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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Prenatal Vitamins continued...

Wright says prenatal supplements are like seat belts -- they offer some insurance, but don’t give you a license to drive recklessly.

"Relying too much on supplements can give you a false sense of security about how well you’re eating," Wright tells WebMD. Prenatal supplements supply vital nutrients, but they lack others, including protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber.

For example, foods fortified with folic acid, such as cereals, breads, and grains, contain the same form of the B vitamin as dietary supplements and are useful to help you meet your daily nutrition requirements before and during pregnancy, while also contributing protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber to your diet. If you're thinking about getting pregnant or you are already pregnant, be sure to consult a doctor for advice on taking a prenatal supplement and guidance for healthy eating throughout your pregnancy. Also check for dietary information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, featuring daily food plans for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The Dos and Don’ts of Taking a Prenatal Supplement

There are dozens of prenatal supplements to choose from, and you may wonder how over-the-counter varieties compare to prescription supplements.

Ghofrany says women often think prescription vitamins are better, but that there’s no research to support that idea. Prescription prenatals may have more iron and folic acid, as well as other nutrients, but those levels may not be necessary for all women.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin supplement. The group also advises all women of childbearing age to take a multivitamin supplement containing 0.4 mg of folic acid daily to reduce risk of neural tube defects in case of pregnancy. Before taking a prenatal vitamin supplement or any other type of vitamin or supplement, be sure to consult with your doctor. Prenatal supplements with high levels of nutrients are not without these potential side effects, which may be made worse by first trimester nausea and vomiting:

  • Constipation: Blame it on the excess iron in your diet. Drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods. Exercise on a regular basis.
  • Queasiness: Take half a supplement pill in the morning and at night, or take the entire supplement before bed. Try taking your supplement with a meal or snack.