Prenatal Vitamins Before You’re Pregnant: Why it Matters

The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins

If you’re trying to have a baby, you probably already know you should be eating a healthy diet to get the nutrients you need. But did you know it’s also important to take prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant?

About Prenatal Vitamins

Prenatal vitamins contain many of the same vitamins and minerals found in a daily multivitamin, but they usually contain higher levels of folic acid and iron. Most of the vital organs in a developing embryo are formed by 10 weeks of pregnancy, so it’s important to have these essential vitamins on board way in advance — especially since maintaining adequate levels in your blood can take time build up. Optimally, levels of folic acid and other vitamins would be built up weeks or months before conceiving.

Folic Acid Benefits

One clear success story in disease prevention has been folic acid, which is a big part of the prenatal vitamin. Without folic acid, there’s an increased risk of neural tube defects that can lead to things like spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord. But the vast majority of these cases can be bettered by folic acid.

For most women, prenatal vitamins should have between 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid. For women with a personal or family history of neural tube defects or other specific enzyme abnormalities, the recommended dose may be much higher.

According to the March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, about 3,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects in the United States each year. If all women took at least 400 micrograms of folic acid before and during pregnancy, the number of defects would decrease by about 70%.

Many foods in our society are supplemented with folic acid and other vitamins to help optimize pregnancy outcomes (grain products were first fortified with folic acid in the late 1990s, as an example.) However, supplemental folic acid before and during pregnancy is highly recommended to further reduce the chance of birth defects.


Many reproductive physicians, including the board certified doctors at Fertility Associates of Memphis, recommend that patients start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as they’re contemplating pregnancy. While starting early is important, prenatal vitamins offer benefits throughout pregnancy, birth, and beyond. So even if you fall into the category of becoming pregnant prior to taking vitamins, it is still important to begin taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you can. Click here to learn more information about healthy eating when you’re pregnant.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our reproductive endocrinology and infertility doctors, please contact Fertility Associates of Memphis at 901-747-2229 or online at