When it comes to a prenatal vitamin vs multivitamin, a prenatal is a special multivitamin formulated for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Women who are pregnant (or thinking about becoming pregnant) need certain essential nutrients in higher amounts—including Folic Acid, Iron, and Iodine) to ensure the well-being of both mom and baby. Consuming adequate Folic Acid in a healthful diet may reduce the risk of brain or spinal cord birth defects (called neural tube defects) for your child. The CDC recommends that all women of reproductive age take 400 mcg of Folic Acid every day. Talk to your health care provider to see if taking prenatal supplements is right for you.
If you’re pregnant (or thinking about becoming pregnant) you might consider taking a prenatal vitamin. In fact, most health professionals recommend them to expectant moms, along with eating a balanced, healthy diet. Why? Because a developing baby requires essential Vitamins and minerals every day to grow into a healthy infant. And the expectant mom also needs to shore up her nutritional needs to support her own changing body over her nine-month pregnancy. Prenatal multivitamins support the nutritional needs of both the developing baby and the expecting mother for a healthy pregnancy.†
But what’s the difference between a prenatal vs multivitamin? Are they the same? Is one better than the other? Dig in to learn more about the nutritional needs of mom and baby and the differences between prenatal vitamin vs multivitamin.
Is A Prenatal Vitamin The Same As A Multivitamin?
Prenatal vitamins and multivitamins are similar. A prenatal is actually a type of multivitamin. Prenatals are different compared to a “regular multivitamin” because a prenatal vitamin (a.k.a. prenatal multi) contains different amounts of certain key nutrients that are tailored especially for expecting mothers.
In addition to other important nutrients (like Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, plus key minerals), the best prenatal vitamin should contain these three vital nutrients important for the well-being of both mom and baby: 
Iron: 27 mg
Iodine: 150 mcg
Folic Acid: 400 mcg or more
By comparison, a regular multivitamin may contain these nutrients, but in different amounts. For instance, here’s a side-by-side comparison of two Nature Made multivitamin products, both formulated for women.
When you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, a prenatal supplement is better for both mom and baby. As you can see in the chart above, a prenatal multi contains an adequate amount of several key nutrients that play an important role in the health of a pregnant woman and her developing baby. Take a look:
Folate/Folic Acid: Consuming adequate Folate (before pregnancy and in early pregnancy) as part of a healthful diet may help reduce your risk of having a baby born with birth defects (anencephaly or spina bifida), which affect the brain or spine. 
Iron: If you’re pregnant, your body will produce a lot of extra blood to support your pregnancy. Iron aids your body in producing blood to supply oxygen to the baby.†
Calcium. Calcium (and Iron) are particularly important because the body requires greater amounts of these minerals in pregnancy than is needed by non-pregnant women. 
Iodine: During pregnancy, the body increases its production of thyroid hormones and thus requires greater Iodine As an essential trace mineral, Iodine plays an important role in the normal physical growth and brain development in both the fetus and infant. [5, 6]
DHA: As an Omega-3 fatty acid, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) helps support the healthy growth and development of the baby’s eyes, brain, and nervous system. [7,8] Professional organizations (such as the Perinatal Lipid Intake Working Group, European Food Safety Authority, and International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids) recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women get at least 200 mg of DHA every day. Fatty fish provide excellent dietary sources of Omega-3. Experts advise women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers to eat 8–12 ounces (2–3 servings) of lower-mercury fish every week, according to the latest dietary guidelines for Americans.  Good prenatal vitamins should include DHA. But if not, ask your healthcare provider if you should also take a DHA supplement in addition to a prenatal multi.†
Choline: A pregnant woman’s body can produce choline in small amounts, but dietary intake is required to support health.  Choline is important for fetal brain development, as well as liver and placental function.  Pregnant women transfer large amounts of choline to their baby via the placenta, placing an increased demand on maternal choline stores during pregnancy.  †
Is It OK To Take A Multivitamin Instead Of Prenatal?
For the health of both you and your baby, it’s better to take a prenatal vitamin if you’re pregnant. In fact, even if you’re not pregnant—but you’re thinking about getting pregnant or trying to conceive, you should start taking a prenatal. Why? Because you must take it in the first few weeks of conception in order for the Folate to be effective. With 50 percent of all U.S. pregnancies unplanned, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant during these early weeks after conception.  In fact, that’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of Folic Acid every day. 
Keep in mind that gummy vitamins typically don’t include minerals like calcium and Iron. So, if you choose a prenatal gummy, you might also need to also take a calcium or Iron supplement if these ingredients have been left out of the gummy. 
Do I Need A Multivitamin And Prenatal?
Don’t think of it as a prenatal vitamin vs multivitamin. Remember, a prenatal vitamin is a multivitamin, so you don’t need to take two different multivitamins. Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements. He or she may recommend Folic Acid supplements or prenatal multivitamins for your pregnancy.
Remember to continue eating healthy throughout your pregnancy. Aim to eat a balanced diet every day, with healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Once the baby arrives, consider taking a postnatal vitamin specially formulated for breastfeeding moms.
Growing a baby requires a lot of work—including key nutrients. If you’re wondering about the difference between a prenatal vs multivitamin, know that a prenatal is a multivitamin—but it’s specially formulated to support both the pregnant woman and her developing baby. Women who are pregnant need certain key nutrients—including Folic Acid, Iron, and Iodine—to support their own nutritional needs as well as their developing baby’s needs. Adequate Folic Acid, in particular, as part of a healthful diet may reduce a woman's risk of having a child with brain or spinal cord birth defects, which is why the CDC recommends that all women of reproductive age take 400 mcg daily of Folic Acid. For the Folic Acid to be effective, it should be taken in the first few weeks after conception—a time when many women don’t know yet that they’re pregnant.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Journal of Perinatal Medicine. “The roles of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in pregnancy, lactation and infancy: review of current knowledge and consensus recommendations. 2008. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18184094/
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.
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