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Diana Kelly Levey
Contributing Writer

The Do’s and Don’ts of Prenatal Vitamins

Learn key info about this important supplement and how to choose the right one for you.

If you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, one of the first things you’ll probably do—after jumping up and down in excitement at a big, fat positive test—is start taking a prenatal vitamin. Most pregnant women know they should be taking one (doctor’s orders, right?), but you might not know much more beyond that. Before you just grab any old brand off the shelf, it’s important to understand which ingredients will meet your unique needs. Here, we explain the do’s and don’ts when it comes to prenatal vitamins as well as what to look for on the label.

DO: Take one while trying to conceive.

Doctors recommend taking a prenatal supplement even before you’re pregnant to get the best defense possible against birth defects. That’s because neural-tube defects (incomplete developments of the brain and spine) can happen in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy—a time when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant yet. Folate is an important B vitamin that can help protect baby’s brain and spine health, which is why the CDC recommends all women of reproductive age get at least 400 micrograms daily. The easiest way to ensure this dosage is to start taking a prenatal vitamin before trying to conceive. That being said, it’s not too late to start taking a vitamin as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.

DON’T: Forget to read the label.

Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal. Just like with food, ingredients do matter. Depending on the nutrient, different forms can be absorbed by the body in different ways. It helps to look for ingredients in forms that are the easiest for your body to use. For example, the naturally occurring L-methylfolate (aka 5-MTHF) form of folate has been shown to aid in absorption, and the D3 form of Vitamin D is the type your body naturally makes from the sun. Also look for a supplement that contains choline, which is important for baby’s brain and spinal cord development; the AMA recommends adequate levels of choline during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. SmartyPants prenatal vitamins include these premium nutrients in their supplements, and you can even set up a subscription so you’ll never forget to pick up another bottle again.

DO: Choose a prenatal vitamin that addresses your needs too.

In case you haven’t noticed, making a baby takes a lot of energy, and taking a prenatal vitamin helps support your body’s changing health needs as well as baby’s development. Proper nutrition can help you fight fatigue, boost a taxed immune system, and keep your bones healthy.

To address these issues, look for a supplement that contains vitamin B12 for energy, vitamin D for immunity support and bone health, and omega-3s for cognitive function.* Depending on your diet, you may want to take separate supplements for iron or calcium too (but don’t take them at the same time—this can hinder absorption). A vitamin like SmartyPants PhD Capsule Prenatal Formula has the added bonus of a healthy dose of antioxidants.

DON’T: Take it at different times every day.

It can be challenging to remember to take a vitamin daily, especially if you aren’t used to taking a supplement or pill. But with so many changes going on in your body and life in the coming weeks (hello, pregnancy brain!), you’re more likely to forget to take your prenatal vitamin if you don’t follow a consistent schedule. Take it during a time that you address another habit—like before brushing your teeth in the morning—or set a reminder on your phone. If you need some extra incentive, a gummy vitamin, like SmartyPants Prenatal Formula, can actually make you look forward to this daily must-do. (Their fruit flavors pack the nutrients you need, without artificial sweeteners or colors.) But if you do forget to take your prenatal vitamin, don’t double up; take it the next day at your regular time.

DO: Find a prenatal vitamin that works for your dietary preferences.

Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or consume only organic ingredients, that doesn’t mean you have to compromise with your prenatal vitamin. Look for a prenatal brand that’s labeled vegan, like SmartyPants PhD Prenatal Formula, or a certified organic and vegetarian supplement like SmartyPants Organics Prenatal Complete. Your vegan prenatal vitamin should have omega-3s from a plant source instead of fish and be gelatin-free. If you’re seeking vegetarian supplements or one made from organic ingredients, look for certifications on the label, like American Vegetarian Association (AVA) or Certified Organic by Quality Assurance International (QAI).

DON’T: Skip your vitamin due to morning sickness.

You should avoid taking your vitamin at a time when, well, it might not stay down. To avoid nausea, it’s also a good idea to take it with food. Additionally, iron can cause nausea and/or constipation in some people, so it might take some getting used to if you’re taking a supplement with this ingredient. Some pregnant women struggling with nausea find gummy vitamins much easier to stomach. Just be aware that many gummies don’t have iron and calcium, so you’ll need to ensure you get those nutrients from other sources.

DO: Continue taking it after baby is born.

Your body has plenty of recovery to do after giving birth, so keep up with your daily prenatal supplements to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Most importantly, remember that your prenatal vitamin should be taken to complement good nutrition, not make up for a poor diet. With the right supplement and healthy eating, you can be sure you’re giving baby—and yourself—the best start possible.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

This article is sponsored by SmartyPants vitamins. Learn more about their prenatal formulas or set up a subscription at Shop.SmartyPantsVitamins.com.

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.