Walking through the supplement isle you will see a multitude of prenatal vitamins and supplements. There is a ridiculous amount of options to choose from. You could take it in gummy form, tablet, or even powder to mix in a drink. Some have DHA and choline, while others do not. Who really knows what DHA is anyway? Do I even need it?
I can imagine it will leave you with more questions than you may have had prior to walking down that aisle. I felt a lot of the same feelings the first time I went through that experience. It really doesn’t need to be so complicated. I will walk you through the most important prenatal vitamin ingredients and why you need them. Then you decide which one is best for you.
In this guide you will find:
- Why Prenatal Vitamins are Important?
- What do you need to look for in your prenatal and how much?
- Our Featured Prenatal
Table of Contents
Our Tops Picks
Thorne Prenatal Bundle
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Mama Bird Prenatal
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So Why Do I Need To Take A Prenatal?
Most of us have heard that it is important to take a prenatal vitamin when we find out we are pregnant, ideally before we find out we are pregnant. Most pregnancies aren’t always planned so the CDC recommends that all women of reproductive years should take a prenatal vitamin regardless of our intents. The reason behind this is because we can often be pregnant before we even know it. Those weeks are crucial in development and can cause life altering defects if we are not providing the right nutrients for our child.
Most essential vitamins can be found in our diet. The problem is that most of us are either deficient or not taking in enough to support ourselves and another human life. Adding a prenatal vitamin can boost those areas of our diet that are lacking.
Are All Prenatal Vitamins Created Equal?
You will often hear your doctor say “take a prenatal”. They usually don’t go into much more detail. Are all prenatal the same? Definitely not! Here I want to walk you through the 11 most essential prenatal vitamin ingredients so that you can choose the best one for you and your budget.
It is better to take some prenatal vitamin rather than none. So do take into consideration not only the ingredients, but which prenatal is tolerable that you will actually take everyday. You don’t get the benefits of a prenatal if you aren’t taking it.
The first trimester or sometimes longer can be very difficult to keep a prenatal down. Nausea can be a huge impact on what works for you. So take this into consideration when making your choice. Some women prefer to take a powdered prenatal they can mix into a drink as it is a little easier to get down. Others prefer a gummy vitamin. Again whatever works best to get more important nutrients into your body is what you need to do.
There is no one right way to be pregnant. Everyone’s experience will be different, and what you specifically need will be different from the next mother. So give yourself grace and do the best you can.
11 Most Essential Vitamins and Nutrients for Your Prenatal
Folate is a hot topic in the prenatal vitamin world. Folate is the general term for Vitamin B9. You can find folate in your foods naturally or you can see it in your supplements as folic acid, dihydrofolate (DHF), tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrofolate (5, 10-MTHF), and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).
Most doctors recommend folic acid as it has been supported by research to prevent neural tube defects. It is a synthetic form of folate that is often found in supplements, vitamins, and enriched foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and cereals.
The other forms of folate listed above have not be shown in research according to the CDC to prevent neural tube defects as it is not ethical to do this type of research. Research with pregnant women is hard to do ethically so many doctors still recommend folic acid as it is the only research backed supplemental form of folate.
However, some people have a genetic variation in their MTHFR gene (which converts folate to its active form 5-MTHF. This genetic variation affect 25% of hispanic people, 10% of white people, 10% of asian people, and 1% of black people. Some argue if you have this genetic variation it is beneficial to take the active form of folate 5-Methyl-THF.
You can get a good amount of folate naturally from your diet, but it can be difficult to get all that you need daily from your diet. It is best to take some form of folate to meet those unmet needs.
**please watch the video above if you have any other questions about this topic as she goes into greater detail about this debate.
Why: Folate is essential for neural tube development. This will develop into your child’s brain and spine. Lack of folate especially in the first trimester can lead to risks of birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida.
How much: 400 mcg/day along with healthy diet
Where: dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh fruits, whole grains, liver, and seafood.
Iron can cause constipation, which is already something that happens during pregnancy. Some women experience more constipation from their prenatal vitamin so quit taking it. Before you do that find a prenatal without iron. Take that and discuss with your doctor what you can do to ensure you are getting enough iron during your pregnancy.
They may be okay with you taking a stool softener, you may need to adjust your diet, or take a lower supplementation of iron.
Why: Iron is needed to help make red blood cells that carry oxygen from our lungs to our fetus. This is essential for healthy growth and development. Our blood volume also increases throughout pregnancy and it is needed to keep up with the production demands of new red blood cells.
How much: It is recommended that we get about 30 mg/day along with a well balanced diet.
Where: red meat, fortified cereals, beans, tofu, spinach, dried fruits, broccoli, and nuts.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Why: Needed for healthy development of eyes, nervous system, and brain. It also reduces inflammation and has tissue protective benefits. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are not something our body produces so we have to get it from our diet. Research has shown DHA and EPA can lower risks of preterm birth, improve fertility and egg quality, and may improve mood during late pregnancy and postpartum.
How much: 400-550 mg/day of Omega 3 Fatty Acids (225 mg/day DHA and the rest EPA)
Where: Salmon, tuna, trout, mussels, oysters, herring, sardines, cod, mackerel, scallops, flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, and egg
Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s proper growth and development. It can be helpful for you to keep up your energy as well.
A great way to get Vitamin D is through sun exposure. Make sure you protect your skin with proper sunscreen if you do spend more time outdoors.
Why: This helps your baby’s bone, teeth, kidney, heart, and nervous system develop. It also assists in absorption of calcium and phosphate. It may also reduce your risks of preeclampsia and preterm birth.
How much: 600 IU- 4,000 IU/day **4,000 IU is the upper limit and can have adverse effects if you are exceeding that upper limit.
Where: sun exposure, mackerel, salmon, tuna, egg yolk, cheese, and beef liver.
Why: It is important for development of heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, bones, circulatory system and nervous system. It can also be essential for moms as it can help with postpartum tissue repair, help with our vision, immune response, and fat metabolism. Large doses of Vitamin A can actually cause some birth defects. We are able to get most of what we need in our diet so additional supplementation outside of your diet and prenatal is unnecessary.
How much: 770 mcg/day between your diet and prenatal vitamin.
Where: leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, red bell pepper, cantaloupe, mango, sweet potatoes, carrots,
Choline is a newer ingredient that not all prenatals will have it or enough of it. So it is a good idea to double check that you are getting choline in your current prenatal. It is really important for your baby’s brain and nervous system development.
Why: Needed for brain and spinal development, building neurotransmitters needed for your child’s nervous system, growth and development of the placenta, and helps with healthy liver function. This is really important to have in your prenatal if you are vegetarian or vegan, as it is very difficult to get enough choline to meet your needs during pregnancy from your diet.
How much: 450 mg/day while pregnant. 550mg/day while breastfeeding
Where: egg yolk, beef, chicken, fish, soybeans, potatoes, Brussel sprouts.
Why: Can help build strong bones and teeth in our growing child. It also helps our bodies to handle the added stress on our bones and joints. There has also been research done to show that calcium can help reduce risks of eclampsia, preeclampsia, preterm births, and postpartum hemorrhage.
How much: 1300 mg daily between prenatal and diet
Where: Dark leafy greens, milk, yogurt, broccoli, sardines, oranges, seeds, cheese, tofu, edamame, beans and lentils
Vitamin B6 can also help with nausea in pregnancy and is often suggested by medical provider to take it over the counter to help pregnancy nausea to be more tolerable during the first trimester and beyond. This is something you should discuss with your medical provider based on your needs and at what dosage you should take.
Why: It is important for brain and nervous system development. It plays a role in the body’s production of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters). It also helps with metabolization of protein and carbohydrates and formation of red blood cells and antibodies.
How much: 1.9 mg/day (Higher doses are given to help with morning sickness, please consult with your doctor before taking higher doses)
Where: Whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, and poultry.
Vitamin B12 supplementation is really important for vegetarians and vegans as it is mostly found in animal based food items. If your prenatal vitamin does not have Vitamin B12 consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Why: Along with Folate, Vitamin B12 prevents neural tube defects. It also helps with development of nerve tissue, red blood cell and DNA formation.
How much: 2.6 mcg/day
Where: beef, liver, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products.
Iodine is important and can be found in table salt. If you like to use fancy salt like a himalayan sea salt then you will need to ensure you have enough iodine in your supplement. This is a mistake many women make. Look at your food products to determine if they are supplemented with iodine.
Why: Needed for healthy brain development. Particularly important in the first trimester while the thyroid is still developing and your baby can’t secrete the hormone needed for healthy brain production yet.
How much: 220-250 mcg in pregnant women; 250-290 mcg in nursing women. Do not exceed 1100 mcg per day as research has show this to be dangerous in neonates.
Where: seaweed, fish, shellfish, iodized table salt, dairy, eggs, beef liver, and chicken.
The first step in making good decisions for yourself and your child is becoming informed. Now as you head to the vitamin and supplement isle of your drugstore you will know what you need to look for and what isn’t worth sacrificing. Your budget will also determine what choice is the right one for you and your needs. Of course if you have any questions, concerns or comments please reach out in the comment section below!
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.