Growing a healthy baby starts before pregnancy, as some vitamins (like folic acid) are crucial right at the time of conception†
If you’re thinking about having a baby or are already trying, you should take a prenatal multivitamin
Prenatal vitamins ensure you get all the important vitamins and minerals you and your growing baby need
You should take prenatal vitamins throughout the entire pregnancy
If you’re breastfeeding, you should continue to take a prenatal multivitamin or switch to a postnatal multivitamin
If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant or you are already pregnant, you’re probably immersing yourself in how to grow a healthy little human. You might have read books, talked to your mom friends, or met with your doctor. One common thread you’ll hear—starting in pre-pregnancy—is to eat a balanced, nutritious diet to ensure you get all the important vitamins and minerals you need. But it’s also wise to take vitamins for pregnant women (a.k.a. prenatal multivitamins). In fact, your doctor may have even recommended it. Why? To help fill in any nutritional gaps, especially because some vitamins and minerals have higher intake recommendations during pregnancy.
But you might be wondering when to start taking prenatal vitamins. Should you be taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant or wait until you’ve already conceived? When is the best time of day to take prenatal vitamins—morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you have to take prenatal vitamins the whole nine months of pregnancy or just in the first trimester?
Let’s dive in to find out about the timing of prenatal vitamins.
When To Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins
Believe it or not, growing a healthy baby starts before you even become pregnant. Start taking a prenatal multivitamin one to two months before you begin trying to become pregnant. This helps prepare your body for pregnancy and supply adequate nutrients for the baby.
This pre-conception time allows you time to focus on your own health and take the necessary steps before (and between) pregnancies. Why? To increase your chances of giving birth to a healthy baby once you become pregnant. For instance, you might need to get blood tests done, get caught up on vaccines, ensure chronic health problems are stabilized, stop smoking, and perhaps even lose weight to reduce your risk of pregnancy complications.1
Another key step in your preconception health focuses on your nutrition, ensuring your body doesn’t lack key essential vitamins and minerals. That’s where prenatal multivitamins come into play. So, when should you start taking prenatal vitamins? Ideally, before you’re even pregnant. If you’re thinking about having a baby, discussing it with your significant other, or already trying, that’s when to start a prenatal multivitamin.
Why is this pre-pregnancy timing so important? Because the baby's neural tube (essentially, the still-developing brain and spinal cord) develops during the first month of pregnancy.2 A good prenatal multivitamin contains adequate folic acid, an important B vitamin during pregnancy. Adequate folic acid in healthful diets may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends a daily supplement of 400-800 μg of folic acid, in addition to consuming food folate from a varied diet, for all women planning or capable of pregnancy. Often, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant in the very first month. That’s why starting prenatal vitamins early helps to support the health of mom and growing baby.†
Congrats! You’re expecting a bundle of joy in a few months. Now that you’re pregnant, do you have to take prenatal vitamins the whole nine months? Because your baby continues to grow and develop throughout the entire nine months in utero, it’s important to continue to take a prenatal multivitamin during your entire pregnancy.
Remember, your baby relies on you for all its nutrients. As the saying goes, you’re eating for two! If you don’t maintain an adequate supply of essential vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, your baby may not be able to get the nutrients it needs to grow.
A good prenatal multivitamin includes just the right combination of nutrients to meet the increased nutritional demands of a pregnant woman and her developing baby. For example, a prenatal should include adequate amounts of the following:
Iron, vital for red blood cell formation and to deliver oxygen to cells throughout the body†
DHA (one of the omega-3s), which may help support fetal brain and eye development†
Calcium and vitamin D, which help build and support strong bones†
Iodine, an important mineral for fetal brain development
Continue to eat healthy, of course, but also continue taking a prenatal multivitamin to nourish both you and your little one throughout your pregnancy. Depending on individual preferences, prenatal vitamins can come in the form of prenatal gummies or tablets and even softgels.
You should take your prenatal mulitivitamin with a meal, because the vitamins and minerals (especially those fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K and omega-3s like DHA) absorb best with a meal containing some fat. Whether you choose to take your prenatal with breakfast, lunch or dinner, it is up to you! It helps to take your vitamins at the same time every day to establish this healthy habit, so you don’t forget. If breakfast works best, great! If not, take your prenatal multivitamin at lunch or dinner.
Once you give birth, should you stop taking a prenatal multivitamin? No, you can still take your prenatal to ensure you’re still getting the nutrients you need after a demanding nine months, especially if you’re nursing. But you might want to switch to postnatal vitamins if you’re breastfeeding. Why? They contain essential vitamins and minerals (plus omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA) to support the nutrient needs of nursing moms and their babies.†
What about taking prenatal vitamins when not pregnant? Generally, it’s a good idea for women of reproductive age to regularly take a prenatal multivitamin.2
If you’re wondering when to start taking prenatal vitamins, it’s best to begin even before conception to ensure your body is adequately nourished and prepared for pregnancy. Because nutrient demands increase once pregnancy begins, a prenatal multivitamin helps fill in any nutritional gaps to help support the needs of mom and her growing baby. Breastfeeding moms will need extra nutritional support as well, which makes a postnatal multivitamin a great option. Consult with your healthcare provider to see if taking a postnatal multivitamin, DHA prenatal supplement or a prenatal multivitamin is right for you.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.