We’re here to tell you what to expect when you’re expecting (or, about to be!) One of the simplest — and likely most important — steps you can take is adding a prenatal vitamin to your daily routine.
While one of these supplements isn’t a replacement for your diet (see the American Pregnancy Association for more), they can be treated as “insurance,” offering nutrients that can fill in potential dietary gaps.
“Be cautious about taking more vitamins and extra supplements, and be sure that the sources of your nutrition information, in general, are reputable,” Julie Garden-Robinson, a registered dietitian and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at North Dakota State University told the New York Post.
For more information on this topic, keep reading!
First things first: What is a prenatal vitamin?
By definition, a prenatal vitamin is a dietary supplement specially formulated for pregnant women. “When taken as directed during pregnancy, these dietary supplements containing vitamins and minerals are designed optimize nutrition for a healthy pregnancy, in combination with a healthful diet,” Garden-Robinson explains.
In fact, any woman who could become pregnant is advised to take the B vitamin folic acid. “Folic acid is essential to help prevent neural tube birth defects, including spina bifida,” she adds. “This birth defect can occur before a woman is aware she is pregnant.”
To reiterate, prenatal vitamins do not replace an overall healthy diet. A balanced diet with a variety of foods also is needed throughout pregnancy to support the needs of the mother and the developing baby.
How do I choose a prenatal vitamin?
If there’s anything to know, it’s all about reading the labels.
“Buy from a reputable brand,” Garden-Robinson suggests. “Look for a designation such as ‘USP,’ which stands for US Pharmacopeia. This is an independent organization that tests for quality, safety and purity.”
Not to mention, paying more for a vitamin supplement does not necessarily mean you are getting a better product.
Ahead, Garden-Robinson answers more of your prenatal vitamins FAQ, including when to start taking them. We pulled together the 8 best prenatal vitamins of 2022 after ample research on lab testing and ingredients. However, be sure to speak with your doctor should you have any additional questions or concerns.
After rigorous Labdoor testing, the Garden of Life Vitamin Code Prenatal Multivitamin was one of the most well-ranked formulas. Not only did it meet all purity standards but its label accuracy is more than 80%, placing it as one of only two prenatal vitamins of a higher-than-average score.
What’s more, it has nearly 10K positive reviews on Amazon, contains folate, iron and vitamin D (all of which are recommended during pregnancy) and is NSF-certified for safety and sustainability.
As a brand we stand by, Beli offers fertility-focused vitamins not only for women, but for men, too. It’s formulated with high-quality iron (a key ingredient, per our medical expert) so it’s gentle for digestion and contains a more natural form of folic acid, methylfolate.
It’s also gluten, dairy and allergen-free, has a minty essence to it and has healthful ingredients that are recommended by our expert (vitamins C and D, folate and iron, among others).
- Count: 60 or 180 SoftGel Capsules
As one of two prenatal multivitamins Labdoor-approved (the other being Garden of Life), Zahler’s Prenatal Vitamin is one of the most affordable options out there without compromising on recommended nutrients.
For one, it contains DHA and folate as key ingredients and have an impressive, easy-to-swallow soft-gel consistency. They’re also gluten and dairy-free, contain 25 vitamins (including calcium, which is hit or miss in some prenatals) and helps support the baby’s brain and eye health, thanks to methlyfolate added into its ingredient list.
Consumer Labs recently updated its list of approved vitamins in June 2022, and Deva’s Vegan Prenatal Multivitamin made the cut. It contains all of the approved, vegan-based ingredients a prenatal vitamin should: folic acid, vitamins A, C and E, iodine and more, too.
Though it ranked first, it doesn’t contain DHA, which, per Garden-Robinson, helps with the baby’s brain development. You can, however, take a DHA supplement should you want to counteract the void.
As another Consumer Labs-tested multivitamin, New Chapter’s Advanced Perfect Prenatal Vitamin is great in that it’s specially curated for reduced nausea (in other words, if you’re experiencing morning sickness, this may be the one to grab).
It also contains vitamins A through D and is sustainably sourced from whole foods, fermented and blended to help nourish your body. Also, it has the NSF-certified seal for safety and sustainability.
Widely available and accessible, Rainbow Light’s Prenatal One Multivitamin is Consumer Labs-tested with more than 5K+ happy customers on Amazon. Packed with folate, calcium and iron as primary ingredients, this prenatal vitamin is vegetarian and made with no colors, flavors or sweeteners.
It’s also one of the prenatal vitamins that has a unique range of tablet quantities. Choose from 45 to 150 capsules per bottle to suit your stage of pregnancy (or, preparing for that stage itself).
With a USP Seal and one of the most affordable prices we’ve seen, Nature Made’s Prenatal with Folic Acid + DHA has the key nutrients you need to support your pregnancy. Specifically, it contains vitamins A through E (including K) that are all encased in soft-gel form for easy absorption.
Though some users report a fishy scent or odor, it’s relatively faint and is the one con we could think of. Other than that, this American-made prenatal is worth the grab.
If you prefer gummies to tablets, SmartyPants’ Prenatal Formula is one that’s just as comparable as leading capsule-filled bottles. The vitamins themselves contain vitamin B23 and D3 for energy and immunity, as well as folate for fetal development.
In total, the gummies also contain 18 essential nutrients, is non-GMO and is third-party lab tested to ensure its contents are viable. Oh, and it’s backed by more than 20K reviewers on Amazon.
An FAQ on Prenatal Vitamins
Below, our medical expert answers some widely asked questions on prenatal vitamins: when to start taking them, what to look for when shopping for a reputable one and more.
When should I start taking a prenatal vitamin?
In consultation with your healthcare provider, prenatal vitamins should be taken before conception, per Garden-Robinson. “Any woman who is trying to conceive should take a folic acid supplement several weeks before becoming pregnant.”
Most health experts recommend that any women who could become pregnant should take a folic acid supplement, too. “Folic acid is a B vitamin that has been shown to help reduce the risk for neural tube birth defects,” she adds. “These birth defects develop early in pregnancy often before a woman is aware she is pregnant.”
Is there anyone who shouldn’t consider a prenatal vitamin?
“Usually, prenatal supplements have higher levels of vitamins and minerals than supplements not designed for pregnancy,” Garden-Robinson says. “Some women cannot tolerate the amount of iron in prenatal supplements, for example.”
Intestinal or stomach issues also may lead to healthcare providers prescribing other types of supplements with lower levels of certain minerals or they may have other nutritional advice. Be sure to discuss any conditions you have with your healthcare provider, especially blood disorders or metabolic disorders.
Luckily, naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in foods do not pose a risk of overdoing the vitamins. However, supplemental vitamins in excess — such vitamin A — could pose a risk. “You need enough vitamin A but not too much,” she notes.
Should I take a prenatal vitamin if I already have a vitamin or nutrient deficiency?
“Ideally, your nutritional status is at an optimal level before you become pregnant,” Garden-Robinson advises. “Aim for a healthful diet first and consider a vitamin-mineral supplement to fill the nutrition gaps. Regardless of our age, we all need a varied diet with ample amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein and calcium sources such as dairy to meet our basic nutritional needs to sustain our health.”
If you are aware that you have a vitamin deficiency through testing, work with a healthcare provider to correct the deficiency prior to becoming pregnant.
“You will not need to take an additional supplement beyond your prenatal vitamin unless specific vitamins or minerals are prescribed by your healthcare provider,” she adds. “Most of the time a ‘once a day’ type of supplement is adequate for the majority of healthy adults; however, you would not want to combine taking an existing supplement with a prenatal.”
What ingredients should I look for in a prenatal vitamin?
Ahead, Garden-Robinson lists the key ingredients to look for on the Nutrition Label before purchasing one. All of our picks above highlight exactly which ones are included and additional details before use, too.
- Folic acid: This B vitamin functions in the development of cells throughout the body. It can help prevent neural tube birth defects including spina bifida if sufficient amounts are consumed in early stages of pregnancy. The amount of folic acid recommended in pregnancy is typically 600 micrograms.
- Iron: This is essential for moving oxygen throughout the blood to the developing baby. Iron helps prevent anemia and helps the fetus and placenta develop normally. Typically, pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron, but some pregnant women may need more or less depending on their iron status.
- Vitamin C: This is a water-soluble vitamin that your body does not store. Vitamin C is needed to form collagen, for wound healing and for the function of the immune system. Bell peppers, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit) and kiwi are high in vitamin C. Strawberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, potatoes and fortified foods also provide vitamin C. Pregnant women need 85 milligrams of vitamin C daily.
- Vitamin D: This plays many roles in the body, including the development of bones and teeth. Typically, a pregnant woman needs 600 International Units, but some healthcare providers may prescribe a higher dose especially if a pregnant woman is deficient.
- Calcium: This is a mineral needed for development of bone structure, especially in the later months of pregnancy. It also plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Calcium is found in abundance in dairy foods such as milk and yogurt. It also is found in fortified juice, plant milks, cereals, broccoli, almonds, fish with bones. It is required on Nutrition Facts labels. For young women 14-18, 1,300 mg calcium is the recommendation because they are still growing.
- Iodine: This is a mineral that is needed for bone and brain development during pregnancy, but we all need it. Iodine is used to make thyroid hormones, which directly affects our body’s metabolism. It is found in “iodized” salt, fish (including tuna), shrimp, dairy foods (such as milk, yogurt and cheese). It is not required on Nutrition Facts labels. Pregnant women need 220 micrograms per day.
- Zinc: This is a mineral that helps keep our immune system strong. It plays a role in making protein and DNA (the genetic material in cells). Zinc also plays a role in wound healing and other functions. Zinc is found in animal proteins such as red meat, poultry, seafood, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts, whole grains, and other foods. It is not required on Nutrition Facts labels. Pregnant women need 11 milligrams daily, and pregnant teens need 12 milligrams daily.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are important for brain development. Omega-3’s can be obtained from plant oils including soybean, flax and canola, chia seeds and walnuts. salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines. Some foods are fortified with omega 3 fats.
- Thiamin/Vitamin B1: This is one of the B vitamins found in abundance in grain foods, fortified bread, cereal, pasta and rice. Pork and fish also provide thiamin, along with dry beans, nuts and seeds. B vitamins are important in the process of converting food into energy during metabolism. Pregnant women need 1.4 milligrams per day.
- DHA: Short for docosahexaenoic acid, this is essential for the development of the brain in infants. Infant formula is often fortified with DHA. DHA is a type of omega-3 fat. Some of the best natural sources are salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout sea bass, tuna and other fish and seafoods. Smaller amounts are found in eggs and chicken. Note that since fish is frequently a source of DHA to follow any advisories about fish and seafood. Some fish is higher in mercury.
Are there side effects to prenatal vitamins?
According to Garden-Robinson, some women may experience constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramps or nausea especially from the extra iron and/or calcium — depending on the supplement’s content. Too much folic acid (B vitamin) over time can mask a type of anemia associated with vitamin B-12, too.
“Women are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids and include more fiber in the diet, because some of the nutrients may promote constipation,” she adds. “Pregnant women also need exercise, and that should help with reducing risk for constipation.”
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