Dietary Supplements

Why take a prenatal supplement?

During pregnancy, your needs increase for several vitamins and minerals. You need enough for your growing baby's needs as well as your own needs. This makes it difficult to get all that you need from food.  This is especially true for folic acid and iron: During pregnancy, mothers need to consume enough nutrients to meet their increased needs as well as those of their growing baby.

Folic Acid:

Folic acid, also called folate, is a B vitamin that helps prevent serious birth defects of a baby's brain or spine.  These are called neural tube defects.

Getting enough folic acid can also help prevent birth defects like cleft lip and congenital heart disease. These birth defects often happen before most women know they are pregnant. This is why folic acid is important for any woman who could become pregnant as well as those who are pregnant.

Most prenatal supplements contain 600 micrograms per day of folic acid.  This is the amount recommended for pregnant women from food and supplements combined.

For women who are capable of becoming pregnant, 400 micrograms of folic acid from fortified foods or supplements, in addition to the folate from a healthy diet, is recommended.


Pregnant women need extra iron for the increasing amount of blood in their bodies. Iron helps keep your blood healthy and able to carry oxygen to your cells. Plus, your baby needs to store iron in his body to last through the first few months of life.

Too little iron can cause a condition called anemia. If you have anemia, you might look pale or notice paleness under your nails, and feel very tired. Your doctor checks for anemia with blood tests during your pregnancy.

Most prenatal supplements contain 27 milligrams of iron.  This is the amount recommended for pregnant women per day.

Take a prenatal supplement instead of individual vitamins or minerals.  This ensures that you and your baby get balanced amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need.  A high dose of some nutrients in a supplement, in particular vitamin A, can be harmful to your baby.  Too much vitamin A from supplements can cause birth defects.

Don't take dietary supplements or herbal products on your own.  Scientists have not determined the possible risks for your baby of taking most herbal or botanical supplements.  For this reason, avoid them when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Not all "natural" products are safe, and they are not tested or regulated like other drugs and medicines.

Taking too much of a dietary supplement can have harmful effects. Take the supplement your doctor  recommends.  Follow his or her advice about taking any other supplements or herbal products.

Tell your doctor about any supplements you are already taking, including herbal or botanicals, to protect yourself against taking too much.  Also, tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, to see if there could be interactions of your supplement with these medicines.

Learn More:

Dietary Supplements

What is a "dietary  supplement"?

What about fortified foods?