How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamins
August 6, 2020
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 everything you need. (Still not sure why you should be taking one? Find the answers here.) 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.
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 and founder of the postpartum care package service Après Push. As with most things related to pregnancy and parenting, what works for someone else 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. One patient may want to stick with a strict vegan prenatal, while another doesn’t like the texture or aftertaste of that same vitamin,” Twogood says. “Depending on a variety of individual factors, or just good experience, your doctor may recommend one in particular.”
For instance, Carley Mendes, a prenatal nutritionist, founder of the website Oh Baby Nutrition and creator of the pregnancy nutrition series In The Glow, prefers supplements made from 100 percent whole food sources. “Quality makes a difference, as the body utilizes the nutrients required in pregnancy much more efficiently from natural sources,” she says.
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 often 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,” Mendes says. “Further supplementation is best advised on an individual basis, as everyone’s needs are unique. 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,” Twogood says.
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 these other key nutrients. Aim for the minimum levels listed 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 Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
• Calcium: Calcium helps support baby’s bone development (and prevent osteoporosis in the mother). 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 says.
Choosing the top prenatal vitamin is about personal preference—and doing 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 says. 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.
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, softgel makes it easy to swallow and boosts absorption.
Buy it: Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA Softgels, $12, Amazon.com
Rainbow Light’s prenatal vitamin takes its nutrients from food, with superfood additions like spirulina, red raspberry and ginger to aid digestion. There’s also vitamins A, C and iron for blood, bone, skin and immune health. An extra bonus: The vitamin is vegan and gluten-free, with natural ingredients.
Buy it: Rainbow Light Prenatal One Multivitamin Supplement, $15, Amazon.com
Pop two gummies a day for DHA, vitamins A and D, folic acid and as much Vitamin C as in 10 tangerines. Natural fruit flavors mean they’re tasty too. 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.
Buy it: Vitafusion PreNatal Gummy Vitamins, $10, Amazon.com
This is another pick from Mendes for its high-quality ingredients. It’s made with whole food vitamins and minerals from organic herbs and veggies like broccoli and kale to nourish your growing baby. Plus, it’s gentle enough for an empty stomach.
Buy it: New Chapter Perfect Prenatal Multivitamin, $44, Amazon.com
This Spring Valley prenatal vitamin delivers everything you need before, during and after pregnancy. It’s chock-full of folic acid, as well as vitamin D3 and several antioxidants.
Buy it: Spring Valley Prenatal Multivitamin/Multimineral with Folic Acid, $10, Amazon.com
A top pick for Mendes, it delivers the vitamins and minerals you need via real foods like brown rice and organic broccoli, and the herbal blend delivers ingredients like organic ginger to provide balance and strength during pregnancy, plus help with nausea.
Buy it: MegaFood Baby & Me Pre & Post Natal Dietary Supplement, $35, Amazon.com
This one-a-day prenatal vitamin delivers everything you need while you are trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding, with 100 percent of the daily value for important nutrients, including folic acid.
Buy it: One a Day Women’s Prenatal 1 with Folic Acid, DHA & Iron Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement, $15, Amazon.com
If your prenatal multivitamin doesn’t contain DHA, you’ll want to supplement with a separate DHA pill. Nordic Naturals is made of fish oil from wild caught fish and doesn’t have a trace of that fishy aftertaste.
Buy it: Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA Dietary Supplement, $25, Amazon.com
Updated November 2018