In The Guide
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is the best way to get the necessary vitamins and minerals. That goes without saying.
But even if you’re a health superfreak who follows the food pyramid guidelines to a “tee” every day, it’s very possible you come up short on key vitamins and nutrients.
Prenatal vitamins are something your doctor might recommend if you’re pregnant or hoping to conceive. They’re specially-formulated to fill in the gaps and give you the key vitamins you might be missing in your diet.
And then you go to the pharmacy and discover that there are 50 different types of vitamins with different ingredients and your eyes start to glaze over and the panic sets in. Well, that was my experience anyway.
So I’ve put together this guide to tell you everything you need to know when shopping for prenatal vitamins. Please remember, though: always, always, always talk to your doctor about the vitamins you’re taking.
What’s the difference between regular and prenatal vitamins?
The main purpose for prenatals over regular vitamins is that they’ll contain these vitamins and minerals in the recommended amounts, whereas regular multivitamins are generally formulated for the requirements of non-pregnant women.
Any good prenatal will contain the following:
Folic Acid. Also known as vitamin B-9, this helps reduce the risk of birth defects, spina bifida and anencephaly.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 0.4mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid per day for women of childbearing age, so make sure your multivitamin has at least this much; most prenatal vitamins will have more than this.
Iron. Iron is very important for everyone, but even moreso for pregnant women!
The CDC recommends a minimum of 27mg/day of iron for pregnant women; non-pregnant women are recommended 18mg, so there’s a pretty big difference! Of course, it’s not good to get too much iron, so don’t overdo it.
Calcium. While the calcium recommendations for pregnant women don’t differ from those for non-pregnant (1300mg/day) it’s very important to make sure you get enough.
A lack of calcium during pregnancy can result in bone density loss. It’s also very important for the development of your baby: it helps develop strong bones and teeth, to have a healthy heart and muscles, and develop normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities.
Since this is so important, if you have a calcium deficiency during your pregnancy, your body will draw it from your bones to make sure your baby is getting enough. Not good.
WebMD also recommends the following:
- 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
- 400 IU of vitamin D.
- 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
- 70 mg of vitamin C.
- 3 mg of thiamine.
- 2 mg of riboflavin.
- 20 mg of niacin.
- 6 mcg of vitamin B12.
- 10 mg of vitamin E.
- 15 mg of zinc.
- 17 mg of iron.
- 150 micrograms of iodine
Most of those ingredients can be found in a regular multivitamin, but the difference between regular and prenatal vitamins is the amount contained, especially that of iron, calcium and folic acid.
What are the best over-the-counter vitamins?
First things first: sometimes your doctor will prescribe you vitamins.
These won’t be available without a prescription, but the good thing is that there are tons of over-the-counter prenatals available to choose from.
The problem is this: how in the world do you choose one? I mean, this isn’t exactly a decision you want to take lightly.
I’ve put together a list of some of the best prenatal vitamins there are.
Rounding up the organic & vegetarian vitamin choices.
Veganism is a growing trend, and a lot of women are looking for vegan or vegetarian options in their prenatals these days. Or maybe you’re just looking for something that’s more healthy.
Unfortunately, a lot of vitamins use animal gelatin, which immediately disqualifies it as a vegan option.
However, there are a few true healthy, vegan choices available.
Best Organic & Vegetarian Choice: Garden of Life Vitamin Code RAW Prenatal
These contain actual folate, not folic acid, which is a better form of vitamin B-9 (a vital vitamin for pregnant women) and is water-soluble.
They’re meant to be taken 3x a day, so I’d recommend taking them after meals. Don’t take them all at once; you have to space them out to get the benefit.
What’s nice is that these are easier to swallow than most prenatal vitamins; even parents that complain about having difficulty taking pills had no real trouble with these ones.
What a lot of mommies also like is that they’re easy on the stomach; where other vitamins made them queasy, these were totally fine. If you want, you can also blend them into a smoothie! Just know that the taste is pretty strong, so it better be a powerful smoothie.
The only real downside (or maybe an upside to you) is that these is that they don’t have much calcium. If you’re looking for non-dairy sources of calcium, you’ll have to supplement these with something else that has calcium.
The vegan option for DHA (Omega 3s): algal DHA (also good if you hate fish oil!)
Let’s be real: the best source of DHA is fish oil.
But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, a option for you is supplements that use algal (made of algae) DHA. Heck, they might even be appealing to you if you hate the “fish burps” you get with fish oil capsules. In fact, these have lemon oil in them, and actually smell and taste lemony. It’s really pleasant!
The most highly-recommended algal DHA supplement are the DEVA Vegan Vitamins. They’re vegan right down to the softgel capsules which are made of plant gelatin.
Each capsule contains 200mg of DHA, which is exactly how much you need when pregnant. You can take one of these per day (again, take them with food) to get your full DHA daily requirement.
If you have any food allergies, rest assured that these contain no GMOs, yeast, wheat, gluten, hexane, dairy, egg, salt, sugar or preservatives.
If you don’t want to take a DHA supplement, you can still get your required amounts of DHA in foods like:
- Flax seed: A really awesome source of Omega 3. A single oz of this stuff contains 6388g of it!
- Chia seed: An oz contains 4915mg of DHA, and is also packed with calcium, fiber and manganese.
- Hemp seed: One oz contains 1100mg of Omega 3.
- Leafy greens: Spinach and kale are great sources of natural Omega 3s. One cup of cooked spinach has 352mg.
- Berries: Some berries, like blueberries, are packed with Omega 3s. A one cup serving will give you 174mg.
- Wild rice: This staple not only has iron, protein, fiber and more, but a one cup serving has 156mg of Omega 3s.
Best Prenatal Vitamins with DHA: Nature Made
If you’re someone who would rather swallow as few pills as possible, you’ll be glad to know that you only have to take one of these per day. On the flip side, they are rather large, which is something to take into consideration if you have difficulty with large pills.
They’re not vegan, but they’re a great way to get all of your required vitamins and nutrients in a single capsule per day.
They meet the iron and folic acid requirements, along with most others; combined with a healthy diet, you should be getting all of the nutrients you need.
The downside is that these do have a faint fishy smell, which may or may not be a dealbreaker; it can set off nausea for some pregnant moms. You should also always try to take them on a full stomach to help minimize the side-effects (nausea, mostly.)
New Chapter Perfect Prenatal Multi-Vitamin
These are certified organic and non-GMO (click to check the price); they’re also vegan which you might really be into (I know I am).
They also contain folate instead of folic acid, which is the natural version of vitamin B-6. They also don’t have the off-putting smell that these vitamins sometimes have, which is good for those of us that get queasy.
They can be taken on an empty stomach, but it always helps to take them with food to minimize the risk of nausea or upset stomach, which can happen pretty easily when you’re pregnant. This is only really a benefit if you’re really running late or it’s not convenient to eat something with it.
You’re supposed to take them 3 times a day, so you can just take them at each meal so you don’t forget. Since you take 3 per day, they’re smaller than the average pill, making them easier to swallow.
The easiest way to remember is to take them at each meal, assuming you’re not a meal-skipper (and you shouldn’t be if you’re pregnant!)
There’s some controversy with these vitamins: the company was bought out by Proctor & Gamble in 2012, which put a lot of people off. I personally don’t have any trouble with it, but you should know about it in case you do. I don’t believe the quality control went down in any way.
Bellybar: The Best Chewable Prenatal Vitamins
For those of us who just can’t swallow pills, these chewable vitamins are a godsend! (click here to check the price) You might also be happy to know that they’re vegan and contain no animal ingredients.If you’re familiar with Flintstones vitamins, these smell and taste pretty similar.
I personally love the taste; it’s a guilty pleasure and reminds me of being a kid. Unlike Flintstones vitamins, these don’t contain artificial dyes or aspartame. Some people aren’t huge fans of the taste, but it’s not at all gross and they’re easy to chew and swallow.
You’re supposed to take 2 of these per day; I’d recommend morning and night, during breakfast and dinner. Since they’re chewable, they’re a lot easier to digest and shouldn’t cause any upset stomach problems, hopefully.
They have everything you need, are easy to chew and swallow, and are pretty affordable. What else is there to say? If you hate taking pills, these are an awesome alternative, and they do contain iron unlike some of the gummy alternatives.
One A Day Women’s Prenatal Vitamins
Some people find the packaging misleading, and I can’t really blame them: it says it’s a “120 pack” but it’s really 60 of each tablet.
You are supposed to take one of each tablet a day, so 2 total per day. Most people find them to be fairly easy to swallow and not hard on the stomach, which is a nice perk.
I’d recommend taking the vitamin during the day and the DHA tablet at night, as they are derived from fish oil and can have a fishy aftertaste. It’s not all that unpleasant, but you can mostly avoid it if you take it at night before bed.
All in all, I can’t really recommend these over the other brands, but they aren’t awful. It’s up to you!
Best Prenatal Gummy Vitamins: Vitafusion Prenatal Gummies
So, you want all the benefits of taking the best prenatal vitamins but don’t want to swallow a horse pill?
I can’t say I blame you! Vitafusion Prenatal gummies (click to check price) are awesome little vitamins that mommies-to-be love!
These contain DHA (omega 3 fish oil) which is a nice bonus; your doctor might suggest taking it during your pregnancy. You will want know that they don’t contain iron, which may be a plus or a minus to you. Since they don’t have iron, they’re very easy on the tummy and shouldn’t stop you up, which is something a lot of women really prefer.
You need to take 2 per day, which is very easy. These little gummies taste great! They’re a lot like candy, and instead of dreading taking your daily pill vitamins (like me) these are actually something I looked forward to every day.
If you want some great prenatal gummy vitamins, these are what I would suggest!
Frequently Asked Questions & Advice
There are some common questions women have about prenatal vitamins, and I’
When Should I Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?
The CDC recommends all women of childbearing age to take take prenatal vitamins to make sure their reproductive system stays healthy.
However, if you haven’t been taking them, it’s fine to start taking them the month you start trying to conceive; the earlier the better!
What Are The Common Side-Effects?
There are a few side-effects that are generally a little unpleasant.
You might experience constipation or nausea, which is sometimes compounded by the pregnancy. Sometimes the smell of DHA fish tablets can set off some moms, too.
If you experience nausea, try switching things up! If you take them in the morning, try it at night; try taking them with food, etc.
Can I Take Prenatal Vitamins For Hair Growth?
A lot of people swear that taking prenatal vitamins makes their hair and nails grow faster, but the truth of the matter is that there’s absolutely no scientific evidence to prove that these vitamins affect hair & nail growth in any way. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
So where did this misconception come from? Experts believe that it’s likely attributed to the boost in estrogen and other hormones women experience during pregnancy; since they’re taking the vitamins at the time, moms think it has something to do with them.
Also, it’s more likely that these hormone boosts are actually stopping hair from shedding as much as opposed to actually growing in thicker. Most women find that after they give birth, their hair quickly returns to how it used to be before they were pregnant.
Also, please don’t crush vitamins up and put them in your shampoo! You might laugh at this, but a lot of people believe that this can help promote hair growth. It won’t.
What Are The Benefits of Taking Prenatal Vitamins?
As mentioned before, usually, prenatal vitamins contain a mixture of folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamin C, zinc, copper, vitamin B6 and vitamin D. These are all vital nutrients for pregnancy and the growth of a healthy baby!
Taking prenatal vitamins before you’re pregnant can actually help your chances of conceiving, too. This is why experts recommend all women of childbearing age take them.
Can Men Take Prenatal Vitamins?
This is actually a common question!
Maybe you had some vitamins leftover, or you’re just curious about it. Well, yes, men can take prenatal vitamins; it’s not going to cause them any kind of harm. They can work in a pinch, but it’s not ideal to take prenatal vitamins over standard multivitamins for men, as they contain different amounts of nutrients more suited for men’s needs.
So basically, they’re not going to kill you, but you’re much better off taking those that are formulated specifically for men.
Are There Any Prenatal Vitamins Without Iron?
Iron plays a very important role in the healthy development of your baby, but if you get enough iron in your diet and don’t want to take a supplement that has even more iron, then yes, there are some vitamins out there that don’t have iron.
Many women find that extra iron makes them constipated and want to avoid it, and I don’t blame them.
Yes, there are prenatal vitamins without iron! For example, Vitafusion Prental gummies don’t contain any iron, but contain everything else you need.
Do Prenatal Vitamins Help You Get Pregnant?
While the vitamins won’t magically make you more likely to conceive, they will ensure that your body has the necessary nutrients to make a baby. Good luck!
Do Prenatal Vitamins Make You Gain Weight?
When we’re pregnant, it’s hard to tell what’s causing the changes to our body.
Some women are concerned that their vitamins are making them gain weight, but the truth is that the vitamins themselves won’t cause this; they contain zero calories, and won’t break down in the body to be stored as fat.
What’s the Best Time To Take Them?
Generally, you’ll have to look at how many pills per day you’re supposed to take.
If it’s 2, try taking them in the morning and night with food; this should help reduce the risk of getting an upset stomach. If you have to take only 1, experiment to see which time of day is best for you.
Some women prefer taking them in the morning, while others prefer doing it at night. It’s really up to you; there’s no best time to do it, per se.
Are Prenatal Vitamins Necessary?
No, there’s not absolutely necessary; women have been having babies for a long time, well before there were supplements!
You’ll have to ask your doctor, because it’s going to depend on your personal health and diet. It’s very possible that you won’t need to take any kind of supplements, but always find out from your doctor for sure.
Can They Make You Sick?
Yep, it’s possible. A lot of women have difficulty with their supplements giving them nausea or upset stomachs, and it usually has something to do with the iron content.
If you’re not deficient in iron, you might try switching to a brand of vitamins that don’t contain iron. You might also try taking them at different times of the day, because that can sometimes help.
Can You Take Them if You’re Not Pregnant?
Of course you can! They’re just vitamins. In fact, experts recommend that all women take them, especially if they’re trying to conceive.
The nutrients can help reduce the risk of birth defects. Even if you’re not trying to conceive, they’re not going to harm you at all.
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- WebMD: Folic Acid & Pregnancy
- Centers For Disease Control & Prevention: Folic Acid – Recommendations
- Centers For Disease Control & Prevention: Iron & Iron Deficiency
- PubMed: Role of calcium during pregnancy: maternal and fetal needs.
- DrOz.com: You Wanted to Know: Prenatal Vitamins for Hair
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