What to Look for in Prenatal Vitamins

May 23, 2022 , Pregnancy Tips

What to Look for in Prenatal Vitamins

Quick Health Scoop

  • Healthcare providers generally recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive take prenatal multivitamin
  • Specifically formulated to support pregnant women and the developing baby, prenatals contain many of the same key nutrients found in “regular multivitamins,” but usually in different amounts.
  • Pregnant women still need all the important vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, plus key minerals and other nutrients.
  • Know what to look for in prenatal vitamins, including these seven ingredients that support the wellbeing of both mom and baby: Folate/Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D, DHA, and Choline.

If you’re pregnant (or even thinking about becoming pregnant), your healthcare provider probably recommended taking prenatal vitamins. While it’s always best to get the vitamins and minerals you need through a balanced healthy diet, a prenatal multivitamin helps support the nutritional needs of both the expecting mom and the developing baby. As your body and nutritional needs change during pregnancy, you might fall short on important nutrients (like iron).

And if you’re trying to conceive, prenatal vitamins can ensure you’re getting the critical amount of a key nutrient (folate). Women who consume healthful diets with adequate folate/folic acid throughout their childbearing years may reduce their risk of having a child with brain or spinal cord birth defects. Remember, during pregnancy, your baby relies on you to get all the nutrients needed. 

Besides iron and folate, do you know what to look for in prenatal vitamins? Dig in to discover which key ingredients should be in a good prenatal vitamin.

What Makes A Good Prenatal Multivitamin?

Because you follow a healthy lifestyle, you might already take a multivitamin or dietary supplements to help ensure you’re covering all your nutritional bases. But when you’re pregnant, you also need to provide adequate nutrients for your developing baby. That’s why healthcare providers recommend taking prenatals—they’re multivitamins specifically formulated for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. They contain many of the same key nutrients you’ll find in a “regular multivitamin” (such as Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, Iodine, etc.) but usually in different amounts. So, the goal of a prenatal multi is to provide nutritional support to both the mother and the baby.

And if you’re wondering why you should start taking a prenatal even if you’re not pregnant (but you’re trying to conceive), there’s a good reason.  Folate should be taken in the first few weeks of conception during the critical developmental stage. However, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant during these early weeks of pregnancy, as half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. [1] Because so many women don’t yet realize they’re pregnant during the baby’s critical development phase, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of Folic Acid every day. [2] 

You’ll find different types of prenatal multivitamins and supplements available, including tablets, caplets, softgels, and gummies. As long as you take a prenatal multi that includes the key nutrients needed to support both mom and baby, you can choose whichever form works best for you. Many women like to take gummies because they’re tasty and easy to chew. However, because gummy vitamins typically don’t contain minerals like Iron and Calcium, you might also need to also take an Iron or Calcium supplement if the gummy prenatal doesn’t include these ingredients. [3]

What Should Prenatal Multivitamins Have?

A good prenatal multivitamin is one that’s specifically formulated for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. But when it comes to what to look for in prenatal multivitamins, make sure they include the following specific ingredients. In addition to other important nutrients (like Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, plus key minerals), the best prenatal multivitamin should contain these seven vital nutrients that play an important role in the health of a pregnant woman and her developing baby:

  1. Folate/Folic Acid (400 mcg or more): Folic acid helps form the neural tube, which is the baby’s early brain and spine. [4] Consuming adequate Folate in healthful diets may reduce the risk of having a baby born with birth defects (anencephaly or spina bifida)—serious abnormalities that affect the brain or spine. [1] For women planning to get pregnant, the CDC recommends taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily, ideally beginning one month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy. [4]
  2. Iron (27 mg): During pregnancy, you’ll require twice as much Iron than you do when you’re not pregnant. [5] If you’re pregnant, your body will produce a lot of extra blood to support your pregnancy, to support the development of the placenta and fetus, and to supply oxygen to the baby. [6] Iron is vital for red blood cell formation.†
  3. Iodine (150 mcg): During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces more thyroid hormones and thus requires increased Iodine intake. Iodine, an essential trace mineral, plays an important role in the normal physical growth and brain development in your baby. [8]
  4. Calcium (1000 mg): Calcium is important because a pregnant woman’s body requires increased amounts of this mineral compared to non-pregnant women. [3] Calcium helps build the baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, and muscles. [5]
  5. Vitamin D (600 IU). By helping your body absorb calcium, Vitamin D helps develop the baby’s bones and teeth. It also helps the body’s muscles, nerves, and immune system function properly.[5]
  6. DHA: Another key nutrient—an Omega-3 fatty acid called Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) helps support the healthy growth and development of the baby’s eyes, brain, and nervous system. [9,10] 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 pregnant and breastfeeding women consume at least 200 mg of DHA daily. Excellent dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish. Women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume 8–12 ounces (2–3 servings) of lower-mercury fish every week, according to the latest dietary guidelines for Americans. [11] If your prenatal multivitamins don’t include DHA, ask your healthcare provider if you should also take a DHA supplement in addition to a prenatal multi.
  7. Choline: While pregnant women can make choline in small amounts in their body, dietary intake is required to support health. [12] Choline supports baby’s brain, cognitive and spinal cord development.  Pregnant women transfer large amounts of choline to their baby via the placenta, placing an increased demand on maternal choline stores during pregnancy. [13]  

Bottom Line

Prenatal multivitamins are specifically formulated for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Knowing what to look for in prenatal vitamins can make a world of difference in the healthy development of a growing baby. They contain many of the same key nutrients you’ll find in “regular multivitamins,” but usually in different amounts. While pregnant women still need other vital nutrients (like Vitamin A, magnesium, etc.), key ingredients to look for in prenatals include Folate/Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D, DHA, and Choline. These key nutrients play an especially important role in the wellbeing of both a pregnant woman and her baby.

 

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.


References 

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Should I Take a Daily Multivitamin?” 2022. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/multivitamin/
  2. The Centers for Disease Control. “Folic Acid.” April 19, 2021. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  3. Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “What to know about prenatal vitamins.” August 31, 2020. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/prenatal-vitamins
  4. The Centers for Disease Control. “Facts about Neural Tube Defects.” October 23, 2020. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts-about-neural-tube-defects.html
  5. March of Dimes. “Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy.” September 2020. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx
  6. Minnesota Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program. “Prenatal vitamins.” July 24, 2018. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://health.mn.gov/docs/people/wic/nutrition/english/pgprenatalvits.pdf
  7. Mayo Clinic. “Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” April 19, 2022. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945
  8. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Iodine.” 2022. Accessed on: May 9, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/Iodine/
  9. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. “Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supply in pregnancy and lactation.” May 2008. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18403927/
  10. 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/
  11. S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.” December 2020. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials
  12. “Choline and DHA in Maternal and Infant Nutrition: Synergistic Implications in Brain and Eye Health.” May 2019. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566660/
  13. International Journal of Women’s Health. “Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. April 22, 2013. Accessed on: May 10, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23637565/

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

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.

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Sandra Zagorin, MS, RD

Science and Health Educator

As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.

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