We all know that a prenatal vitamin a day keeps the baby doctor away. "Taking a prenatal vitamin ensures that women who are planning pregnancy, are pregnant, or breastfeeding receive at least the recommended amount of vitamins often lacking in food and/or their diets so that they optimize their chances for a healthy pregnancy and, in the case of lactation, replenish needed vitamin stores for themselves and their babies," explains Rebecca Chilvers, a board-certified physician in both obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility with Fertility Specialists of Texas in Dallas.
A good daily supplement should pack in at least 1000-1300mg of calcium, 400mg of folic acid, 27mg of iron, 150mcg of iodine, and 5mcg of vitamin D, according to the American Pregnancy Association. But getting in all these nutrients means the pills can be large and hard to swallow, causing stomach upset (especially if you have to take three at a time). It doesn't help that the first trimester of pregnancy, when taking these nutritional bullets matters most, is also associated with nausea.
A pill fortified with iron, while good for you, can also make queasy matters worse. "I tell my patients to take a stool softener such as docusate to aid with the common complaint of constipation due to iron consumption as well as due to progesterone secreted or taken supplementally during pregnancy," Chilvers adds.
To help stave off the vitamin heaves, Chilvers recommends taking them before bedtime, with a small stomach-settling snack, such as saltine crackers and ginger ale. But if you still can't keep the almond-sized, stomach-churners down, here are 7 easier ways to take in your essential nutrients.
Drinks and Beverages
There are drinkable versions of the prenatal "horse pill," like Premama, which disolve in a glass of water (think Emergen-C) and are aimed at women with delicate gag reflexes or morning nausea. The drawback? The vitamins are all there, but it takes an extra couple of minutes to prep and drink the beverage, versus the quick popping of a pill. Plus it's not quite as tasty as necking a vitamin with, say, your morning latte.
Powdered Shake Mix
Vegetarian or vegan preggos might be particularly interested in a powdered breakfast shake mix containing prenatal vitamins, since it will usually come supplemented with extra protein. These mixes come in kosher and gluten-free options too. Just read the labels closely before you buy: Some are not FDA-approved.
These soft vitamins are simple to eat and generally have an appealing fruit flavor. Women who need to take their vitamins quickly, or on-the-go, can easily pack these in a purse or consume them in the morning when they take other medications or supplements. However, many gummies don't contain calcium or iron, according to Chilvers. She says gummies are fine for women in their first trimester who are battling constipation and nausea, but by the second trimester they need to supplement the gummy with a source of calcium and iron.
Similar to the gummy vitamins, chocolates are easy to eat and have a pleasing flavor. Double check which nutrients they contain and ask your physician if they're appropriate for your stage of pregnancy. Bellybar makes chocolate ball snacks fortified with calcium, iron and folic acid and a separate chocolate treat featuring DHA—so you can enjoy chocolate during all stages of pregnancy.
Prenatal Nutrition Bars
Snacking on a granola-type bar saves time and helps curb evening snack cravings. But before putting the box in your shopping cart read the nutrition label. These are often calorie-heavy and filled with sugar and preservatives. Look for sugar-free, organic options that can work as a meal replacement or as a heavy snack following a light dinner.
Soft Gel Caplet and Hard Pill Combo
If you prefer to stick to the all-encompassing prenatal pills but still don't like swallowing them, Chilvers recommends looking for a dual-pill pack containing the traditional hard pill in a slightly smaller size that contains calcium and a DHA soft gel caplet that's easier to swallow and generally well-tolerated—like Be Well Rounded by Healthy Mama. For women who were taking multiple pills or sources of nutrients, this two-pill option is easier and faster to take on a daily basis.
A Healthy Diet
It is possible to get your daily prenatal vitamins from your diet, but not easy. You'd have to eat an enormous amount of fresh produce to get the daily recommended amounts of vitamins needed each day. For example, just to get your daily iron needs, you'd have to consume 22 cups of spinach daily, according to Aziz. Chilvers agrees: "While I recommend patients consume a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables for their fiber, enzymatic, and pigment/color nutrient benefits, I still recommend all my patients planning pregnancy start a prenatal vitamin, preferably months before conception if time permits."