins include important nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, the B vitamins plus key minerals, DHA and choline. In particular, make sure your prenatal multivitamin includes key nutrients vital to the baby’s healthy growth and development, including Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, DHA, and Choline. While Folic Acid plays its most important role in the early stages of pregnancy, the mom-to-be should continue taking it throughout the entire pregnancy.[5]

It's important to note that some women occasionally skip a day taking a prenatal due to the morning sickness that often accompanies pregnancy. If that’s you, no worries! Just start taking one prenatal multivitamin a day again as soon as possible. Do not double up on dosage or take more than one prenatal multivitamin a day, even if you missed one or more days. Taking high doses of certain vitamins (such as Vitamin A) can potentially be harmful to your baby.

Tip: If you’re struggling to take your prenatal, try different approaches, such as taking a gel cap instead of a capsule, taking your prenatal at a different time of day, or taking your prenatal with your largest meal of the day. If you’re still struggling, talk with your healthcare provider.

Are Prenatal Vitamins Necessary?

Yes, prenatal vitamins are necessary to support both a healthy pregnant woman and a healthy baby.

Prenatals can help both before conception and during pregnancy. Here’s a more specific breakdown of how key nutrients affect either the pregnant mom, the baby, or both.

  • Folic Acid. Getting enough Folic Acid every day (400 mcg) as part of a healthful diet may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with brain or spinal cord birth defects. Ideally taken at least three months before and all during pregnancy, adequate Folic Acid may help reduce the risk of severe neural tube defects that affect the brain and spine. [5] They occur very early in pregnancy when the neural tube (the early brain and spine) does not properly close. [6]
  • Iron. Iron is an essential mineral utilized by red blood cells to help carry oxygen to organs, tissues and baby. Women’s iron needs during pregnancy substantially increase to support their increased blood volume and red blood cell formation, as well as the healthy growth of their baby. Low maternal iron status during pregnancy has been associated with increased risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery, and other adverse outcomes. [6]
  • Iodine. As an essential trace mineral, iodine is important for normal thyroid function and brain development in developing babies. [12] Iodine is found in the diet mostly from iodized salt, seafood and dairy, however increased consumption of processed foods (which largely use non-iodized salt) along with trends of non-iodized salt like sea salt has led to a decrease in dietary iodine intake and status in American women of childbearing age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a prenatal multivitamin with 150 micrograms of iodide daily, along with consuming iodized table salt during pregnancy. [11]
  • Calcium. This important mineral helps your baby build healthy, strong bones. Without getting enough dietary calcium every day, calcium is sacrificed from the mother’s bones to support the rapid bone mineral growth in the developing baby. [7,10]
  • Vitamin D. This key nutrient helps your body absorb calcium, develop your baby’s bones and teeth, and helps the body’s muscles, nerves, and immune system function properly. [7]
  • DHA: This Omega-3 fatty acid helps support the healthy growth and development of your baby’s eyes and brain. [7]
  • Choline: As an important nutrient, Choline plays a key role in the baby’s brain development, as well as liver and placental function. [9] 

Bottom Line

Prenatal vitamins play a critical role in the health and well-being of both the mom-to-be and the baby, both before and during pregnancy. Do you have to take prenatal multivitamins? Yes, taking prenatal vitamins, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating right are critical for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. In particular, prenatals contain Folic Acid, which, as part of a healthy diet, may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. But other key nutrients also play a vital role in baby’s growth and development, including Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, DHA, and Choline. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should take a prenatal every day. However, if a prenatal dose is missed, women should not double up on dosage or take more than one prenatal multivitamin a day.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

References 

  1. The Centers for Disease Control. “Folic Acid.” April 19, 2021. Accessed on: May 11, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  2. March of Dimes. “Fewer Than Half of U.S. Women Take Recommended Vitamins Prior to Pregnancy.” September 19, 2017. Accessed on: May 12, 2022. https://www.marchofdimes.org/news/fewer-than-half-of-u-s-women-take-recommended-vitamins-prior-to-pregnancy-according-to-march-of-dimes-new-prenatal-health-nutrition-survey.aspx
  3. S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. “Prenatal Care.” February 22, 2021. Accessed on: May 12, 2022. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/prenatal-care
  4. Women’s Healthcare of Boca Raton. “Why and When Should You Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?” April 5, 2021. Accessed on: May 12, 2022. https://www.toplinemd.com/womens-healthcare-of-boca-raton/start-taking-prenatal-vitamins/
  5. Mayo Clinic. “Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” April 19, 2022. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945
  6. The Centers for Disease Control. “Folic Acid & Neural Tube Defects: An Overview.” November 9, 2017. Accessed on: May 12, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefectscount/basics.html
  7. March of Dimes. “Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy.” September 2020. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx
  8. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Iodine.” 2022. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/Iodine/
  9. International Journal of Women’s Health. “Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. April 22, 2013. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23637565/
  10. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C. 2010.
  11. CG Perrine, et al. Some Subgroups of Reproductive Age Women in the United States May Be at Risk for Iodine Deficiency, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 140, Issue 8, August 2010, Pages 1489–1494
  12. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Iodine. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C. 2001.