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How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

How to Choose a Prenatal VitaminWe get many questions about prenatal vitamins! So let’s get to it.

Question: How do you go about picking a prenatal vitamin?

With so much variety in the supplement industry, choosing a prenatal vitamin can seem like a daunting task. You may be wondering what nutrients are most important, why you need a supplement, and how to choose the right brand. If so, keep reading to get these and other questions answered.

Why a prenatal vitamin is so important

Pregnancy is a unique and crucial time for optimal nutrition for both mom and baby. Nutrient needs increase significantly during pregnancy to help build the placenta & nourish a growing baby. Taking a prenatal vitamin can help ensure proper fetal development, reduce the risk of birth defects and complications, support your body in labor, and support breast milk production after birth.

In a perfect world, we would be bale to get all the nutrients we need from food alone. Yet unfortunately that is very hard to do, even for those who follow a healthy and balanced diet. Many factors, such as less nutrients in the soil and medication uses a play a role in increased nutrient needs in the body (even for hos who aren’t pregnant!). So when you add pregnancy to the mix, it becomes even harder to meet all the nutrient needs from food alone. Taking a prenatal can help fill in the gaps in your diet to support the health of both your body and a future developing baby.

Key nutrients to look for in a prenatal

There are so many important nutrients your body needs before, during, and after pregnancy. Not every prenatal will contain exactly the same combination of nutrients, but choosing a supplement that is in line with the following guidelines can help ensure proper health for you & baby. 

  • Folate– This is perhaps the most important nutrient for pregnancy since it plays a crucial role in the baby’s brain and nerve health. Look for supplements that provide a minimum of 400 mcg, but closer to 800 mcg is even better.

*Note that many prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, which is a synthetic form of the vitamin. Many people have a genetic variation that limits their ability to convert folic acid into the useable form of folate, so we strongly recommend choosing a prenatal that contains a methylated form of this vitamin. Look for the word “methyl” in front, such as methylfolate.

  • B12-Also plays a role in nervous system health and preventing anemia for both mother and baby. Also like folate, this vitamin should be in a methylated form for better absorption. Look for the word “methylcobalamin” in a supplement.
  • B6– Being on an oral contraceptive prior to pregnancy can deplete the body of this vitamin, and it can also help manage nausea during pregnancy. A prenatal may contain between 2-10mcg, and more is usually better.
  • Vitamin D3-D3 is the more effective form to raise blood levels (compared to vitamin D2). Many women (and people in general) are vitamin D deficient, which can cause harm to the baby. Look for at least 1,000 IU in a prenatal supplement, but note that you may need more so taking a separate vitamin D supplement may be indicated.
  • Iron– Helps protect against anemia, which can be serious and lead to less oxygen delivered to you or your baby. 27mg meets the total daily requirements during pregnancy.
  • Calcium-Supports yours and your baby’s bone health in combination with vitamin D. Most prenatals will contain at least 150mg.
  • Vitamin A-Important for fetal development of the eyes, ears, limbs, and heart. Look for at least 5,000 IU or 2,400mcg, usually in the form of beta carotene.
  • Magnesium-This mineral is needed for so many reactions and processes in the body, and needs increase during pregnancy. Look for the forms of magnesium citrate or glycinate. Prenatals can contain anywhere from about 75mcg to 400mcg. If yours is on the lower side, be sure to eat plenty of magnesium rich foods to help fill in the gaps.
  • Iodine-important for thyroid function which plays a role in baby’s development. 150mcg is a good amount for a prenatal.

Other important nutrients for pregnancy:

  • Choline-Growing research is showing the importance of choline during pregnancy. Not all prenatals contain this, so if yours doesn’t, be sure to eat plenty of food sources such as egg yolks, meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Selenium-An important antioxidant.
  • Zinc– Pregnancy causes rapid cell growth which uses up zinc quickly. Zinc deficiencies during pregnancy may cause low birth weight, premature delivery and labor complications.
  • EPA + DHA (forms of omega-3 fatty acids)-Also not usually included in a prenatal, but plays many important roles in yours and baby’s health. Consider supplementing separately if your prenatal doesn’t contain it.

FAQ’s about prenatal vitamins

  1. Should I take a prenatal even if I’m not pregnant and don’t know when I will be?

Yes. A prenatal is recommended for any women of childbearing age who could become pregnant. Many women don’t know they are pregnant until at least a month in, during which time the baby’s brain and spinal cord have already begun developing. So taking a prenatal can help ensure your body has the nutrient stores it needs for whenever you do conceive.

  1. How long do I need to take a prenatal vitamin?

Definitely throughout the entire pregnancy, and if you plan to breastfeed, it is best to continue for the entire duration of breastfeeding as well. Even if you do not breastfeed, taking a prenatal can still help ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs. Since many women have more than one child, you can continue taking a prenatal until you and your partner decide you are done having kids (after which you could switch to a women’s multivitamin)

  1. How soon in advance should I begin taking a prenatal before hoping to become pregnant? 

The short answer is, as soon as possible, and ideally at least 3 months in advance to allow the body enough time to build up its nutrient stores.

  1. Does taking prenatals come with any side effects?

Taking prenatals on an empty stomach may cause nausea, and also would inhibit some of the vitamin absorption (due to some vitamins being fat-soluble). So always take them with a complete meal. The iron in prenatals can also contribute to constipation in some women, so be sure to increase fluid intake and be sure to eat plenty of fiber and get regular physical activity to help mitigate this.

A few of our fave products:

We hope this helped answer your questions about choosing a prenatal vitamin that is best for you. If you’re pregnant, it’s always a good idea to check with your OB doctor about all supplements you are taking, and as always, feel free to reach out to us with other questions!

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