How to choose the best Prenatal Vitamin

Prenatal vitamins are not created equally. Some are synthetic, some are food-based and some – possibly a little bit dangerous. From a look into what can be lurking in an ingredients list to the pros and cons of synthetic vs food based, here are our tips for choosing the right vitamins for you and your baby.

best prenatal vitamin

If you’re thinking about trying for a baby and have spoken to your doctor, it’s likely they’ve advised you to start taking a prenatal vitamin.

According to the Center for Disease Control, you should start taking prenatal vitamins, in particular – folic acid, at least three months before conception.

Because major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine occur around 3-4 weeks after conception, it’s imperative that you have enough folate in your system to aid new cell production. Folate, which can be found in fortified foods like bread and breakfast cereals, also comes in the synthetic form called folic acid.

While you can buy folic acid on its own, many doctors recommend taking a multi-vitamin when pregnant because you are the source of all of your baby’s nutrients and are going to need more than you usually do. The March of Dimes has identified six key nutrients you need to look for when shopping for a prenatal vitamin.

  1. Folic acid – Helps prevent neural tube defects, heart defects and in some cases cleft lip and palate.
  1. Iron – Iron is important because it’s what allows your baby to make blood in utero. When there’s a deficiency you can have a low-birthweight baby, premature birth or become anemic.
  1. Calcium – Calcium helps your baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves develop. If you don’t get enough during pregnancy, your body uses your own supply to help your baby, which can result in osteoporosis later in life.
  1. Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important because it helps your body absorb calcium and strengthens your immune system. Your baby needs Vitamin D to help their bones and teeth develop.
  1. DHA – During pregnancy, DHA helps your baby’s brain and eyes develop. Not all prenatal vitamins contain DHA, so ask your provider if you need to take a DHA supplement.
  1. Iodine – Iodine is important for thyroid function. You need iodine during pregnancy to help your baby’s brain and nervous system develop.

With so many prenatal vitamin options on the market, here are our tips for choosing the right prenatal vitamin for you and your baby:

1. Always check with your health professional before taking a supplement.

2. Learn the difference between synthetic and food based. 

A synthetic vitamin is made artificially in a lab to mimic what the naturally occurring vitamin does inside the body. A food-based supplement is taken from whole, usually dehydrated foods. The best way to tell if a vitamin is synthetic or food based is by checking the label. Natural supplements will usually say 100% plant or animal based and provide the food source such as yeast, fish, vegetables or citrus. Words that end in “ide” or “ate” indicate that the product contains salt forms, which are synthetics.

There are many reasons why some women opt for plant or food based vitamins over synthetic. People who are experiencing extreme morning sickness can feel extra yucky after taking a prenatal vitamin. Especially if they are having trouble holding down food and liquids. Plant/ Food based vitamins are gentler on the stomach and are proven to be absorbed by the body better than synthetic.

Unlike synthetic vitamins that come in a high dose isolated form, whole foods and 100% natural food/ plant based vitamins contain various other vitamins, minerals and enzymes that work together so the body can optimally metabolize a smaller amount. When your body has too much of a vitamin and can’t absorb it property, you either end up excreting it through urination or potentially storing it in your liver.

Before choosing your pre-natal vitamin, be sure to thoroughly research where the vitamin is derived from.

3. Read ingredients lists carefully.

When checking the ingredients list on your prenatal multi-vitamin, make sure you see the following vitamins and that they have the recommended dose.

  • Folic Acid – 400mcg
  • Iron – 17mg
  • Calcium – 200 to 300mg
  • Vitamin D – 400IU
  • DHA – 200mg
  • Iodine – 150mcg

4. Be aware that not all vitamins are good for pregnancy.

Here are the ones you need to be careful with:

Vitamin A
While Vitamin A is necessary for fetal vision development, too much Vitamin A can be harmful. Accumulation of it in the body can be toxic and lead to liver damage and even birth defects in babies.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is important for gene expression and immune function. However, it may increase the risk of abdominal pain and premature rupture of the amniotic sack.

Health professionals also recommend avoiding the following when pregnant:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Blue Cohosh
  • Goldenseal
  • Dong quai
  • Yohimbe
  • Saw palmetto
  • Tansy
  • Red clover
  • Angelica
  • Yarrow
  • Wormwood
  • Pennyroyal
  • Ephedra
  • Mugwort

5. Dietary supplements don’t require FDA approval

So be diligent when researching the brand, source of ingredients and health care recommendation.

When products aren’t approved by the FDA, an ingredients list could be fraudulent. The amount of the vitamin might be skewed and other toxic heavy metals like lead, may be present.

According to this study by the NCBI:

“26 commonly used prenatal vitamins contained Lead with average amounts being (0.535 μgm), 20/51 samples exceeded established standards for lead toxicity (0.50 μgm/day), with one sample yielding 4. μgm/day. Three samples registered inorganic arsenic levels above acceptable limits. Cadmium levels did not exceed current standards. Toxic elements such as Aluminum, Nickel, Titanium and Thallium were detected in all samples.

Cumulative intake of prenatal supplement over many months may constitute a significant source of toxic element exposure to the mother and offspring. With several samples exceeding known standards for gestational toxic element exposure, guidelines for routine monitoring and reporting are required. In keeping with recommendations from the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology, industry regulation would be welcomed to protect expectant mothers and their vulnerable offspring.”

At the end of the day, the best person to speak to about your vitamin supplementation is your doctor. It’s also worthwhile speaking to a dietician if you’re unsure which foods are best for you and baby.