The first order of business for expecting moms (besides taking care of your cravings!) is taking care of your body and the baby growing inside it. For starters, that means prenatal vitamins. We asked Dr. Ari Brown, , author of the Expecting 411 book series, to give us the scoop on why you need them, what they do for Baby, and why you might want to stock your fridge with pudding.
Q: OK, so I know I have to take prenatal vitamins because they're filled with "good stuff," but why exactly are they so key?
A: These vitamin supplements are important for the health of both mother and fetus. Taking 400 mcg of folic acid can significantly reduce the risk of certain birth defects such as spina bifida, as well as pregnancy-related health issues like preterm birth.
Q: When should you start taking prenatals?
A: Ideally, you should start taking prenatal vitamins three months before conception, because some women are deficient in the folic acid that prenatals provide. This nutrient is critical for the development of the neural tube—the precursor to the brain and spinal cord—which starts forming by the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy, often just a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Q: Is one kind of prenatal vitamin better than another, or are all brands the same?
A: Basically, all prenatal vitamins are created equal. They are available over the counter (OTC) and by prescription; you usually need to pop one prescription pill per day, and up to three OTC capsules. Prescription kinds may have higher levels of folic acid and iron, but the OTC ones have adequate amounts. OTC kinds may [also] include a stool softener (a bonus to relieve that pregnancy induced constipation). Since studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can boost baby's brain power—children of moms who took it scored higher on intelligence tests at age 4—and can also lower the risk of preterm labor and postpartum depression, so you'll want a prenatal that includes them. Ask your doctor for her vitamin recommendations.
Q: I've heard that the pills can make you nauseous. Is this true, and what can help?
A: Sorry to say but, yes, it's common to feel nauseated after taking prenatal vitamins. The package may tell you to take them on an empty stomach, but this is precisely the same reason the pills make you gag! I suggest popping them on a full stomach with your biggest meal of the day. Or at least first downing some pudding, yogurt, or milk to coat your stomach. You could also try switching to a different brand. If you just can't stand the vitamin taste, there are vanilla-coated vitamins for those with discriminating palates.
Q: I have a serious horse-pill problem—big pills make me gag. What am I supposed to do?
A: Amy Poehler may have made gagging on prenatals funny in Baby Mama, but in real life they may not be fun to swallow. You could simply break your prenatals in half; go for the chewable or liquid forms (first discuss this with your doctor); or crush the vitamin and mix it with something thick, like pudding or yogurt. As a last resort, ask your OB/GYN about separate pills for folic acid, iron, and calcium.
Q: When's the best time of day to take prenatals?
A: Anytime your stomach has something in it. Some women prefer to pop the pills right before bed, which can make them easier to stomach. Having a regular time to take them can help you remember to do so.
Q: What happens if I skip a prenatal vitamin?
A: Just take it as soon as you remember! But if you're due for taking your next dose, skip the one you missed.