Between morning sickness, food aversions, and unhealthy cravings, maintaining a nutritious diet throughout pregnancy can be challenging. And even if you are eating balanced meals, getting the necessary nutrients for pregnancy can be hard to do with diet alone.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, a healthy pregnancy requires at least 300 additional calories per day, contrary to the myth that you need to eat twice as much as you normally would. And those calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Pregnant moms should also try and keep sweets and fats to a minimum.
But what happens when you’re unable to get those additional nutrients your body is craving? Well, that’s where prenatal vitamins come in.
“Anyone who is planning a pregnancy, is currently pregnant, or is breastfeeding should start taking prenatal vitamins,” says Ryann Kipping, RDN, of The Prenatal Nutritionist. Not only do prenatal vitamins prevent nutrient deficiencies, but research also suggests that they combat unwanted pregnancy complications.
Incorporating a prenatal into your routine is a phenomenal way to support both your body and your baby’s growth and development. Today’s article reveals what to look for in prenatal vitamins, as well as the best options on the market.
What’s a Prenatal Vitamin?
Essentially, prenatal vitamins are multivitamins that are specifically formulated for pregnant women (as well as breastfeeding moms and women who are trying to conceive). Compared to regular vitamins, prenatal vitamins prioritize all the nutrients needed throughout pregnancy. For instance, they contain higher levels of iron and folic acid than a standard multivitamin.
It’s important to note that prenatal supplements cannot replace a healthy, balanced diet full of the best foods for pregnancy. But while Kipping instructs her clients to take a food-first approach to nutrition, she does admit that prenatal supplements fill in the gaps.
Vitamins Needed for Pregnancy
While all nutrients are important during pregnancy, certain ones play an important role in your baby’s growth and development. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women need the following:
- Folic Acid (600 micrograms). This helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. Additionally, folic acid supports the general growth and development of both the fetus and the placenta.
- Iron (27 milligrams). Iron helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to the fetus.
- Calcium (1,300 milligrams for ages 14 to 18 and 1,000 milligrams for ages 19 to 50). Calcium builds strong bones and teeth.
- Iodine (220 micrograms). Iodine is essential for healthy brain development.
- Choline (450 milligrams). This supports the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
- Vitamin A (750 micrograms for ages 14 to 18; 770 micrograms for ages 19 to 50). Vitamin A helps form healthy skin and eyesight, and it helps with bone growth.
- Vitamin C (80 milligrams for ages 14 to 18; 85 milligrams for ages 19 to 50). Vitamin C promotes healthy gums, teeth, and bones.
- Vitamin D (600 international units). Vitamin D builds your baby’s bones and teeth. Plus, it promotes healthy eyesight and skin.
- Vitamin B6 (1.9 milligrams). This vitamin helps form red blood cells. It also helps the body metabolize protein, fat, and carbohydrates for energy.
- Vitamin B12 (2.6 micrograms). Vitamin B12 maintains the nervous system and helps form red blood cells.
Top 8 Prenatal Vitamins For Pregnancy By Need
Most Comprehensive Formula: Full Well (formerly Full Circle Prenatal)
This prenatal vitamin exceeds others in terms of nutrients included, bioavailable/bioactive forms, and dosage based on current research. There is extensive heavy metal testing performed on every batch (which is rare in the industry). And because Full Well vitamins contain an evidence-based dose of 4,000 IU vitamin D, women might not have to take an additional vitamin D supplement.
Note that this formula is not intended for women with an iron deficiency, as it does not contain any iron. And because it is a comprehensive formula, the full dosage is eight capsules per day.
Best Prenatal Vitamins for Busy Moms: Seeking Health ‘Prenatal Essentials’
This prenatal vitamin only requires two capsules per day, making it ideal for on-the-go moms with busier lifestyles. It contains most of the nutrients for pregnancy — including sufficient iodine — and it uses metabolically active forms of folate, B12, and other nutrients. It also has methyl-free versions available for women who experience adverse symptoms (like anxiety) from too many methylated B vitamins.
Note that this prenatal supplement does not contain choline, and it only contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D.
Best Powder Prenatal: Seeking Health Powder: ‘Optimal Prenatal w/ Plant-Based Protein’
If you’re unable to take capsules, Seeking Health Powder’s Optimal Prenatal with Plant-Based Protein is a great option. Not only does it exceed most prenatal vitamins in terms of nutrients added and bioavailability, but the addition of protein helps manage nausea and/or aversions. This prenatal vitamin also contains an extra dose of amino acids to support fetal growth and maternal metabolism.
Best Chewable Tablet: Seeking Health Prenatal Essentials Chewable
This chewable tablet is one of the best prenatal vitamins for its nutrients included, bioavailability, and research-based dosage. It also has a surprisingly good taste! Note that this prenatal does not contain iron, and it has slightly lower concentrations of nutrients compared to other chewable gummies.
Best Prenatal Gummy for Nausea and Aversions: Smarty Pants ‘Prenatal Complete’
Smarty Pants’ ‘Prenatal Complete’ is one of the few prenatal gummies that uses bioavailable forms of nutrients – including methylfolate. Plus, it contains a small amount of omega-3s. However, this prenatal vitamin does contain quite a bit of sugar and only the bare minimum quantities of vitamins (which is what makes it so palatable).
Most Affordable Prenatal Vitamin: The Honest Company Love the Bump Prenatal Vitamin
This prenatal vitamin offers the essential vitamins for pregnancy at about half of the cost. And unlike most affordable prenatal vitamins, Honest’s Love the Bump Prenatal Vitamin has methylated folate (instead of just folic acid).
This formula contains a pretty hefty dose of iron, so keep that in mind if you’re prone to constipation. It also lacks choline, so you’ll need to take that separately.
Best for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Thorne Basic Prenatal
Thorne’s Basic Prenatal is formulated to reflect the specific nutrient needs of pregnancy and breastfeeding. It provides choline folate to support fetal brain and spinal cord development, as well as additional calcium and vitamin D for breastfeeding needs. Additionally, this prenatal vitamin uses highly absorbable forms of nutrients. It’s designed to be gentle on the stomach, as it contains Ferrous Bisglycinate – a form of iron that is less likely to cause constipation.
Best Vegan-Friendly Prenatal Vitamins: Natalist Prenatal Daily Packets
Natalist’s Prenatal Daily Packets are doctor-formulated, vegan-friendly, and designed to help round out your pregnancy diet. They provide the essential vitamins for pregnancy — including iron, omega-3 DHA, and vitamin D — without any artificial ingredients. And they come in convenient daily packages (each pack contains five capsules), which is ideal for women who have morning sickness or difficulty swallowing pills.
Note that these prenatal vitamins aren’t tested for purity and potency by a third-party lab.
So, should you take a prenatal vitamin? As Kipping mentioned, anyone who is pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding should take prenatal vitamins. If that’s you, we hope that today’s article sheds some light on what to look for in a prenatal vitamin – as well as which one is right for you.