MegaFood | May 2022

Most expectant mothers know they need to update their eating habits and take a prenatal multi when they are pregnant. What many don’t realize is that nutritional needs change once a baby arrives and that they need to switch from a prenatal supplement to a postnatal supplement. If you are wondering the difference between a postnatal and prenatal vitamin, know that a postnatal multi is specifically formulated to provide nourishment support after pregnancy while breastfeeding. A prenatal supplement is designed to support mother and baby during pregnancy.

With the help of naturopathic doctor and MegaFood Medical Director, Erin Stokes, we answer frequently-asked questions about how nutritional needs change during pregnancy and postpartum, including why nutritional guidelines are so important to follow for expectant and new mothers, prenatal vs. postnatal supplements and why new mothers should switch from prenatal supplements to postnatal supplements. Plus, we cover the nutrients and dosages to take throughout both stages.

Prenatal vs Postnatal Vitamins: How They Differ and When to Take Each

The importance of following nutritional guidelines as an expectant or new mother can’t be understated. Simply put, following dietary guidelines — as set by health experts and a woman’s personal medical care team — will support optimal health for both mom and baby. Getting the right nutrients will not only promote a healthy pregnancy but also influence both of their future health outcomes.

“It can be challenging for pregnant women to consume all of the nutrients they need, particularly early in pregnancy when morning sickness may be a factor,” Dr. Stokes says. For that reason, supplementing with prenatal vitamins is key for women who are planning to get pregnant or are currently pregnant.”

Once baby arrives, there’s a good chance new parents won’t have the time or energy to thoroughly investigate every postnatal supplement label. At the very least, new and nursing moms should replace the prenatal multi with a high-quality postnatal supplement. Finding one that contains the nutrients listed below in similar ranges is key.

Are Prenatal and Postnatal Vitamins the Same?

No, they aren’t. Prenatal vitamins are designed for an expectant mother’s needs as her baby is growing. Postnatal vitamins have been formulated for the healing and breastfeeding that happens after birth.

Prenatal vs. Postnatal Vitamins and Nutrient Requirements

Here are the most important nutrients for both prenatal and postnatal health and the amounts that Dr. Stokes recommends:

  • Folic Acid 
    • prenatal: 600 mcg
    • postnatal: 500 mcg
  • Iron 
    • prenatal: 27 mcg
    • postnatal: 9 mcg
  • Choline 
    • prenatal: 450 mcg
    • postnatal: 550 mcg (Dr. Stokes notes that this increase in choline dosage is advised to support healthy brain development while breastfeeding*)
  • Iodine 
    • prenatal: 220 mcg
    • postnatal: 290 mcg
  • Vitamin A 
    • prenatal: 770 mcg
    • postnatal: 1,300 mcg

What are the Top Recommended Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals?

Dr. Stokes shares four nutrients pregnant women need most in the prenatal period:

  1. Folatesupports fetal health*
  2. Ironsupports healthy red blood cell production*
  3. Choline promotes healthy fetal development*
  4. Vitamin D supports immune and bone health in both mom and baby*

While these nutrients aren’t the only ones recommended to take while pregnant, they should have priority in a prenatal supplement and dietary routine. (Note: As always, medical background, supplement regimen and similar considerations should be discussed with a healthcare provider.)

Again, it can be difficult to get these key nutrients from diet alone, which is why many doctors and health professionals advise taking high-quality prenatal supplements that contain them.

When’s the Right Time to Switch From Prenatal to Postnatal Vitamins?

Moms should switch from a prenatal vitamin to a postnatal vitamin once the baby arrives. “Nutritional demands change after a baby is born and while breastfeeding,” Dr. Stokes says. As life-changing and joyous as giving birth can be, it does take a serious toll on the mother’s body.

After labor, there can be major changes to the new mom’s body. However, the right dietary regimen and nutrients can support a faster return to equilibrium.

When’s the Right Time to Stop Taking Postnatal Vitamins?

“Ultimately, how long a woman should follow postnatal nutritional guidelines depends on individual needs,” Dr. Stokes says. Plus, the same can go for which nutrients are needed. “For example, even though the nutritional demands for iron technically decrease postpartum, many women may still be low in iron from the demands of pregnancy and childbirth,” she continues. In such cases, new mothers should work with their healthcare providers to see if additional supplementation — with iron or other nutrients — is advised.

Navigating the world of prenatal vs. postnatal nutrition can be challenging. After all, there’s a lot to know! Moms-to-be and new moms should reach out to a medical professional with any lingering questions or concerns.