How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamins
As soon as you get that positive pregnancy test, chances are you’ll immediately start the hunt for a prenatal vitamin—that is, if you aren’t taking one already. After all, prenatal vitamins are crucial to your baby’s health, and yours too. Your body needs nutrients to grow a whole new person, and prenatal vitamins make sure you’re getting the good stuff. But walk into any pharmacy or vitamin store, and you’ll find entire walls filled with options, making the task of choosing the best prenatal vitamins tricky. Here’s what you should be on the lookout for.
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Wondering what are the best prenatal vitamins out there? Really, it’s a bit of a trick question. “There isn’t one ‘best’ prenatal vitamin,” says Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Southern California. As with most things related to pregnancy and parenting, what works for one person may not be a great fit for you. Women respond to supplements differently. “Some patients may have their nausea alleviated by using gummies, while another may feel more nauseous because of the smell or taste of the gummies,” she says. Some people prefer to stick with a strict vegan prenatal, while others may be turned off by a certain texture or aftertaste. “Depending on a variety of individual factors—or just good experience—your doctor may recommend one in particular,” she adds.
Prescription vs over-the-counter prenatal vitamins
If you’re trying to decide between an over-the-counter versus prescription prenatal vitamin, keep in mind that the essential ingredients are usually the same in each, though prescription prenatal vitamins sometimes contain extra nutrients, such as additional omega-3s or iron. “An over-the-counter whole-food multivitamin is a wise choice for the vast majority of pregnant women,” says Carley Mendes, a prenatal nutritionist and founder of the website Oh Baby Nutrition. “Further supplementation is best advised on an individual basis, as everyone’s needs are unique,” she adds. “Your healthcare provider may advise prescription supplementation if you have specific deficiencies or disorders.”
Essential nutrients to look for
With a nutritious diet, you should already be getting a lot of the vitamins and minerals necessary during pregnancy—which means that you shouldn’t have to depend on your prenatal vitamin to provide 100 percent of the daily recommended allowance for these nutrients. (After all, the vitamins are meant to supplement, not substitute, healthy eating habits.) Prenatal vitamins also aren’t legally required to provide a minimum level of those nutrients either, since they aren’t regulated by the FDA. “The doses may vary, but the key ingredients won’t vary drastically,” notes Twogood.
So what should the best prenatal vitamins include? The most important nutrient in a prenatal vitamin, according to Twogood, is folic acid, which has been shown to dramatically decrease the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida. Make sure the label includes folic acid as well as the other key nutrients listed below. (Aim for the minimum levels included here, but if your vitamin falls short, get the rest from your diet.)
Folic acid: Look for a minimum of 400 micrograms, though Twogood recommends a slightly higher dose of 800 micrograms or 1 milligram for overweight or obese patients.
Iron: Iron helps carry oxygen to your organs and tissues, and during pregnancy you need an extra dose for a total of 27 milligrams a day, which is present in most prenatal vitamins, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Calcium: Calcium helps support baby’s bone development (and prevent osteoporosis for you). Most prenatal vitamins contain 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium, according to the Mayo Clinic, but you’ll need to get more from your diet.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D works in tandem with calcium to help baby’s bones and teeth develop. It’s also essential for healthy skin and eyesight. Most prenatal vitamins have about 400 international units of vitamin D.
DHA: DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that helps our brains function at their best. To support baby’s healthy brain development, 800 milligrams of DHA is recommended, either within your prenatal vitamin or taken as a separate pill.
These are the biggies for prenatal vitamins. “For specific scenarios, like vegetarians, vegans or patients with certain medical disorders, ob-gyns may recommend specific doses of other vitamins,” Twogood adds.
Choosing the top prenatal vitamin involves personal preference—and a little research. “Patients should read the labels to compare, and bring the label to their doctor’s office if they have any questions,” Twogood advises. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some of the best over-the-counter prenatal vitamins to consider. While some supplements may not meet all the nutrient recommendations, talk to your doctor about your primary needs and choose one that best addresses them.
Best individual-pack prenatal vitamins
Developed by obstetricians and maternal fetal medicine doctors, Perelel prenatal vitamins are tailored specifically to each trimester. For example, the first trimester pack includes an additional folate capsule to support neural development and a B6 and ginger capsule to help ease nausea and morning sickness. The second trimester pack comes with calcium magnesium capsules to help ease muscle cramps and build strong teeth and bones in your growing baby. As you near the end of your pregnancy, the third trimester pack includes a probiotic for gut health.
- Each pack comes with core prenatal and omega DHA and EPA capsules for healthy fetal development
- All of the vitamins are made with non-GMO ingredients, and are gluten- and soy-free. There are also a no colorants or synthetic fillers used
- Perelel also has vitamin packs for women trying to conceive, freezing their eggs, recovering from reproductive loss and postpartum
- Each pack contains multiple pills to swallow
- They’re not vegan
Best subscription prenatal vitamins
Vitamin subscription service care/of has a prenatal pack for expectant parents, which is delivered each month with 30 individual vitamin packs—which means no forgetting to refill your vitamins. Beyond the convenience factor, these prenatals are also packed with 22 essential nutrients for Mom and baby, including methylfolate and choline.
- The minerals in care/of vitamins are combined with amino acids, which makes them easier to digest, gentler on your tummy and better absorbed into the body
- They don’t include egg, fish, milk, peanut, shellfish, soy, tree nuts or wheat
- They’re made with non-GMO ingredients, and are are gluten-free and vegetarian
- Some might find the pills difficult to swallow
Best organic prenatal vitamins
Taking four gummies a day provides more than 16 nutrients to you and baby, including folate to support fetal development, vitamin D for immune health and vitamin B12 for energy metabolism. Plus, with organic and non-GMO ingredients, this is a prenatal vitamin that delivers its benefits in the cleanest possible form.
- The Omega-3 essential fatty acids come from sustainably sourced, wild-caught small fish
- Free from common allergens including eggs, milk, soy, tree nuts, shellfish, peanuts, sesame and wheat
- They’re made in a Good Manufacturing Process-compliant facility, which adheres to quality control guidelines laid out by the FDA
- It doesn’t contain iron
- Contains cane sugar
Best whole-food prenatal vitamins
Mendes says she likes that this option delivers the vitamins and minerals you need via real foods like brown rice and organic oranges and broccoli. This prenatal also meets certifications for safety and purity, including non-GMO ingredients, making it an ultra-clean pick for you and baby. For those who have a tough time swallowing pills (pregnant or not), MegaGood also makes a mini version.
- It can be taken at any time of day, even on an empty stomach
- It contains methylated folate, the active form of folic acid, and choline to support fetal development
- The dose is two pills per day
- It doesn’t contain calcium or magnesium
Best vegan prenatal vitamins
Ritual prenatal vitamins not only contain all the important nutrients for neural tube development, brain health, blood cell formation and bone health—but the ingredients are also traceable, so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body and where it came from.
- Select citrus or mint essence to help mask the vitamin aftertaste
- This vegan option contains no GMOs, gluten, major allergens or artificial colorants
- Delayed release capsules make digestion easier and promote better absorption
- Some reviewers report an aftertaste, despite the citrus or mint essence
Best softgel prenatal vitamins
This Nature Made prenatal vitamin covers the essentials you’ll need before and during pregnancy, complete with folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin B12 and vitamin D3. Plus, softgels make it easy to swallow and help boost absorption.
- Includes DHA and all extra vitamins to support cellular energy production
- It has 800 micrograms of folic acid
- You only need one softgel per day
- Not vegan or organic
Best gummy prenatal vitamins
Pop two gummies a day for DHA, vitamins A and D, folic acid and as much Vitamin C as you’d get from 10 tangerines. Natural fruit flavors mean they’re tasty too (and more than 18,000 positive reviews back that statement up). If you’re gagging over your prenatal pill, gummies can be be a good alternative—just note that gummy vitamins tend not to have iron or calcium.
- They taste like candy
- Affordably priced
- These vitamins contain no high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners gluten or dairy
- They don’t contain iron or calcium
Best all-in-one prenatal vitamins
This one-a-day prenatal vitamin delivers everything you need while you’re trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding, with 100 percent of the daily value for important nutrients, including folic acid.
- It’s just one softgel per day—ideal for those who struggle with swallowing pills
- Gluten- and dairy-free without the use of artificial sweeteners and flavors
- It’s not organic or vegan
Best prenatal vitamins with probiotics
Rainbow Light’s prenatal vitamin takes its nutrients from food, with superfood additions like spirulina, red raspberry and ginger to aid with digestion. There’s also vitamins A, C and iron for blood, bone, skin and immune health. An added bonus: The vitamin is vegan and gluten-free.
- These vitamins include a clinical dose of organic ginger to ease morning sickness
- The vitamins are fermented to allow for better absorption of the nutrients
- Organic, non-GMO ingredients
- A daily dose is three pills
Best affordable prenatal vitamins
This Spring Valley prenatal vitamin delivers everything you need before, during and after pregnancy. It’s chock-full of folic acid (hello 800 micrograms!), as well as vitamin D3 and several bonus antioxidants to support your health and baby’s development.
- At less than $5, it’s an affordable option
- No fishy or foul odor
- Some might find the tablet difficult to swallow
About the experts:
Carley Mendes, is a prenatal nutritionist and the founder of the website Oh Baby Nutrition.
Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified ob-gyn in Los Angeles and co-founder of Female Health Education. She’s also the author of Ladypartsblog.com, which covers topics relating to fertility and pregnancy, and the founder of FemEd, a program designed to empower females through health education.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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