I started taking prenatal vitamins before I even got pregnant. When my husband and I decided to start a family, I started researching pregnancy and childbirth to prepare myself. Around the time I stopped taking birth control, I began taking prenatal vitamins. I had read that increasing your body’s store of key nutrients in advance can help ensure a healthy pregnancy. By the time we conceived, I had already been taking the my prenatal vitamin for a couple of months.
Do you really need a prenatal vitamin? Ask your doctor. In general, most nutrients are plentifully available by eating a healthy, balanced diet. There are a couple nutrient gaps that may remain, and that’s where prenatal vitamins come in. More on that below. If you’re already a super healthy eater, good job! I personally feel that I make healthy choices most of the time. However, when life gets busy, I find that I could do better. If you’re not sure how to get a good balanced diet during pregnancy, try visiting ChooseMyPlate.gov for ideas by the USDA. Also be sure to stay hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water per day (8oz each). Once your basic nutrition is covered, then you can look at the best way to supplement.
My doctor recommended folic acid and iron. She said that any over the counter prenatal vitamin with those ingredients would suffice. Most healthcare providers make similar recommendations. But I’ll admit it: I’m an overachiever. It just seemed too easy. Even the cheapest prenatal vitamins have folic acid (which is great!). But, I wanted to do everything I could to have the healthiest baby ever born. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually suggest that all women of childbearing age take folic acid because about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Even if you are planning to get pregnant, some birth defects occur very early in pregnancy. Taking a prenatal vitamin before you know you are pregnant can help protect against these defects.
Please be aware, though, it is possible to overdose on vitamins. Do not take more than suggested. Also, do not take more than one supplement including the same vitamins or minerals. Talk to your doctor and read the labels. I’m not a healthcare professional and this is not medical advice! I’m just here to share my experience and some of the resources I found along the way.
Key Ingredients: What Do They Do?
- Folic acid (folate) is the most important ingredient to look for. It is widely recommended to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
- Iron aids in the production of hemoglobin to prevent low birth weight and anemia. This is especially important for expectant moms with a history of anemia.
- Calcium supports bone growth of the baby. This is especially important during the third trimester. You also want to be sure you have enough calcium for your own needs, since women can lose their own bone density later in life.
- Vitamin D helps your body use calcium and phosphorus, promoting healthy teeth and bones.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may help in brain development. Look for DHA on the label.
- Choline also supports brain and spinal cord development.
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that aids in iron absorption and builds a healthy immune system.
- Vitamin A helps baby’s bones and teeth grow. (This does not mean baby will be born with teeth, although my grandmother tells me she had a tooth when she was born!) Be careful with Vitamin A as too much of it has been shown to be harmful. This is why Retinol skin care products are not recommended during pregnancy. Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative.
- Vitamin E helps form red blood cells and muscles.
- Iodine is needed for brain development.
- Copper supports red blood cell formation.
- Magnesium relaxes muscles and can help prevent your uterus from contracting prematurely.
When to Supplement
The Mayo Clinic suggests looking for a prenatal vitamin that contains at least the first four ingredients on this list above: Folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin D. It is also a good idea to continue taking the vitamins after baby is born, particularly if you plan to breastfeed. I continued taking mine for as long as I nursed by daughter, about a year after she was born. The American Pregnancy Association has some good resources on many of these nutrients and how to get them through diet as well.
Prenatal Vitamin Brands
My personal favorite prenatal vitamin after trying several is Enfamil Expecta. It is one of the only prenatal vitamins I could find that has both DHA and choline, as well as copper and iodine. This wasn’t the first vitamin I used, but once I found it I continued using it throughout my pregnancy and breastfeeding experience. It says it has a hint of lemon to reduce burp back, but I’m not sure that makes a big difference. This comes with a multivitamin tablet and a separate DHA softgel so you take one of each daily. The DHA is from a non-fish source, but the multivitamin itself has fish ingredients and does smell a bit fishy. Nonetheless, it was the only product that had all the nutrients I wanted.
My second favorite would have to be the Similac Prenatal Vitamin. Like the Enfamil version, it comes with a DHA softgel and a multivitamin/mineral tablet. The DHA softgel in this one is from fish sources but the multivitamin is not. I find this combo slightly less “fishy” tasting and smelling. The reason it is not my number one choice is because it does not contain choline. All around, though, it is a great option. I buy this when Enfamil is not available.
If natural products are your thing, you may like the Rainbow Light prenatal vitamin. I took this one early in my pregnancy while I was still doing research to find the best option for me. There is only a multivitamin so you don’t have to take a separate softgel with it. It contains choline but not DHA. They market this as being easy on the stomach, which appealed to me. I suffered horribly with nausea and vomiting during my first trimester. I don’t think anything I tried, including various prenatal vitamins, made any difference in that.
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In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that it is important to make regular doctor visits during your pregnancy. Consult your physician about your diet and any supplements. I’m not affiliated in any way with the companies that produce the products mentioned above. (As an Amazon associate, I will earn a fee at no cost to you when you buy through the product links above).
Have you found a prenatal vitamin you love? What was your experience with pregnancy nutrition? Share your thoughts in the comments!