Prenatal Vitamins: Benefits and Recommendations
Find out why prenatal vitamins are so important and which ones we recommend.
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Prenatal vitamins provide several essential vitamins and minerals to promote healthy fetus development. Taking daily prenatal vitamins for 3 months before you get pregnant and throughout your entire pregnancy offers several advantages for your baby's health.
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 prenatal 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 particular 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 Vitamin 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 recommendations.
Our prenatal vitamin recommendations.
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 or softgels that are too big to swallow, and lower levels of critical nutrients because they try to stuff it all into one pill.
One way to handle this issue is with gummy prenatal vitamins. While you might need to chew 3-4 gummies per day to get a recommended dose, it's a much more tolerable way of consuming enough Omega-3.
Here are Some Great Prenatal Vitamin Options!
Softgel prenatal vitamins combine everything you love about the one-and-done tablet with a tasteless and odorless outer layer that can help prevent sensitivities to vitamin flavors. These Actif prenatal vitamins contain everything you'll likely need in a prenatal: 800 mcg Folate, 30 mg Iron, 400 IU Vitamin D (10 mcg), and 235 mg of DHA and EPA. They also contain calcium, choline, iodine, vitamins A, C, E, and B1, B2, B5, B6, and B12. As the only organic prenatal vitamin on our list, all of the ingredients are thoughtfully sourced and detailed on the label. In addition to recommended nutrients, these prenatal supplements also include an organic herbal blend that can help with nausea and discomfort, including alfalfa, chamomile, ginger, peppermint, and red raspberry leaf. For women who have found value in these ingredients, for example in some of the popular pregnancy teas, these could prove very helpful. In our testing, we loved the relatively small size and shape of the softgel, which made it very easy to swallow. We also loved that it had absolutely no flavor or odor, and that we only needed to take one per day.
We didn't experience any fishy burps or strange after-tastes, and we think these are an excellent all-around prenatal vitamin for most women. If you have difficulty swallowing softgels, you might want to consider a gummy prenatal vitamin. Otherwise, we think these are an excellent option! Interested? You can check out the Actif Prenatal here.
Gummy prenatal vitamins are great for women who have difficulty swallowing larger tablets or softgels, or might have sensitivities to strong vitamin tastes or smells. Gummy prenatals can do a great job of masking the taste and smell of vitamins, minerals, and fish oils in a sweet gummy treat that might be less likely to trigger nausea or vomiting. The OLLY gummy prenatals are our favorite for exactly this reason - they taste great and have no foul after-taste, while providing all the necessary nutrients. A daily dose of OLLY is two sugar-sprinkled gummies with a great citrus flavor, providing 400 mcg folic acid (665 mcg folate DFE), 20 mcg Vitamin D, and 70 mg of Omega-3 (DHA and EPA from fish oil). The only recommended ingredient that is missing is iron, which tends not to be included in gummy vitamins due to issues with texture and flavor. If you take these gummy prenatal vitamins, you will likely need to supplement with iron; also, the levels of Omega-3 are a bit lower than we prefer. It does contain several additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and E, as well as choline and iodine.
The inactive ingredients are natural, including natural flavors and colors (from carrot and apple juices). In our testing, we liked the citrus flavor and thought that they only had a very mild vitamin taste; we didn't experience any after-taste or fishy burps. If you do, you can consider taking them spread out during the day, such as one in the morning and one in the afternoon. If gummy vitamin manufacturers could figure out how to incorporate iron into their prenatal vitamins, these would be perfect! Interested? You can check out the OLLY Prenatal here.
The Mama Bird prenatal vitamins contain all of the vital nutrients that we listed above, plus smaller amounts of the less-vital ones. They do not contain Omega-3s, though you can take prenatal vitamins and Omega-3s separately. What they do contain is all of the most 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 vanilla flavor to offset the vitamin flavor, 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. If you're experiencing heightened sensitivity to tastes and smells, the classic vitamin taste might not be a great idea; consider a softgel or gummy instead. Interested? You can check out the Mama Bird Prenatal Multivitamins here.