How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

Even if you don’t normally take multivitamins, if you’re trying to get pregnant or are currently pregnant, you should take a prenatal vitamin. Despite eating a healthy diet, there still the potential that you could be missing some nutrients during your pregnancy. A prenatal vitamin is the simplest way to fill in these gaps.

You may be more likely to have nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy as well. This is often due to nausea and morning sickness, and food aversions. It may be tough for you to eat the foods you know you should.

Prenatal vitamins are important for your health during your pregnancy but also your baby’s development.

Taking a prenatal vitamin can reduce the risk of birth defects. For example, every pregnant woman should take a folic acid supplement, and if you take it before pregnancy, even better. Taking folic acid can help reduce the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Folic acid supplements can also reduce the risk of the baby having a congenital heart defect.

Studies have shown the potential for prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of autism, and taking a vitamin may lower the possibility of preterm birth.

Taking a prenatal can help alleviate some of the most common symptoms you experience during pregnancy, such as problems sleeping and low energy levels.

With so many options available, how do you choose the best prenatal vitamin?

Talk to Your Doctor

If you aren’t sure where to begin choosing a prenatal vitamin, you might want to talk to your doctor first. Your doctor can explain what you need in a vitamin and may have favorite brands they can recommend.

Check the Labels

If you’re choosing a prenatal vitamin, beyond speaking to your doctor, the next thing you should do is check the labels.

Look for the following:

  • Look for a vitamin with at least 400 to 600 mcg of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, per serving. Your baby’s neural tube forms during your first month of pregnancy, which is why it’s often recommended that you start a prenatal when you’re trying to get pregnant. If you have a family history of neural tube defects, you might need as much as 4 mg of folic acid, but speak to your doctor about their recommendation.
  • Your vitamin should have at least 150 mcg of iodine per serving, which helps a baby’s developing brain and thyroid. Many women in America are deficient in iodine. Not all prenatals have iodine, and if they do, they may not have enough per serving, which is why reading the label is so important.
  • If you choose a vitamin with at least 2 mg of B6, it can help reduce morning sickness.
  • DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that can help your baby’s brain development. If you don’t have at least several servings of safe, low-mercury, fatty fish each week, your doctor might advise that you get DHA in supplement form. The recommended amount in a supplement is usually anywhere from 200 to 300 mg a day.
  • Getting enough calcium will help your baby grow healthy bones. Any woman between the ages of 19 and 50 needs around 1000 mg of calcium a day. You shouldn’t take calcium at the same time as an iron supplement, however, because it can impair your iron absorption.
  • Your prenatal vitamin should have at least 400 IU of vitamin D, although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend at least 600 IU of vitamin D a day.

Other important vitamins and minerals to watch for as you select a supplement are zinc, copper, and vitamin C.

As you’re choosing a vitamin, you may come across two terms—folic acid and folate. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. Folic acid is also commonly what you’ll find in prenatal vitamins.

With that being said, folic acid isn’t right for everyone. If you have something called the MTHFR gene, your body may have problems processing and using folic acid. You might select a vitamin with an active version of folate so that your body doesn’t have to convert it in the same way it does folic acid.

What If You’re Experiencing Nausea?

If you’re experiencing morning sickness during your pregnancy, you might have a hard time taking a prenatal vitamin.

If nausea is an issue, look for smaller pills with slick coatings, because these will be easier to swallow. You may find a liquid or chewable is easier for you to stomach.

Try to take your vitamin with a meal or snack, or before bed if it makes you feel sick.

Be aware that if you’re experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, gas, or constipation, your supplement may have too much iron. You might want to choose an alternative if so or ask your health care provider if you should take a stool softener.

Over the Counter vs. Prescription Prenatal Vitamins

Most pregnant women take over the counter prenatal vitamins. Prescription options are also available.

The biggest difference between an OTC and prescription vitamin is that the prescription options often have higher amounts of some nutrients like folate and iron than ones you buy OTC.

Your doctor may not have a preference for you as far as an OTC vitamin or one available by prescription unless you have a previous pregnancy where there was a neural tube defect.

Vitamins That Can Be Dangerous During Pregnancy

Not all vitamins are needed in high amounts during pregnancy, so this should weigh into your prenatal decision too.

For example, vitamin A is necessary for the vision development of your baby, but too much can be toxic and contribute to potential birth defects and liver damage.

Vitamin E plays a role in immune function, but if you take too much, it could lead to a rupture of your amniotic sac.

There are also many herbal supplements that can be dangerous during pregnancy. Don’t take any supplements or even drink certain herbal teas without clearing it with your health care provider first.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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