Pregnancy Home > Prenatal Vitamins

How Do Prenatal Vitamins Work?

Prenatal vitamins contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that are important for a healthy pregnancy. Most importantly, they contain folic acid, an important nutrient that can prevent certain birth defects (such as spina bifida). They also usually contain iron, calcium, and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.
 
Some prenatal vitamins now have omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which may be important for brain and eye development. Also, some contain docusate sodium, a stool softener that can help prevent or relieve constipation (which is common during pregnancy and can be made worse by the minerals in prenatal vitamins).
 

When and How to Take Prenatal Vitamins

Some general considerations for when and how to take prenatal vitamins include the following:
 
  • The vitamins come in tablets, softgels, chewable tablets, and even liquids. Most are taken by mouth once daily, although some are taken twice a day.
     
  • It does not matter what time of day you take most prenatal vitamins. If they seem to make your morning sickness worse, try taking them later in the day.
     
  • Most prenatal vitamins can be taken with food or on an empty stomach. The iron in them may be better absorbed on an empty stomach, but most women find that taking the vitamins with a little bit of food usually helps with stomach upset.
     
  • Let your healthcare provider know if you have trouble keeping the vitamins down or if they cause significant nausea. He or she may have some useful suggestions or may recommend a different prenatal vitamin.
     
  • For the vitamins to work properly, they must be taken as prescribed. Prenatal vitamins will not work if you stop taking them.
     
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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