How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

You already know that pregnant women should take a prenatal multivitamin every day. But were you aware that popping this powerhouse pill while you’re trying to conceive, or even before then, can also have a multitude of benefits for you and your potential bun-in-the-oven? Many women’s health doctors even recommend that all women of childbearing age include prenatals in their daily routine. Here, we cover the deets on how to find the best prenatal vitamin for you.

What’s the difference between a standard women’s multi and a prenatal multi?

Go to your local drugstore’s vitamin section and you’re likely to see multiple rows of multivitamins. There are multivitamins for kids, adult women, adult men, senior women, senior men, and so on. While none are intended to replace a balanced diet, each multivitamin is intended to deliver just the right blend of nutrients for the gender or age group that it’s targeting.

Adult women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or who may want to become pregnant someday require a specific set of nutrients to boost their health, fertility, and ability to carry a healthy baby to term. Prenatal vitamins are formulated to meet these specific nutritional requirements.

Benefits For Mom and Baby

Ingredients commonly found in prenatal multivitamins help to prevent certain birth defects, reduce nausea in mom, and even might boost fertility if you’re in the trying-to-conceive stage. While healthy eating is a great place to start, most American women don’t get all the recommended nutrients through their diet alone.

When your body is sharing space with a mini-me, getting enough of those key nutrients becomes even more important. That’s when taking a good quality, complete prenatal vitamin becomes absolutely crucial for mom and baby to stay happy and healthy throughout pregnancy.

What Nutrients to Look For

According to The Mayo Clinic, the following nutrients are particularly important in prepping your body for pregnancy and supporting healthy fetal development:

Folic acid or Folate

Helps prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy, contributes to red blood cell production, and could aid in mom’s general fertility. Recent research shows that folate, the body’s natural form of folic acid, is more bioactive than synthetic folic acid.

DHA and other Omega 3s

These essential fatty acids play a major role in fetal brain development, the nervous system, and even eyesight. If you are vegetarian or concerned about possible toxins in fish oils, look for plant-based sources of DHA.

Lutein (often combined with zeaxanthin)

This antioxidant reduces oxidative stress on the fetus and supports eye health. Recent research has also linked it with infant brain development and learning.

Calcium

Crucial for both mom and baby’s bone and muscle strength. May also prevent preeclampsia, a serious disorder that can occur during pregnancy.

Iron and Copper

These essential minerals work together to support heart and blood health, helping to prevent anemia in mom and supporting baby’s growth and development.

Vitamins D and B6

From contributing to bone health and immunity, to reducing morning sickness, you’ll want to get your dose of these crucial vitamins.

Iodine

This essential nutrient is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which affects baby’s brain development. But be careful with it: too much can cause thyroid hormone problems in unborn infants. Try to keep your iodine intake to around 175 micrograms per day.

Zinc

Zinc supplementation has not only been shown to result in fewer preterm births, it’s also known to improve the mother’s immune system, meaning an overall healthier and happier mom and baby.

Suspect Ingredients to Avoid

Pretty much any medicine, vitamin, or supplement will contain both “active” and “inactive” ingredients. The active ingredients are the reason you’re taking the pill. The inactive ingredients serve a variety of purposes, like holding the capsules together or coloring the pills to make them seem more appetizing. Some of these inactive ingredients are harmless, and some are a bit dicier.

If you’re concerned with keeping things nice and natural for you and your baby, you may want to steer clear of things like synthetic dyes, titanium dioxide (which could cause cancer in humans), propylene glycol (which can cause GI distress), or talc (which is now also thought to be a carcinogen). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may want to avoid gelatin capsules or shellac glaze, another sneaky animal product to be aware of.

Extra Credit

If you want to go even further down the prenatal health rabbit hole, you can find multivitamin options that go above and beyond the basics covered above, with additional vitamins and minerals to boost your energy and immune health, or even extras like whole organic fruits and veggies or probiotics. For a prenatal multi that checks all the boxes, check out the new Whole Food Complex Prenatal Multivitamin from NatureWise!

Cammy Pedroja, Ph.D.

Cammy Pedroja, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and journalist covering lifestyle, culture, and women’s issues for both print and digital outlets, including USA Today, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and HealthyWay. With degrees from Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College, Cammy earned her doctorate from SUNY Binghamton. www.cammy.live/ Twitter: @CammyPedroja