Why Do Prenatal Vitamins Make Me Sick?

Why Do Prenatal Vitamins Make Me Sick?

Giant, chalky pills with that weird vitamin smell can be nauseating even when you aren’t pregnant. When you combine that stomach-churning pill with your already uneasy stomach while pregnant, it can be almost impossible to keep your vitamins down.

Whether you’re sick of wasting your prenatal vitamins by throwing them up shortly after taking them, or you’re just sick of feeling sick, know that this a very common occurrence, and it’s almost certainly nothing to worry about. Keep reading for more info on why this is happening and what you can do about it.

Why Your Prenatal Vitamins Are Making You Sick

There are a few different reasons that your prenatal vitamins could be making you feel nauseated. Your particular case could be any one of these factors or it could be a vomit-inducing combination of a few of them.

You’re Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins During Peak Morning Sickness Hours

Morning sickness can already have you feeling sick even before you’ve taken your prenatal vitamins. If you combine morning sickness with that multivitamin, the feeling can intensify.

Despite the name, the feeling of nausea can actually happen at any time of day. For a lot of women, it’s worse in the morning but for some, it peaks in the afternoon or evening. Think back and try to identify what time of day you feel the most nauseated. If that’s also the time of day you’re taking your multivitamin, this is probably a big reason for the sick feeling.

The good news is that most women start to lose that morning sickness in the second trimester. An unlucky few will struggle with it for the entire nine months.

You’re Taking Them on an Empty Stomach

Whether you’re pregnant or not, taking a multivitamin on an empty stomach is not a good idea. They’re difficult to digest on their own and the high concentration of certain vitamins and minerals can make you feel sick.

Food, especially ones that are high in healthy fats like yogurt, eggs, nuts, and plant oils can help your digestive system break down multivitamins more easily, decreasing the stress they put on your system.

The Iron Dosage Is Too High

One of the side effects of iron supplements is nausea. That’s true whether you’re pregnant or not. The higher the dosage, the more intense the side effects. For pregnant women, the upper intake recommendation is 45 mg of iron per day.

When prenatal formulas include iron, they often include doses higher than that recommended 45 mg. Add to that the fact that you’re already probably getting some iron from your diet. It’s found in all meat, many grains, and certain fruit and vegetables.

If you’re experiencing any of the other side effects of iron supplements like constipation, diarrhea, or faintness, this is most likely the cause. Try switching to an iron-free prenatal formula and then taking a separate iron supplement that’s less than 45 mg per dose.

Even better, ask your doctor to test your iron levels to see if you even need to take iron. While women are more likely to have an iron deficiency, it’s not as common among those who eat a standard western diet which is typically high in meat and grains.

If you don’t have a deficiency, you can switch to an iron-free formula and skip the iron altogether. If you do have a deficiency, take the iron with a fiber-rich meal to help manage the nausea and digestive upset it can cause.

You’re Taking Them Alongside Other Medications

Multivitamins can have negative interactions with other supplements or medications you’re taking. This is especially true if you’re taking anything that boosts your estrogen levels.

You’re in Your First or Third Trimester

During your first trimester, estrogen levels skyrocket. That sudden and rapid increase is thought to play a large part in the morning sickness that happens in those first few months. As the rate of the increase in estrogen starts to taper off during the second trimester, morning sickness usually starts to go away.

By the third trimester, however, estrogen levels reach their peak. Multivitamins paired with high estrogen levels can be a recipe for nausea.

Pinpointing which factors are most likely causing your stomach distress will help you figure out which of the preventative steps discussed below will make the biggest difference for you. But if you’re having trouble figuring out what specifically is behind your nausea, just try out all the tips below until you find a prenatal vitamin routine that works for you.

How to Take Prenatal Vitamins Without Throwing Up

While it might seem impossible, especially if you’re dealing with a more extreme all-day morning sickness, you can, in fact, take your prenatal vitamins and keep them down. Here are some tricks you can try to make that happen:

Figure Out Which Ones You Need

The first step to minimizing nausea is minimizing the number of supplements you’re taking. As soon as possible in the pregnancy, schedule an appointment with your obstetrician. During this appointment, ask for a full panel blood test to check your levels of all the key vitamins and minerals.

If you’re uninsured or your insurance won’t cover a full analysis, you can try a home vitamin and mineral test. This will tell you which specific vitamins and minerals are below the target range you need while pregnant. Then, take supplements only for the vitamins you actually need.

By reducing the number of different vitamins and minerals you’re taking each day, you’ll minimize the risk of irritation.

Take Them When You’re Least Nauseous

A lot of people prefer to take multivitamins in the morning because it’s an easy way to ensure you don’t forget them. However, if you’re already feeling the need to bolt to the bathroom, swallowing a giant multivitamin isn’t going to help matters.

Instead, take them during your least pukey hours. For most pregnant women, that’s usually in the evening. If you’re worried you’ll forget, set an alarm on your phone, or place the bottle of multivitamins somewhere prominent (like in front of the TV).

If your “morning” sickness lasts most of the day, it might not feel like there’s any good time to swallow a handful of pills. This is why food is important.

Take Them After a Meal

Swallowing giant vitamins on an empty stomach is a bad idea. First of all, your body will absorb most vitamins better if they’re paired with food because they’re fat-soluble, so they break down better.

Second of all, swallowing a pill on an empty stomach will trigger it to start producing enough stomach acid to digest a meal. If there is no meal to digest, that stomach acid will just slosh around in there, irritating your stomach’s lining and causing nausea.
multivitamins and food

Lunch or dinner are better options since you’re less likely to be dealing with low blood sugar. Eventually, you’ll just get into the habit of taking it with dinner. Although there is nothing wrong with having it after breakfast, provided you’re not too sick.

So, eat a meal of healthy fats, like a yogurt parfait or some avocado toast. Then take your prenatal vitamins.

Take Smaller Doses

Fat-soluble vitamins and certain minerals are more likely to irritate your stomach than water-soluble vitamins because they don’t breakdown as easily, even when taken with a yogurt parfait. Prenatals contain quite a few vitamins and minerals that can irritate your stomach whether it’s empty or full.

More to the point, these supplements contain high doses because it’s expected that your body won’t be able to breakdown all of it. So, if you notice that you still feel sick, no matter what time of day it is or how much you’ve eaten, it’s possible your prenatal vitamins are simply too potent.

Try cutting the pills in half and taking each half at different times of day so that your stomach doesn’t have to deal with the high dosage all at once.

Try Aromatherapy

Placing something with a pleasant smell near your nose before taking the supplement can help calm your stomach and decrease any feelings of nausea. A strong or artificial scent will be too overpowering but a steaming cup of lavender tea or a warm towel fresh out of the dryer could be just the thing to calm that urge to vomit.

Choose a scent that works for you. During pregnancy, one person’s aromatherapy scent is another person’s odor. Try a few different scents that you’ve enjoyed in the past and remember to keep them subtle. Your nose is extra sensitive right now so a faint aroma can quickly become overwhelming.

Try Ginger Beer

Follow your multivitamin with a cold glass of ginger beer to help put your stomach at ease and prevent you from throwing up. Ginger beer is a nonalcoholic carbonated beverage made with real ginger. This sets it apart from most ginger ales which are simply ginger-flavored.

The real ginger is the key here. While carbonation alone can help quiet an upset stomach, ginger is an even more potent remedy for treating nausea.  If you’re not a fan of carbonation or want a low-cost alternative, you can brew yourself a cup of ginger root tea.

Change Your Brand

If you’ve tried everything else and your prenatal vitamins are still making you feel sick, it might be time to try another brand. It’s possible that there’s just something in that particular formula that isn’t sitting right with your extra-sensitive pregnant tummy.

When you’re shopping for a different brand to try, keep the following tips in mind to improve the odds of finding something that actually works better for you:

  • Try a slow-release supplement. It won’t dissolve until it hits your intestine (which is much less sensitive than your stomach).
  • Look for something with lower doses of iron, zinc, and vitamins D and E
  • Bring your old bottle with you and compare the ingredient label. Look for a new option with different ingredients (e.g. different forms of vitamin E or iron)
  • Try something with higher doses of B6. B6 can help soothe feelings of nausea.
  • Try an iron-free supplement, and then get the extra iron you need from your diet instead.
  • Switch to a chewable if it’s the sensation of swallowing a giant pill that seems to be triggering your reaction.

Still Feel Sick?

Hopefully, you can now better stomach the sickness from taking prenatal vitamins, and next time – or soon enough – they’ll go down smooth.

However, if you’re continuing to throw up more than expected, your doctor will have the best insight into why your stomach is not tolerating the prenatal vitamins, so they’ll be able to give you the best recommendations on how to meet your nutritional requirements without feeling sick.