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Why I Don't Take Prenatal Vitamins

By KateTietje |

Yes, the shock, the horror!  All women are admonished to take prenatal vitamins as soon as they get pregnant.  Ideally, as soon as they even start trying to conceive.  But I don’t.  I did, the first time, and most of the second, too.  But I’m not this time.

This is not an accident.  I have not “forgotten” to take them because I am so busy.  I have deliberately chosen not to take them.  And you know what?  Maybe others don’t need them, either.

The reason for taking prenatal vitamins is that our diets are not quite adequate for the nutrition that we need during pregnancy.  And honestly, when I say not quite (and I’m talking about the way the ‘typical American’ eats), I mean, not at all.  This is compounded by the fact that many women suffer from morning sickness and can barely eat anything during the early months.

It’s important to keep this in mind when making a choice about whether or not to take prenatal vitamins, because various vitamin deficiencies have been shown to increase birth defects.  A lack of B12 was recently linked to excessive crying in newborns (presumably because their neurological system is immature).  Vitamin A deficiency can cause defects in the heart, lungs, and cleft lip/palate.  A lack of folic acid (B4) can cause spina bifida.  Vitamin deficiency is definitely not something you want to mess around with during pregnancy.

Knowing all of this, why don’t I take a prenatal vitamin?

Most prenatal vitamins are synthetic.  That is, they are created from synthetic, lab-made versions of the vitamins and minerals.  Try to burn one and it might melt into a black, sticky pile (a friend tried it once).  These synthetic vitamins are not well absorbed by the body, so very little is actually useful to you.  Most of it will be excreted.  Which, honestly, just makes for very expensive urine, and that’s not what you’re going for…right?

Certain vitamins — like iron, in the form of ferrous sulfate — can be very hard on pregnant women.  It can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.  (I experienced some of these while taking it when I wasn’t even pregnant!)  New studies show extra iron is of limited value unless you’re actually anemic anyway, but it’s not uncommon to become anemic during the second and third trimesters.

There are natural prenatal vitamins out there, but I don’t fully trust these.  I think a lot of them are not really as natural as they claim to be, and there’s no guarantee that they’re all safe.  (Despite being predisposed towards the “natural” side of things, I do not trust all things natural…I research carefully.)

Instead, I focus on a “whole foods” diet.  I don’t eat processed foods.  I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (organic where possible), pastured eggs and meats, whole milk, etc.  If the foods I eat are more “nutrient dense” (which, let’s face it…fresh fruits and vegetables are compared to most processed foods, we all know that), then I am less likely to be deficient in anything.

I also take a fermented cod liver oil, which is not a prenatal supplement, but something I alway take.  It has vitamins A, D, EPA, DHA, and other nutrients in it (it’s a minor source of iron).

There are different pregnancy tea blends that are available (some commercially, some you can mix yourself) that contain a lot of extra nutrients, too.  There are other “natural” supplements — like spirulina, which contains a very absorbable form of iron — that you can take specifically, too, if you need to.  Consult a midwife or herbalist for your particular recommendations.

Since I focus on getting my nutrition from foods, and from (occasional) natural supplements, I don’t feel the need to take a standard, synthetic prenatal vitamin.

If you are sensitive to prenatal vitamins, or if they make you sick, you may choose to discuss this approach with your healthcare provider.  It is important to do your own research, but not to start or change anything — especially during pregnancy — without consulting with a trusted doctor or midwife.

Do you take a prenatal vitamin?  Why or why not?

Top image by colindunn

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About KateTietje

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KateTietje

Kate Tietje is a food blogger who focuses on natural food and cooking. In addition to Modern Alternative Mama, she has contributed her writing to the Parenting and Pregnancy channels on Babble.

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38 thoughts on “Why I Don't Take Prenatal Vitamins

  1. christine says:

    I was advised by a genetic counselor to take a pre-natal for almost a year before we tried to conceive and even more folic acid throughout the pregnancy. My sister has spina bifidia, so I wanted to do everything possible to give my baby every chance of not developing it.

  2. Kate says:

    You make a couple really good points, having a healthy diet is the best possible way to get all the nutrients your baby needs, and not everything that is “natural” is safe or healthy. I guess I’d have to do more research on exactly how well these vitamin supplements are absorbed, but for right now it seems like a “can’t hurt” precaution. I’ve heard that some herbs are not safe in pregnancy, so be careful with those pregnancy teas. Maybe in your next article you could write more about those.

  3. Kay says:

    What are your thoughts on the over farming of American lands and how this impacts the nutrients in our fruits and vegetables, even organic? How do you know your diet is as nutrient rich as you claim?

  4. Megan says:

    I’ve been taking gummy prenatal vitamins since I started trying to conceive! They don’t have iron in them which is great because I cannot take iron supplements. I have Crohn’s disease, and while I tend to eat healthier than the average American due to my gluten and lactose intolerance, I still miss a lot of nutrients that aren’t absorbed from my food. Even before I started TTC I took a regular gummy multi-vitamin (also iron-free) just to give myself a boost of vitamins and minerals. Luckily, pregnancy has really helped a lot of my digestive issues and I’m able to eat a lot of foods that wasn’t before (red meat, raw vegetables, lactose free dairy products, foods that aren’t low-fat or fat-free, etc.). I also have a great midwife who is in tune with what I can do and can’t do as far as supplements go. I already have an iron supplement called Floradix that should be easier on my digestive system for just in case (although I won’t take it unless my blood works says I need to). While I’m more conscientious about what I ingest due to my health issues, I still think it’s a good idea to look into everything we put into our bodies no matter how healthy we are!

  5. Jenny says:

    The prenatal vitamins were making me sick in the first trimester. My OB told me that it was more important that I be able to eat actual food than that I take the vitamin. Since then (I’m at 27 weeks), I’ve taken the prenatal vitamin occasionally, mostly when I’m not having any other GI issues. I’m a vegetarian, so I worry most about iron and protein, and make sure to eat as many fresh vegetables as possible. I agree that synthetic vitamins are really not the best option.

  6. KateTietje says:

    Kay,

    That’s an interesting thought. It is true that our soils are very depleted from what they were 50 or 100 years ago, due to modern farming practices (not rotating crops, heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, not using compost, etc.). Tests of produce now vs. then do show significantly different nutrient levels in some foods.

    As much as possible (at least in the summer), I try to buy locally from farmers that I know, who deliberately use compost and traditional methods to build up their soil and increase nutrients. In the winter I use home-canned foods as much as possible (or home-frozen), but I do buy organics from the store when I need (and non-dirty-dozen often conventionally for budget reasons). I am just trusting that by eating a large volume of these foods, and avoiding processed foods, that I am doing as well as I can. Adding in herbal teas and my FCLO supplement helps as well. It’s hard to know, of course, exactly what I’m getting (or, what anyone is getting, really), but I feel like it is meeting my needs. Certainly more than the way that I ate in previous pregnancies, when I did rely more on processed foods!

  7. KateTietje says:

    Jenny,

    Beans can be a very good source of both iron and protein (we make lots of soups with them!), eggs (if you’re not vegan) are great protein too. B12 is a nutrient you may want to look into more, though, because it’s almost exclusively found in animal products.

  8. ABD says:

    I was incredibly sick throughout both my pregnancies. Taking vitamins helped replenish nutrients lost from constantly throwing up. Luckily both my girls are healthy. Everyone is different and vitamins can be beneficial in many cases.

  9. Rach says:

    I actually do not take prenatals either for the same reason u dont. But I do take a whole food supplement called Juice Plus, which is 17 different fruits and vegetables in a powdered form. my ob knows how good it is and loves that I take it. The research that backs this product up is what really turned me on to it

  10. kellyhere says:

    I take my prenatal vitamins because of the huge scientific consensus that this is a simply, easy, and indisputably good thing to do for my baby. Am I, and English major, going to Google my way into a superior understanding on prenatal vitamins? No, I am not. Take your vitamins, ladies.

  11. birgitta Lauren says:

    Since pregnancy needs double to triple the nutrients and only 300-500 extra calories a day. I’d be concerned. it’s impossible to fit double-triple nutrition into so few calories.
    Yes you are right, most, actually almost all prenatals are synthetic (because it’s cheaper) and difficult for many to absorb. you may want to check out Healthy Baby Complete Vitamins with natural Folate, on expectingfitness.com.
    Prescription prenatals are some of worst vitamins as they are not only synthetic, they are incomplete, with only about 1/2-3/4 of the needed nutrients.
    And nutrition being like a cake recipe: all nutrients work together. if you omit some the rest won’t be able to do their job. you actually end up with toxic levels of some and deficiencies in other nutrients. = not good for baby. Folic Acid is biggest synthetic vitamin. Folate is it’s natural food sourced form and it’s B9 no 4 – sorry for correction.
    Now that drug company Merck has almost complete monopoly on the Folate market (they make a new incomplete and otherwise synthetic prescription prenatal, and is using half Folic acid and half Folate in it). They have bought one Swiss company that produces natural Folate and is preventing anyone else to use it prenatals by making vitamin manufacturers sign contracts that they won’t… of course to control the prenatal market and ensure moms and babies don’t get the best nutrition possible.

  12. NoAdditives says:

    I always take a multivitamin supplement because of the same concerns that Kay raised above. Unless you’re growing your own fruits and vegetables, or know an organic farmer who does, there’s no guarantee that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, especially during pregnancy.

  13. Christine says:

    I tend to err on the side of “take your vitamins” because of my particular circumstances. I take a high dosage of a pretty serious anti-seizure medication for epilepsy, and there is no way I can safely get off of this medication, not even during pregnancy. Thus I am putting my baby at a higher risk for neural tube defects; thus I take tons and tons of folic acid at all times, even between and before pregnancies so that it’s always in my system on the off-chance of an unexpected conception. (Folic acid itself is water soluble, so no danger of overdosing.) I pair my multivitamin with this extra folic acid and breathe a little easier every time I pop an anti-seizure pill.

    Sure, I eat whole foods and would be hard-pressed to find anything processed in the house. But I am simply not going to mess around with prenatal vitamins in general and folic acid in particular. So far we have 3 healthy, happy kids; here’s hoping my diligence with vitamins and healthy eating habits combines to make #4 just as healthy.

    @Kellyhere: I’m an English major, too! Must be our thing.

  14. bellecraig29 says:

    Have you ever heard of a place called “123 Get Samples” on the web, they give out a free samples of major brands to promote their products. I just got mine.

  15. Allison says:

    I went through a bunch of different prenatals that all made me really sick, so my doctor said to stop taking them. I did add fish and eggs to my vegetarian diet, and bumped up the greens, beans, and fruit consumption to help round things out as well, but otherwise called it a day. So much happier since that point, and baby is healthy and happy too. Done and done.

  16. iris1973 says:

    I’m almost 38 and I take a prenatal (pregnant with 2nd child). Because I am “high-risk” and “advanced maternal age” (who comes up with these terms??) I will continue to take my vitamins even if most of them are peed out. Better safe than sorry. I was highly anemic with my first child. Plus every doc I’ve had has recommended that i take them, and I tend to trust my doctors. This article reminded me to go take my vitamin, btw! :)
    As far as your reasons for not taking them, they all sound logical. But I think I will keep taking mine.

  17. Anna says:

    I admire your decision, and the ability to eat such a healthy diet for your baby! I don’t believe taking a vitamin to cover any gaps probably hurts, but I think not taking one certainly would force you to think very carefully about your food choices, and not rely on your vitamin as an insurance policy.

  18. Debbie says:

    I hate saying this because I feel like it’s playing the “Hitler Card”, but long ago they (by they, I mean doctors, M.D.s, OBs …… you know, the people that do the best they can with what limited knowledge of drugs they have and your supposed to trust your babies life with) thought that X-rays and certain over the counter medications were safe for pregnant moms and babies. It didn’t take too horribly long for them to figure out that these things were in fact bad during pregnancy (my mother is the result of some of these mistakes), but what about the more subtle things that are bad during pregnancy? We really don’t know much about how drugs work, for the most part, in general with most drugs all the producers know is that A tends to do this, B tends to do that, but never mix A and B, but C does similar things as B and you can mix A and C. But they don’t generally even understand why A does what it does. Sure prenatal vitamins have been around for a while, albeit in ever changing forms, and don’t appear to do any harm. But what if they have been causing subtle harm, harm that couldn’t be necessarily easily tracked. Autism? Cancer? Who knows really. So unless it’s absolutely necessary, we pregnant ladies should try to stick to an evolutionarily proven natural diet (ie. if carrots were bad for pregnant ladies, then nature would have made them taste like dog poo to us). Our bodies, while not perfect, have been designed to successfully procreate. How would you feel if 30 years from now your doctor told you that with out a doubt, your child had inoperable terminal cancer because they had recently discovered that prenatal vitamins were actually harmful to pregnant women and their babies? You would probably wish you had simply taken the effort to eat a rich, robust and healthy diet while pregnant. Besides, it’s not like drug companies have ever been known to hide or turn a blind eye to the negative effects of certain drugs *please oh please note my sarcasm*. And as far as the fresh veggie nutrition concern goes, I buy from my local CSA. I know my farmer and I know his practices, as soon as my son is old enough to bring along we’ll be helping weed his fields. You don’t need a degree in nutrition, just a little common sense.

  19. Katy E says:

    Debbie, I’m a pediatric oncology nurse. I’ve taken care of babies whose mothers did everything perfectly, ate perfectly and organic, breast fed, cloth diapered, made their own baby food and guess what?!? Their babies still got cancer. There are no guarantees in life. Please don’t play the “what if” blame game. It’s not fair. We’re all doing the best we can with the knowledge we have.

  20. Kate says:

    I need something explained to me, because I just do not get it. Reading these parenting blogs I see in post after post and topic after topic this THEME of “don’t trust doctors, don’t trust science.” The last 150 years has seen amazing, mind-blowing accomplishments in preventing infant deaths and crippling diseases. Vaccines have wiped out smallpox, which used to kill thousands and thousands of babies, and polio (mostly wiped out except a few pockets, mostly in the 3rd world) which used to kill babies and permanently disable others. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, tetanus… I mean these were diseases our grandparents TREMBLED in FEAR of. Now they are all preventable diseases, but more and more parents are shunning the very thing that their great-grandparents would have done anything to have. Not only rejecting vaccines, but eying skeptically anything that smacks of medical professionalism, relying on “common sense” and “natural prevention” like garlic (which our grandparents did have, and it did not help). People with only a high school degree, or a college degree in English (no offense to the thoughtful English majors posting above), are ignoring or battling their pediatricians over these safety measures based on something they read on the internet. Why, why, why? Where does the hostility come from, because I just don’t understand. Is this a class resentment? We don’t like being told what to do? Are the conspiracies really that persuasive? Why do we trust conspiratorially-minded internet strangers, and companies who sell us things we know are bad for us, and not the doctors who have spent 30 years learning and practicing pediatric medicine?

  21. Amanda says:

    Prenatal vitamins made me very sick in my first pregnancy and I didn’t even attempt with my second. I ate a very healthy diet… careful not to overdo anything. Moderation was my key, but I didn’t deprive myself of cravings for sure. I gained 28 lbs. with first and 20 lbs. with my second, both were healthy at birth. My 5-year-old is going strong and my 4-month-old is right on par with her check ups. I think taking or not taking prenatals is something that is for sure a case by case basis based on health condition and diet of the mother. I don’t think doctors should follow suit the way they do for every pregnant person. For me, I was fine… However, I did hear a lot of “WHAT? You are not taking prenatal vitamins?” from many, many people.

  22. Autoclave says:

    @Kate, hear hear!

  23. kellyhere says:

    Kate: YES. Thank you.

  24. kellyhere says:

    It’s very upsetting to me to think that some will read this article and decide against taking prenatal vitamins. I felt compelled to return to this post days later to say how reckless and irresponsible this post is. The title, “Why I Don’t Take Prenatal Vitamins,” with its subtitle, “And maybe you shouldn’t, either” – that’s just terrible. Babble, you’re losing me.

  25. JoJo says:

    @Kate,
    I fully, 100 percent agree with you. There was this very interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about the journalist Seth Mnookin (himself young, well-educated and with a small son) and his new book about the anti-vax tide. As Mnookin himself writes, “Anecdotes and suppositions, no matter how right they feel, don’t lead to universal truths; experiments that can be independently confirmed by impartial observers do. Intuition leads to the flat earth society and bloodletting; experiments lead to men on the moon and microsurgery.”
    We live in a society where information is readily available but so often lacks the context that we need to truly understand what we’re reading/watching/absorbing. It blurs the line between fact and fiction. How can any of us purport to know better than a doctor that has spent years studying science? I don’t get it.

  26. Christine says:

    Well said, Kate and Jojo!

  27. sarah says:

    i didn’t take them either! i tried in the beginning but was naseaous my entire pregnancy so it just didn’t work. i pretty much ate cereal with whole grains and %100 folic acid and lots of vitamins (MOST cereals!) every day.

  28. KateTietje says:

    It’s important to understand that we all have different mindsets as we approach problems and making decisions in our lives. What is right for one person is NOT right for another, and I encourage everyone to consult a trusted doctor or health professional before making any decisions.

  29. Susan M says:

    I had hyperemesis gravidarum which caused “morning sickness” to last the full nine months- THREE times! Oh, the joy! I also opted not to take the vitamins because they made the vomiting worse. I did, however, take a folic acid supplement for the first trimester, but also tried to focus on eating the right foods (when I could keep them down).

    In general, everyone should talk to their doctor and see what’s right for them. Just like non-pregnant people, everyone has different nutritional needs.

  30. Jess says:

    Where as I am one for a healthy fresh organic diet (I grow my own veggies year round)… I take my vitamins. A very close friend who refused them on similar grounds gave birth to a child with spina bifida. Years ago, she asked me if I ever considered getting pregnant to start on folic acid right away and to take prenatals when I got pregnant. I listened.

  31. Allison @ Adventures in Breastfeeding says:

    KUDOS to you for stepping up and admitting this.

    I attempted prenatals during my pregnancy, but I was so sick that I kept throwing them up. I got to the point where the thought of swallowing a pill of any kind, just the sheer thought, made me want to gag.

    I continued to tell people and my dr I was taking them because it was such a ‘crime’ if I wasn’t. I made sure I ate a healthy, well balanced diet and I like to think everything turned out ok! My baby is almost 4 weeks and thus far, I can’t complain ;)

  32. Breese says:

    I love love love this article!!!! I have been saying this for 20 years!!!! Whole foods is the way to go, and knowing what I know I must share this here…I do use a product called juice plus, (which bridges the gap of what we do eat and what we should eat). It is whole food in capsule or chewable form and free for children ( 3 years to full time college student) for up to 3 years. The gold standard, published research is amazing…please check it out, you can email me at breesern@rcn.com. or check out http://www.justbreezyjuiceplus.com and see what the experts say. Please always get as much whole foods first, and then if needed add juice plus…

  33. April says:

    “Why do we trust conspiratorially-minded internet strangers, and companies who sell us things we know are bad for us, and not the doctors who have spent 30 years learning and practicing pediatric medicine?”

    Wonderfully said!

  34. Heather says:

    @ Kate the commenter: I think I love you. You’ve said everything I’ve been thinking so eloquently.

    “Why do we trust conspiratorially-minded internet strangers, and companies who sell us things we know are bad for us, and not the doctors who have spent 30 years learning and practicing pediatric medicine?” YES YES YES! Or why do we trust stay-at-home mommies with high school educations and nothing else to do but scare themselves reading other idiots on the internet and who wouldn’t know a scientific study if it hit them in the face.

  35. KateTietje says:

    I truly believe that women ARE intelligent, and are capable of doing research (as well as talking to their doctors) to make an informed decision. Women CAN access, read, and understand scientific studies, even directly in medical journals. And if they choose to do this as a part of their decision-making process, there is nothing wrong with it. We don’t need to belittle and insult those who choose this method. If others choose to defer to their doctors, that is absolutely their right. But let’s have some respect for others.

  36. Heather says:

    Sorry, but reading a couple of abstracts on the Internet does not equal reading the entire body of evidence on a particular subject. Certainly most women are intelligent and capable of reading and understanding medical evidence, but most don’t bother. First of all, most evidence is not easily accessible. There are a few full studies that are available for anyone to read, but most are not. You need to be willing to go to a scientific library or pay to have access to the journals. Secondly, you need to have a basic grasp of how studies are set up and what kinds of studies offer the best evidence so that you can evaluate what you’re reading- a retrospective study is not equivalent to a random controlled double blinded trial. You also need to have a basic grasp of statistics. Many people don’t have these things. Not to say they can’t learn – there’s s huge difference between ignorance and stupidity – but they choose not to. This is fine, because doctors not only have the skills and education, but they have a professional obligation to read and evaluate the entire body of evidence relating to their specialty. Most people don’t “educate” themselves on how to diagnose a transmission problem in their car, they take it to a mechanic. If they get into legal trouble, they don’t represent themselves in court, they hire an attorney.

  37. Nicholas Baranovic says:

    Chris,Couldn’t agree more about Convict Conditioning. It’s so fun to make your way through the progressions as well. Each step is a new challenge.

  38. bfat says:

    Re: Doctors

    While I do agree that most of the time it’s a good idea to listen to your doctor, it’s important to keep in mind the absolutely horrific history of obstetrical care in the Western World. Obstetrics has largely been a “trial and error” field, and doctors have inflicted horrendous “treatments” on women before realizing that they were harmful. Read Tina Cassidy’s *Birth: The Strange History of How We Are Born* for some of the weirdest and worst offenses (here: http://www.amazon.com/Birth-Surprising-History-How-Born/dp/0871139383).

    If you think that we are somehow “beyond that” now that we’re in the 21st century, please think again. The last 50 years are filled with horror stories about treatments/drugs that doctors were sure were safe. Sometimes the older, more-traditional wisdom (i.e. “eat your veggies”) *is* better and safer.

    However, I don’t think this potential danger applies to vitamins—generally, if you don’t absorb them, you just pee them out. They’re a good “insurance policy” and probably not harmful if taken correctly. But I wouldn’t persecute anyone who turned them down, especially if vitamins make you violently ill—women have had healthy babies for millions of years without them.

    I just wanted to make the comment that a little healthy skepticism (especially of doctors and “amazing new drugs/treatments!”) is a good idea. Doctors are often paid big bucks to recommend new drugs, which, as you can tell by the number of yearly recalls, aren’t always safe.

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