Most people who are or are trying to become pregnant would do anything to increase their chances of having a healthy baby and pregnancy. As it happens, there are pills you can pop for precisely this purpose: prenatal vitamins.
Healthcare providers typically recommend them for people who are trying to conceive, are already pregnant, or are breastfeeding. They ensure these patients get ample amounts of the vitamins and minerals that are essential to pregnancy and the postpartum period.
While prenatal vitamins can bridge nutritional gaps to prevent deficiencies and reduce the risk of delivering a baby prematurely or with low birth weight or size for their gestational age, they can cause some adverse effects in some cases. The thing is, symptoms like constipation, nausea, and bloating can also result from the pregnancy itself, so it can be difficult to pinpoint whether the supplements are responsible, says Dr. White. Luckily, in cases where prenatal vitamins are in fact the culprit, there are ways to mitigate discomfort.
Read on to find out more about what to expect when taking prenatal vitamins and how to minimize side effects.
Common Side Effects
Even among the most seasoned medical professionals, it’s not always easy to distinguish between pregnancy symptoms and prenatal vitamin side effects. So how can you tell which is to blame? “It’s a million dollar question,” says Dr. Valent. “As pregnancy progresses, there are no two hours that are the same. Even if you stop taking your prenatal vitamin and your symptoms go away, there’s no saying whether that’s because of your pills or your pregnancy.”
Nevertheless, prenatal vitamins can contribute to the following side effects in some cases.
Also a common side effect of pregnancy, constipation can be caused by the iron in prenatal vitamins. The true cause here isn’t known, says Dr. Valent, who notes that taking iron supplements with vitamin-C-containing citrus can improve absorption and potentially mitigate this symptom.
Dr. Valent chalks nausea up to pill size and/or scent. After all, the additional micronutrients in prenatal vitamins tend to make the pills bigger, which could trigger nausea during an attempt to swallow. Some pills also carry a triggering smell or are manufactured with preservatives that exacerbate this symptom, she says, noting that the micronutrients themselves aren’t typically at fault.
While it’s hard to say whether reports of bloating are due to pregnancy or prenatal vitamins, some pregnant individuals are particularly sensitive to the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or fish oil sometimes found in prenatal vitamins.
Another possible side effect of the DHA in fish oil that can show up in prenatal vitamins is gassiness. This can be caused by what you ate before or with your prenatal vitamins.
Belly discomfort, nausea, or vomiting after taking a prenatal supplement can be a sneaky sign you’re allergic to something in the supplement, according to Dr. White. While it’s uncommon to react to micronutrients, the culprit could be an ingredient used to make the capsule or tablet, an issue that’s not unique to prenatal vitamins.
If you notice that you bruise more easily since starting prenatal vitamins, it may not be in your head. Depending on the way your body processes vitamin E or vitamin K, which are involved in the body’s blood clot response, you may indeed be more prone to bruising, Dr. Valente says.
How to Manage Side Effects
The easiest way to sidestep prenatal vitamin side effects is to try a different brand. “Not every prenatal vitamin is the same,”.
You can also halve your pills and take one half in the morning and one half in the evening, or—with your healthcare provider’s approval—try taking the pills every other day, Dr. White suggests. (This last option may not be appropriate for people carrying twins, who might need more of certain nutrients such as folic acid and iron.)
But at the end of the day, if you simply find it challenging to swallow larger pills, you can always take individuals, Dr. Valent says. Just talk to your healthcare provider about which ones you need in addition to folic acid.