If you are considering trying for a baby, your doctor may have already suggested that you start taking a prenatal vitamin. The Center for Disease Control advises that people trying to get pregnant should begin taking prenatal vitamins, especially folic acid, at least three months before conception. Having enough folate in your system to aid with the production of new cells is especially important since major defects to the baby’s spine and brain tend to occur around three to four weeks after conception. Folate comes in the synthetic form of folic acid tablets and can also be found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and bread.
Nutrients to Look for in Prenatal Vitamins
Whether you are trying to conceive or have already found out that you are pregnant, getting the right nutrients from your prenatal vitamins is key. You can get folic acid tablets on their own, but most healthcare professionals recommend a multi-vitamin tablet that will help you get enough nutrients during this time, since they are not only needed for you but also for your baby. The main six nutrients that you should look for when choosing the right prenatal vitamin for you include:
- Folic acid: This is important for healthy fetal growth. It helps to prevent neural tube defects and, in some cases, can prevent cleft lip and palate.
- Calcium: You may notice when you are pregnant that you crave foods that are high in calcium. This is because calcium is necessary to help the bones, heart, and teeth develop. If you’re not getting enough calcium when you are pregnant, your body will use your own supply to help the baby develop, which can lead to teeth problems and osteoporosis.
- Iron: Iron is necessary as it allows your baby to make blood in utero. An iron deficiency could lead to a premature birth, low-birthweight baby, or anemia.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a crucial ingredient to look out for since it helps your body absorb calcium and boosts your immune system. When pregnant, vitamin D is essential to help the baby’s bones and teeth develop.
- Iodine: An important ingredient for thyroid function, choose a prenatal vitamin with iodine as this will aid in the development of your baby’s nervous system and brain.
- DHA: This ingredient helps with the development of your baby’s brain and eyes.
Benefits of Taking the Right Prenatal Vitamins
The best prenatal supplements will do more than just provide your body with the right dose of vitamins for pregnancy and when trying to conceive. They can also:
- Ease Morning Sickness: A prenatal vitamin should contain some B6, which can help to reduce nausea and ease morning sickness, a common condition experienced by 80% of women during the first trimester.
- Balance Your Diet: Most people don’t eat a perfectly balanced diet every day, even when they are pregnant. And, if you are experiencing morning sickness, this can put you off eating a lot or even make it difficult to keep food down. Taking a prenatal vitamin means that neither you nor your baby misses out on any important vitamins and minerals from your diet.
- Prevent Premature Birth: Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains B12 to help prevent premature birth and low birthweight in babies.
Choosing the Right Prenatal Vitamin
The first step to choosing the right prenatal vitamin for you and your future baby is to speak to your healthcare provider. A doctor, OBGYN or nurse midwife can help by providing advice on some of the best prenatal vitamins out there, along with suggesting options that might be best for you based on your specific needs.
Over the Counter Prenatal Vitamins
You can get various prenatal vitamin brands over the counter, and these will usually contain the basic amount of nutrients. The main difference between OTC and prescribed prenatal vitamins is extra ingredients and preservatives. OTC prenatals are available in several forms including vegetarian, vegan, whole foods, or synthetic. On the other hand, generic brands will often contain lecithin, oils, synthetic dyes, sugars, starches, and diglycerides that are often worth avoiding as they can sometimes be counterproductive to the nutrients that you and your baby need throughout pregnancy. Organic and whole food labels are the best options if you are planning to buy prenatal vitamins over the counter.
The Difference Between Food Based and Synthetic Vitamins
Synthetic vitamins are typically made in a lab to copy what naturally occurring vitamins do in the body. On the other hand, food-based supplements are created using whole foods that are usually dehydrated. Check the label to see if a vitamin is synthetic or food based. Food-based, natural supplements will usually be listed as either 100% animal or plant-based, and provide food sources like vegetables, fish, citrus, or yeast. On the other hand, a supplement is likely to be synthetic if it lists ingredient words that end in ‘ate’ or ‘ite’.
There are several reasons to consider a plant or food based prenatal vitamin when you are pregnant. They are gentler on the stomach which can make them easier to take if you are experiencing morning sickness and are absorbed better in the body. Along with this, they will also contain various other vitamins compared to synthetic options that work together to help your body metabolize a smaller amount of each vitamin. While it is not very common, you should always be aware of heavy metals in prenatal vitamins that are usually more likely to show up in synthetic forms. As Needed explains, heavy metals in prenatal vitamins are usually introduced in the form of additives or during processing. Head to Needed to find out more about how to avoid this, and to check out their range of prenatal vitamin products.
Check the Ingredients
When buying a prenatal multivitamin, there are some ingredients that should always be included at an optimal dose. You will usually get the best results from the following:
- 400mg folic acid
- 17mg iron
- 200-300mg calcium
- 400IU vitamin D
- 200mg DHA
- 150mg iodine
Vitamins to Avoid During Pregnancy
It’s important to be aware that not all vitamins are good during pregnancy. Vitamin A, for example, is necessary for fetal vision development, but you need to be careful when it comes to how much you take since too much can be toxic, raising the risk of birth defects. Vitamin E is another one to be careful of; while it is important for immune function and gene expression, it can also increase your risk of abdominal pain and the amniotic sack rupturing prematurely. Experts also recommend avoiding black cohosh, blue cohosh, dong quai, goldenseal, saw palmetto, red clover, angelica, yohimbe, tansy, wormwood, yarrow, pennyroyal, mugwort and ephedra while pregnant or trying to conceive.
Do Your Research
Be aware that dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the FDA, which is why it’s so important to take some time to research the brand, reviews, ingredient sources, and health care recommendations when choosing a prenatal multivitamin. Your doctor or another healthcare professional will usually be the best source of advice when choosing the right supplement.
Whether you are trying for a baby or are in the stages of early pregnancy, the sooner you start taking a good prenatal vitamin, the better.