How do you know what to look for when it comes to prenatal vitamins? There are key ingredients and factors in choosing the right prenatal vitamin for you. My goal for you is that after reading this article you will have a greater understanding of why prenatal vitamins are important and what the essential components of the best prenatal vitamins are. If this information doesn’t pertain to you, perhaps think of someone you know who might benefit and share it. Let’s dive in!
Key Components of Prenatal Vitamins
Choline is a key nutrient that is needed to close the neural tube which in embryonic development will become the brain and spinal cord. Also later in pregnancy it is needed for development of the hippocampus which is involved in memory. Studies show higher doses than what is in most prenatal vitamins are ideal – around 930 mg – so it is possible that you may need an extra supplement for choline.
Iron is essential to make blood and supply oxygen to the fetus. Total blood volume doubles in pregnancy: about half goes to the baby and the other half goes to the mom to protect her during childbirth. Therefore, when pregnant, a woman needs almost double the amount – approximately 30 mg – normally needed for women. Gestational iron deficiency causes risk of premature birth and low birth weight. However, it is important not to take too much. Iron has a saturation effect in the gut, which actually decreases its absorption if there is too much. Also, iron can be constipating. The ferrous sulfate form of iron causes digestive upset and constipation, so look for one with iron bisglycinate.
Vitamin A is good for eye and skin health and overall strengthens the immune system. However, it is important not to take too much Vitamin A. It is fat-soluble so your body stores excess in the liver, and it can cause birth defects or liver damage to the mother. Don’t exceed more than 3000 mcg of preformed Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) daily.
Vitamin B12 is important for neural tube development and making DNA genetic material. If deficient in Vitamin B12, it can cause IUGR (slow/poor growth of fetus in the uterus). I recommend taking a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 2.6 mcg of Vitamin B12.
Folate is important EARLY (when you are thinking of having a baby). The neural tube forms early, often before you know you are pregnant, and folate prevents major birth defects like the catastrophic anencephaly (no/little brain development) or spina bifida. It is also essential to make DNA/RNA. Be sure to find the methylated form or whole-food sources form. Most people absorb this form better than folic acid because it is the biologically active form. I know I am aggressive here, but I advise at least 800 mcg of folate daily.
Calcium and Vitamin D: Calcium is critical for the musculoskeletal and circulatory system in the mother. Calcium carbonate is poorly absorbed, so look for calcium citrate instead. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium as well as overall immunity. A good daily amount of each is 1200-1500 mg of calcium and 2000-5000 IU of Vitamin D. Since many prenatal vitamins don’t include this much Vitamin D, you may find you need an extra Vitamin D supplement.
Other Factors to Consider
Taste: You won’t take a prenatal vitamin if you don’t like it! It is surprisingly personal and depends on what feels good to your body, cravings and state of nausea. Listen to your body and choose a prenatal vitamin that you like.
Number of Pills: A lot of prenatal vitamins will require you to take multiple pills per serving because of how they are prepared. There’s a good reason for this – so you can fit all the nutrients in and optimize absorption! If you have a prenatal vitamin that says one serving is one pill, then it’s likely going to be “packed” so tightly it won’t even have a chance to be absorbed before it passes through your gut. Remember that if it feels like too many to take at one time, you can break them up and take them at different times over the course of the day. It’s easiest on your stomach if you take them with a meal.
Additions: Many prenatal vitamin brands like to add things to make it proprietary, such as herbs and blends of polyphenols. These are not necessary, but may provide small benefits. However, keep in mind as discussed above these additions may increase the number of pills you take on a daily basis. Again, it is helpful to identify the prenatal vitamin that you like and will take daily.
I hope this provides a helpful summary of the key ingredients in a prenatal vitamin for optimal health for mother and baby. And of course, in addition to taking a daily prenatal vitamin, it is important that you eat healthily and stay hydrated!