Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal and deciding which is best for you can be difficult. What should you look for? Are more expensive vitamins actually better? Are some ingredients more crucial than others? With so many options on the market, it can be confusing figuring out how to choose a prenatal vitamin. Here are some prenatal dos and don'ts to keep in mind while narrowing down your search:
Do know the purpose of prenatal vitamins before taking them
Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for supporting normal physiologic function (e.g., growth, reproduction, etc). A healthy diet is the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need — but even then, you might fall short on key nutrients. During pregnancy, the body requires higher levels of vitamins to support fetal growth. Most prenatals are a blend of different vitamins and minerals to supplement your daily nutrition. If you're pregnant or hoping to conceive, prenatal vitamins should be taken 3 months prior to conception.
DON’T overdo it; you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to vitamins
Beware of the idea that if a little is good, more is better. Having too much of certain vitamins can be toxic. Excess calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron can be damaging and in extreme cases, even fatal. On the other hand, vitamin deficiency is linked to adverse outcomes. Folate deficiency, for example, is linked to neural tube defects in developing babies. And insufficient vitamin A is linked to blindness. Only take supplements from brands that test potency.
So, how do you know how much of a vitamin you should be taking? This table shows the recommended and safe upper limits for vitamin intake during pregnancy.
The good news is that it is rare to exceed vitamin tolerance from diet or one multivitamin (or prenatal vitamin). However, things become problematic if you are using more than one vitamin supplement or taking more than one supplement per day. To avoid this, find a solution that meets all your needs.
Do know where your vitamins come from and how they work
Beware of products that contain less — or more — than they claim. Since vitamins are categorized as "dietary supplements,” they don’t have the protection of FDA oversight. This is because vitamins are intended to supplement your diet, not act as a drug treatment. The FDA does not require prenatal vitamins to go through a rigorous approval process before going to market like a drug would, placing the responsibility for safety on the manufacturers. Be sure to choose a supplier that follows current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations so you receive safe prenatal vitamins. These regulations include evaluating their products for purity and potency to ensure claims made on the supplement panel is actually in what is in the daily dose.
Vitamins and supplements come in many forms; tablet pills, capsules, liquids, gummies and powders, etc. The one you choose depends on how they work in your body and how you prefer to take them. For example, some ingredients only work in a dry extract form. Others work faster and are more effective as a liquid. Certain supplements stop working, or make you feel sick, if they come in contact with the acid in your stomach, where others like chew-able will leave out important ingredients like iron to make them taste better.
Do understand your Supplement Facts
Be sure to choose a prenatal vitamin that includes the following:
- Folate: Whether you take folate or folic acid, this vitamin in particular is super important for prenatal health. See below.
- Iron: Iron is crucial for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. When iron levels are low, this increases risk for anemia.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for proper immune function and bone growth.
Note that when reviewing supplement facts, not all forms of a nutrient are the same. For example, vitamin D supplements come as either vitamin D2 or vitamin D3. Same goes for your sources of Omega-3’s and DHA. The main difference in understanding ingredients comes from where they are sourced and their bio availability - the degree and rate at which a vitamin is absorbed and can be used. Vitamins and minerals can interact in complex ways. For example, vitamin C and iron are “team players.” Similarly, vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium. Other nutrients, such as zinc and iron, can act against each other.
As the VP of Strategy at Premama Wellness and a mom myself, I understand how confusing the vitamin category can be if you aren’t well versed on the subject. Have questions on how to choose a prenatal vitamin? We’re here to help. Visit us at premamawellness.com or @premamawellness.