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While most essential nutrients come from food, many women need extra doses of specific vitamins to support a healthy and safe pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are an easy way to help reduce the risk of complications while pregnant.
If you are trying to get pregnant, we suggest that you start taking prenatal vitamins, especially folic acid, at least a month before you become pregnant. It is also a good idea to continue taking prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy. The CDC recommends that all women take a daily folic acid supplement in preparation for and during childbearing.
Talk with your doctor, nurse practitioner, or midwife to find a specific prenatal vitamin supplement that works best for you. Alternatively, you can speak with a pharmacist about multivitamins for women.
What Is Folic Acid?
The most critical vitamin supplement during pregnancy is folic acid, a type of B vitamin that promotes healthy growth and development. Certain foods like breakfast cereals and various vegetables are fortified with folic acid; however, these amounts are often insufficient during pregnancy unless you adhere to a strict folic acid-rich diet.
One of the most significant concerns of a folic acid deficiency is the higher risks of birth defects known as neural tube defects (NTD). NTDs can be detected via prenatal screenings but usually cannot be confirmed until the second trimester. Folic acid helps prevent NTDs from occurring, especially if the mother has sufficient amounts during the first two weeks of pregnancy. Daily supplements are recommended before pregnancy because many women do not know they are pregnant during that critical period.
According to the CDC, most women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid daily. Some women who have specific medical conditions (such as sickle cell disease) or who have had miscarriages in the past (especially if it was due to an NTD) may need a higher dose of folic acid than usual.
Women without these conditions should take no more than one milligram of folic acid per day. Consult your doctor, nurse practitioner, or midwife to determine your optimal dosage.
What Are the Side Effects of Folic Acid?
Folic acid supplements may be found over the counter in most pharmacies and come in both tablet and capsule form. You may experience minor side effects with one type or the other, such as nausea or constipation. If this occurs, you may wish to change brands.
If you take more than one milligram of folic acid daily, other side effects such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or rashes may occur. If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor immediately about lowering your daily dosage.