Why take prenatal vitamins?
Science has demonstrated several health advantages of prenatal vitamins for both mom and baby. These include:
- Better hand-eye coordination. Research from the University of Western Australia demonstrated that prenatal Omega-3 supplements resulted in children having better hand-eye coordination at 2.5 years of age.
- Lower risk of autism. Research from the University of California suggests that taking prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of having a child with autism, especially in parents with genetic predisposal for autism.
- Lower risk of childhood tumors. Research from the University of Southern California suggests that taking prenatal vitamins is associated with a reduced risk of childhood brain tumors.
- Lower risk of neural tube defects. Research from the MRC Vitamin Study Research Group suggests that prenatal vitamins reduce the risk of several neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
- Lower risk of schizophrenia. Research from the University of Queensland suggests that prenatal vitamins can reduce the risk of children developing schizophrenia later in life.
- Lower risk of preeclampsia. Research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that prenatal vitamins reduce the risk of preeclampsia in expectant mothers.
- Lower risk of postpartum depression. Research from Penn State University suggests that prenatal vitamins containing iron can reduce the risk of postpartum depression in new mothers.
- Lower risk of pre-term births. Research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that prenatal vitamins reduce the risk of pre-term birth.
Together with dozens of other studies, several vitamins and minerals have been demonstrated as vital for the health of both babies and mothers.
What supplements do you need?
- Folate or Folic Acid (Vitamin B9). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate or folic acid every day. Many prenatal vitamins include the entire B complex (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12). But B9 is the only one that has consistent scientific support for use during pregnancy.
- Iron. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women take between 30 to 60 milligrams (mg) of iron every day.
- Vitamin D (D2 or D3). The Medical University of South Carolina suggests that pregnant women consume between 2000-4000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D every day.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA). Because most women cut back on the amount of seafood they eat during pregnancy (due to mercury concerns), they also lower their intake of the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. During pregnancy, The Center for Genetics Nutrition and Health recommends a total daily dose of 650 milligrams (mg) Omega-3, with most of it (about 400 mg) being DHA.
Supplements you probably don't need.
Because every woman's diet is different, you should definitely ask a doctor before ruling in or out any vitamins or minerals. But for most women with normal diets (not vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, lactose intolerant, etc), they will probably not need to supplement the following:
- Calcium. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women with low natural calcium intake, such as those who don't consume dairy, seeds, or beans, take calcium supplements. For those women, they suggest between 1500-3000 milligrams (mg) of calcium every day.
- Vitamins E and C. Many women consume enough Vitamin E and C in their normal diet, and the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there is no evidence suggesting that Vitmain E or C supplements during pregnancy have any benefits.
- Vitamin A. Many women consume enough Vitamin A in their normal diet, and the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend Vitamin A supplementation for mothers with normal diets.
- Iodine. For several decades, household table salt has been supplemented with iodine. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that assuming your household uses table salt with added iodine, then you likely will not need supplementary iodine during pregnancy.
- Zinc. Zinc can reduce the absorption of Iron and exacerbate nausea and morning sickness in pregnant women. The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that there is no consistent evidence that zinc is advantageous during pregnancy, so unless your diet contains very little zinc (no red meat, poultry, or seafood) you probably won't need to supplement.
Now that we've covered the benefits of prenatal vitamins and which prenatal vitamins and minerals you might need, let's get into our reviews of the best prenatal vitamins of the year.
What we recommend.
You're probably reading this article because you've realize how complicated it is to find the right prenatal vitamins, and how much misinformation there is online. That's why all of our suggestions are backed by official statements by government organizations, or by real published research.
You've also probably read some of the reviews for popular prenatal vitamins and saw horror stories about nausea, vomiting, terrible fishy smells/tastes/burps, and more. When you try to combine prenatal vitamins and Omega-3 supplements, you can get some pretty terrible tasting vitamins, some really large capsules that are too big to swallow, and lower levels of critical nutrients because they try to stuff it all into one pill.
To avoid these issues, we recommend taking separate prenatal vitamins and Omega-3 supplements.
Here are the Best Prenatal Vitamins of 2020!
These were by far the best prenatal vitamins we tested. They contain all of the vital nutrients that we listed above, plus smaller amounts of the less-vital ones. They do not contain Omega-3s, as we recommend taking the prenatal vitamins and Omega-3s separately. What they do contain is all of the important stuff: Folic Acid (800 mcg per capsule), Iron (18 mg per capsule), and Vitamin D3 (400 IUs). They also contain smaller amounts of several other vitamins that are important for daily consumption regardless of whether you're pregnant or not, like Vitamins A, C, E, and K1, and over a dozen different minerals. They also contain probiotics, which are excellent for regulating your gastrointenstinal system before, during, and after pregnancy.
Equally impressive is what these prenatal supplements do not contain: no GMO ingredients, no gluten, no animal products, nothing artificial (colors or flavors), no sugar, no soy, no dairy, and no preservatives. So what you have is an excellent, completely natural prenatal vitamin with the added benefit of probiotics.
In our testing, we loved that you only need to take one tablet per day. That's so much easier to handle and remember. We also liked that they had a slight vitamin flavor but that was offset by a slight vanilla flavor as well, which helps when you first put it on your tongue. But we did find the pills to be rather large, which I guess is the trade-off if you only want to take one per day. When we took them, we didn't experience any stomach upset or discomfort, and we didn't get any yucky after-taste or burps.
So overall, these are an excellent prenatal vitamin that has the added advantage of probiotics (and an herbal blend, if you're interested in that stuff!). Perfect for taking alongside an Omega-3 supplement. Interested? You can check out the Mama Bird Prenatal Multivitamins here.
This Omega 3 supplement is the perfect complement to the Mama Bird multivitamins, and it is the official Omega-3 of the American Pregnancy Association. We suggest taking two of these DHA and EPA capsules per day, along with one of the Mama Bird multivitamins. Of course, always get your supplements approved by your doctor before starting to take them, don't just take our advice!
Let's face it, Omega 3s are fatty fish oils, and there's nothing super appealing about that! With any fish oil capsule, you run the risk of some fishy flavor and fishy burps, and of course you run the risk that one or more of them will leak in the packaging and cause a sticky and smelly mess. Well, we went through 8 of these boxes of Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA and didn't have a single instance of leakage in the container, so that was reassuring. Two of these Omega 3 capsules contain both DHA (480 mg) and EPA (205 mg), at levels that are very similar to those recommended by The Center for Genetics Nutrition and Health. Each set of two capsules also contains 400 IUs of Vitamin D3, which is the same amount included in the Mama Bird tablets. Put together, that is 800 IUs of Vitamin D3, well below the recommended upper levels (which are 2000-4000 IUs per day).
Also important is what these prenatal supplements do not contain: they are made from wild-caught fish, contain no GMO ingredients, have very high purity (no heavy metals), and are certified by Friend of the Sea for sustainable sourcing. Every batch of these is tested by a certified lab to ensure they do not contain PCBs or heavy metals like mercury. So that's all very reassuring. They are in triglyceride form, which some research suggests has higher bioavailability and absorption than the ethyl ester form of Omega 3s.
In our testing, we loved that the size of these capsules was quite a bit smaller than other Omega 3 supplements we've tested. And the shape is nice and easy to swallow. The bottle did have a faint smell of fish oil, which is to be expected, but not strong at all. After taking them, none of us experienced any fishy after-taste or burps, which we cannot say for all of the Omega-3 supplements we tested!
So overall, these are an prenatal DHA and EPA supplement with some high quality sourcing and manufacturing, and excellence tolerability for sensitive moms. They are perfect for taking alongside an the Mama Bird multivitamin. Interested? You can check out the Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA here.