How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin?

Are you expecting a baby? Congratulations! Pregnancy is a beautiful experience and a time to take good care of yourself. It is also the right time to improve your lifestyle and eating habits for a healthy pregnancy. The nutritional demands of your body rise dramatically during pregnancy. Even if you are someone that chooses nutritious meals every day, there is a possibility of falling short of some critical nutrients. That's why pregnant women are prescribed prenatal vitamins.

What is unique about prenatal vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are prescribed for those who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Pregnancy is a demanding period and prenatal supplements offer the extra assurance that you are getting optimal amounts of essential nutrients. While prenatal vitamins are very similar to your multivitamins, they differ in the type and quantity of nutrients. They are specially formulated with crucial nutrients that are necessary during conception, pregnancy, and lactation. Prenatal supplements help meet the increased nutritional needs of a mother and her baby.

How to choose your prenatal vitamin? 

Getting the right nutrients is the key to excellent pregnancy outcomes. Hence, your goal is to choose prenatal vitamins to supply the crucial nutrients your body needs during pregnancy.


Here's what to look for in your prenatal vitamins:


Folate: Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, a water-soluble B vitamin. It is required to make the genetic material (DNA) and the neural tubes of your unborn baby. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 600 micrograms of folate per day during pregnancy. Gynecologists strongly advocate folate within the first 28 days of pregnancy and recommend folate supplements throughout pregnancy to prevent birth defects in babies. When choosing a supplement, it is essential to go for the folate form than the folic acid as they are different. Most conventional prenatal vitamins offer folic acid, the synthetic version of B9, which is not very well absorbed. Prenatal supplements that offer 5-MTHF (methyltetrahydrofolate), the active form of folate, are highly bioavailable and well absorbed. Another benefit is that the 5-MTHF form prevents the potential adverse effects of unconverted folic acid in the body[1]. Secondly, the MTHF form does not mask vitamin B12 deficiency[2] which is common when taking conventional folic acid supplements.


Iron: Your body needs iron to make red blood cells that carry oxygen to various body parts. It is also essential for a healthy immune system. During pregnancy, there is a considerable increase in your blood volume, which increases the demand for iron to make more red blood cells. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron per day. Iron is crucial to prevent the risk of preterm, low birth weight births, and infant mortality. When choosing iron supplements, go for the chelated forms, which are better absorbed and do not cause constipation and discomfort. A randomized study found that chelated iron was well tolerated, better absorbed, and superior to regular iron supplements[3].


Vitamin D: Stepping into pregnancy with adequate vitamin D levels helps develop a healthy fetus. It is crucial for maintaining the health of a pregnant mother too. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium and phosphorus absorption, two critical minerals needed for bone building and growth. Besides, it is also known for its ability to reduce the risk of some degenerative diseases, auto-immune disorders and support many other functions in your body. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IU of vitamin D[4] for pregnancy. However, if there is a deficiency, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 1000- 2000 IU [5]of vitamin D per day and deems it safe.   


Calcium: Calcium helps to build bones and aid in teeth formation. It is also vital for nerve health, making your heart muscles, muscle contraction, enzyme, and hormone functioning[6]. Adequate calcium intake during pregnancy is beneficial for both the mother and her baby. It reduces the risk of hypertension, one of the causes for maternal deaths, and the risk of preterm birth. Hypertensive disorders during pregnancy are also the leading cause of early neonatal and infant death. Pregnant and lactating mothers need 1000 mg of calcium per day to cover the increased needs. The American Pregnancy Association states that pregnant women who do not get sufficient calcium are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.


Choline: Choline is necessary for many physiological processes during pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in tissue expansion, neurotransmission, brain development, and gene expression[7]. Research reveals that choline supplementation during the prenatal period improves several pregnancy outcomes by protecting against specific neurological issues. Since most pregnant women do not meet the recommended 450 mg/day, boosting your choline intake through dietary choices and prenatal supplements is an effective way to get enough of this nutrient.   


Vitamin B12: Vitamin B 12 is crucial for developing the nervous system. B12, along with folic acid, helps prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in newborns. Studies show that B 12 deficiency leads to low birthweight babies and preterm births[8]. A prenatal supplement that offers folate and choline along with B12 is your best choice for improving pregnancy outcomes.  


Iodine: Iodine is an essential micronutrient for thyroid hormone synthesis. The need for iodine increases during early pregnancy due to increased maternal thyroid hormone production, increased urinary iodine losses, and iodine transfer to the fetus. Low iodine reserves in the early stages of pregnancy lead to hypothyroidism, impacting the baby's neurodevelopment. Mild iodine deficiency leads to mild cognitive defects and motor development in babies. Severe deficiency leads to cretinism, a condition characterized by dwarfism, physical deformity, and cognitive issues[9].


Other nutrients: Nutrients like vitamin A, C, E, and minerals like zinc, copper, and molybdenum are also essential for a healthy pregnancy. The form of these nutrients is also crucial. For instance, preformed vitamin A or retinol is risky due to its link to birth defects and liver toxicity. For this reason, vitamin A in the form of mixed carotenoids is preferred in prenatal formulations. Similarly, a chelated form of micronutrients like copper, zinc, etc., are well absorbed by the body and do not lead to an upset stomach.


Additional points to keep in mind,
Not all prenatal vitamins are made the same because they vary by formulation. Some manufacturers skimp on key nutrients to fit their formula into a single dose. Some supplements include cheaper, synthetic forms of nutrients which are not absorbed well by the body and lead to discomfort such as constipation or bloating. Other formulations even include fillers and additives like artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Hence, it is crucial to choose your supplements from a reputed manufacturer that uses only high-quality ingredients in their formulation. A manufacturer with high standards backs the formulation via research, screens for potential contamination by performing regular quality checks. This ensures the safety and efficacy of their products. Always read the ingredient list and check the formulation before purchasing a prenatal vitamin. Look for quality tests and other standard attestations for prenatal vitamins.


If you are looking for prenatal supplements, here are a few recommendations,


Prenatal Pro by Designs for Health: Prenatal Pro™ offers nutrients dosed at levels to help achieve optimal results during pregnancy. The formulation supports better absorption of prenatal vitamins than those found in standard prenatal supplements. The iron in Prenatal Pro™ is in the chelated form, which is better absorbed by the body and non-constipating. According to Designs for Health, Prenatal Pro™ offers, Ferrochel®, the chelated iron which is the most bioavailable on the market. Similarly, other crucial nutrients like zinc, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and chromium are also offered in chelated forms for better absorption. The recommended dosage is to take four capsules per day as divided doses with meals or as directed by your provider.


Prenatal Nutrients by Pure Encapsulations: This supplement is hypoallergenic, non-GMO, and gluten-free, providing multivitamins and nutrients in a highly bioavailable formula. The product is suitable for both pregnant and lactating women. The recommended dosage is 2 capsules per day with meals. Folate is highly available in MTHF form, mixed carotenoids, iron in the form of iron glycinate, D3 as cholecalciferol the active form are some of the highlights of this formulation.


Basic Prenatal by Thorne Reseach: Thorne offers prenatal vitamins in a clean, additive-free, and coating-free formulation. The nutrients are highly bioavailable; hence they are readily absorbed and reduce the risk of stomach upset common in conventional prenatal supplements. The highlight of the product includes well-absorbed iron picolinate, which is easy on the stomach and non-constipating, and the active form of folate (5-MTHF) to help maintain healthy folate levels. The suggested dosage is to take three capsules per day or as recommended by the provider.


Prenatal supplements make it easier to get your daily nutrients along with healthy, nutritious meals. They perfectly complement your lean proteins, colorful veggies, and healthy fat to help meet the nutritional demands of pregnancy and lactation. Besides taking supplements, drink plenty of fluids, take a fiber-rich diet, and include a physical activity (recommended by your provider) for a healthier and happier pregnancy.