Navigating the World of Prenatal Vitamins

It’s no secret that women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should be taking a prenatal vitamin but with so many different options out there, women are often left wondering if they are taking the right one. I frequently get asked in my Fertility Awareness classes what vitamin I recommend and to be honest, I’m usually like a deer in a headlight when I get that question. I currently have three different bottles of prenatal vitamins in my own home and I used to just take whichever one I felt like that day. So I decided to do a little research to find the number one, ultimate, best, top of the line, comprehensive, but also affordable Vitamin out there. I thought it probably wouldn’t be that hard but after two full work days of searching the Internet, I was ready to give up.

Here’s the thing. I searched the American College of Gynecology (ACOG) website and found the recommended daily values for the Big Four in the world of Prenatal Vitamins: Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin D. And then I searched the FDA’s website and found this chart and this chart of recommended values for pregnant women BUT even they weren’t exactly the same and neither lined up perfectly with ACOG’s page. I thought maybe one of them was more up-to-date than the other but then when I looked at current labels of vitamins, some of them seemed to line up with one chart, and some lined up with the other. I was confused and stressed and wishing I would have majored in Nutrition in college because there must be something I’m not understanding about all of this.

So, after taking a break from my search, I took a deep breathe and decided that it’s ok to not get this perfectly on the dot. There is no ultimate vitamin out there. Nevertheless, there are plenty of really good vitamins. So how do you decide what’s best for you? Here’s a few questions to ask yourself.

1) How much can you pay for your Vitamins? Many Prenatal Vitamins will cost around 30-40 dollars a month but that number varies widely depending on where you shop. On the other hand, with a prescription from your care provider, many Prenatal Vitamins are free. Remember that any vitamin is better than no vitamin so if you don’t want to pay a whole lot, take the one your care provider prescribes!

2) Can you stomach it? If you’re struggling with nausea or vomiting throughout your pregnancy, swallowing pills can be really difficult. Some prenatal vitamins require you to take just one pill a day while others can be as many five or six. Furthermore, some vitamins may make you nauseous while others don’t seem to be a problem. So if this is an issue for you, the best prenatal vitamin is the one you can keep down.

3) What sources do you want your vitamin to be made from? Is it important to you that your vitamin is completely plant based? Do you want to make sure there are no artificial additives in your vitamin? There are plenty of options out there if you answered “yes” to any of these options but you may have to find them at a health food store or online.

4) Does your care provider approve of it? It’s never a bad idea to take your vitamin to your next prenatal appointment and see what your care provider thinks of it. They can tell you if it has enough of certain vitamins and minerals and not too much of anything else. You may also wish to talk thoroughly about some of the vitamins/minerals covered in the next question.

5) Does it have everything you want in it? This is where things can get a little confusing again but remember, you don’t have to get it perfectly right. Here’s a few things to think about.

Folate or Folic Acid? Almost all prenatal vitamins will have enough folate/Folic Acid but it’s usually one or the other. Folate is a natural substance found in food but Folic Acid is the synthetic form of it. For more information about the difference between the two check out this article.

Calcium — The recommended daily amount of calcium is atleast 1000 mg but most prenatal vitamins only have 200-300 mg included. Do you get enough calcium in your diet (dairy products, leafy greens, salmon, almonds etc) to make up the extra or will you need an additional supplement?

Iron — Many Prenatal Vitamins have the full recommended amount of Iron but if yours does not, you may need to supplement. If you do, look for ferrous gluconate rather than ferrous sulfate because it’s generally easier to digest.

Vitamin D — Vitamin D is important because it helps your body use Calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Be sure you’re getting enough in your vitamin if you’re not regularly exposed to sunlight.

B Vitamins — Thiamine, Riboflacin, Niacin, B6 and B12 are all important and helpful in pregnancy, especially if you are dealing with fatigue and morning sickness. Most prenatal vitamins have some B Vitamins in them but if need extra energy and relief from nausea, talk to your care provider about taking more.

Magnesium — Magnesium is an important mineral that almost everyone is deficient in. In pregnancy, it’s especially important for managing stress, sleeping well, lowering high blood pressure and preventing preeclampsia. Pregnant women are supposed to get around 400 mg of magnesium but there often is not nearly that much in prenatal vitamins. Ask your care provider for guidance regarding this mineral.

DHA — DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is vital in building your baby’s brain. It’s found in fish, but it can be really difficult to get enough of it, especially since pregnant women are limited on fish intake. Many Prenatal Vitamins are starting to include DHA but most still do not so consider supplementing if you don’t have one that does.

Probiotics — Finally, probiotics are important for your and your baby’s gut health. Most vitamins don’t have probiotics but there are probiotics specific to pregnancy so consider taking one of those as well.

Remember that most vitamins won’t check off every box so eating a balanced diet ensures that you and baby can grow healthy and strong and you don’t have to stress too much about the exact vitamin you take. While there is no one right answer for everyone when it comes to choosing prenatal vitamins, I hope this helps you decide which one might be best for you! May you have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable pregnancy ❤️

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