When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

I tell all of my patients that they should start taking prenatal vitamins two to three months prior to becoming pregnant. This will help get the patient healthy as well as will increase their folic acid levels and will deter some congenital abnormalities (neural tube defects). The iron in prenatal vitamins can prevent anemia as well as vitamin C and zinc can help boost the patients immune system.

If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you probably have heard the instructions: Take folic acid. Why? That's because folate is essential for fetal development. Specifically, it helps prevent spina bifida, which happens when the neural tube—a structure that encases the spinal cord—doesn't fully close. That incomplete closure can happen near the neck or the buttocks and lead to walking problems.

Because the spinal cord fuses so early on, you need that folic acid in the first six weeks of development—a time when many women might not even know they're pregnant. Ideally, you should take folic acid supplements or make sure you're getting enough folate from food if there's even a chance you could become pregnant or be pregnant already.

That's why I'd like you to start taking a prenatal vitamin with DHA at least three months prior to becoming pregnant—or to be safe during all years when you might become pregnant. (When Canada added folate to flour and bread to increase intake among women who might not know they're pregnant, they saw birth defect rates drop.)

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

More About this Book

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

Can I get a cavity filled while pregnant? Will avoiding spicy foods make my kid a picky eater? Can I really increase my baby's IQ while she's in utero? Whether you're pregnant for the first time, are trying to start your family, or already have enough children to start your own basketball team, you're bound to have questions about what it means to be pregnant -- and how you can increase your odds of having a healthy and happy pregnancy. But no matter how much you've read, watched, studied, or talked about this amazing biological journey, you have never read anything like this. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz act as mythbusters for the hundreds of questions surrounding pregnancy in the same scientific, informative, and entertaining ways that have made them America's Doctors. In these pages, you'll learn everything you need to know about the miracles of fetal development, your health throughout the pregnancy, and providing the best possible environment for your growing child. Pregnancy is a complicated balancing act, but it doesn't have to be frightening. The doctors will help you de-stress as they describe accurately and rationally what happens during a thrilling nine months of life. While every pregnant body is different, odds are you'll experience some of the cravings, crying, and discomfort that almost all women go through. Your best tactic? Learn why these things are happening -- and what you should do about them. YOU: Having a Baby will teach you everything you need to know about what to eat (should I be eating for two?), how much to exercise, and what guilty pleasures will actually make pregnancy easier on you (and the loved ones who get to be around you for the whole thing). Each phase of pregnancy has different challenges, but the right information will prepare you for what's ahead. The interactive week-by-week calendar inside provides an even more detailed guideline for how and what you should feel through every step of the process. Exciting, cutting-edge scientific research in the fi eld of epigenetics has changed the way the medical profession looks at pregnancy, and now it can change your perspective, too. Epigenetics explores what makes us develop in certain ways -- why some people thrive at math while others are prone to chronic diseases. It turns out that there are easy things you can do that will not just help your baby's development in utero but will actually improve his or her chances of living a healthy, fulfi lling adult life. Filled with recipes for nutritious, satisfying snacks and meals even Pop can cook (yes, he can!), safe exercises for staying fit, and tons of YOU tips that will help you stay comfortable, YOU: Having a Baby is the ultimate guidebook for what to do from the moment of conception to the weeks after your child has arrived home. From morning sickness and food cravings to choosing a doctor and changing a diaper, YOU: Having a Baby will give you the real scoop about what's in store for you during this amazing time in your life.
Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Experts recommend that women start taking folic acid, an important component of prenatal vitamins, at least three months before conception. That's because it's important for a woman to have sufficient amounts of folic acid already in her body from the second her baby starts to develop. Folic acid helps protect against neural tube defects, which are problems with the development of the brain and spinal cord. The neural tube develops during the first month of pregnancy.

If you're thinking of becoming pregnant, speak with your health-care provider about a daily prenatal vitamin.

You should start taking prenatal vitamins three months prior to conception if you are planning pregnancy, or as soon as pregnancy is confirmed if your pregnancy was not planned. In healthy US women, the most important ingredient in prenatal vitamins is folic acid (at least 400 mcg daily) for prevention of birth defects. This is a good reason to plan your pregnancy.

It is actually a good idea to take a daily multivitamin (almost all have folic acid) even if pregnancy is not planned. Thus, your baby will be protected even during those times that you find yourself with an unplanned but welcomed pregnancy.

Continue Learning about Vitamins

Is "Herbal Viagra" Safe?
Is "Herbal Viagra" Safe?
Think an herbal supplement that promises to enhance male sexual performance is too good to be true? You’re probably right. According to the federal Fo...
Read More
What critical vitamins should every woman be taking?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
There are 13 essential vitamins, but the ones most critical to a woman's health vary depending on he...
More Answers
8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin
8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin8 Foods That Can Replace Your Multivitamin
Skip the pharmacy and shop the produce department instead.
Start Slideshow
Take Your Vitamin D at This Time
Take Your Vitamin D at This Time

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.