Most experts recommend that you begin taking pre-natal vitamins at least one month prior to conception. You should keep taking it throughout pregnancy and even after delivery for as long as you continue breastfeeding.
Talk to your provider
Ask your midwife or OB for a recommendation based on your medical history and specific needs. “Because patients have different risk factors, one vitamin might be more beneficial than another,” says James Betoni, DO, co-author of The Pregnancy Power Workbook and an OB/GYN in Boise, Idaho.
Meet your quota
“Assess the ingredient listing—especially if choosing over-the-counter brands versus prescription,” advises Betoni. “Make sure there is folic acid supplementation, which can reduce the risk of neural tube defects (like spina bifida and anencephaly).” The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend a daily dose of 400 micrograms of folic acid for women between 15 and 45 years of age.
Keep it down
If morning sickness isn’t playing nicely with your chosen capsule, consider switching to a chewable version, which may be more tolerable. Pairing it with a meal can help, too. “Vitamins are co-enzymes and thus need to be taken with some form of nutrition,” Betoni explains. “I usually recommend patients take vitamins halfway through dinner—this way if there are any persistent symptoms, moms-to-be may sleep through them.”
Don’t think popping a pre-natal makes it OK to bypass the produce aisle and head straight to the freezer section (where you’ll inevitably run into both Ben and Jerry). It’s a nutritional supplement, not a stand-in. “Eating a healthy diet often will get you the nutrients you need,” says Betoni. Your daily vitamin is simply there to fill in any gaps.