If you have questions about prenatal vitamins, you aren't alone! A lot of women get inspired to live healthfully once they become pregnant—they are motivated to do the right thing for the good of their babies. The "right thing," for most women, includes a daily dose of prenatal vitamins.
Prenatal vitamins are widely accessible and recommended by most healthcare professionals, but there are a lot of questions out there about them. Are prenatal vitamins really necessary? And is everything that is in them really all that good for mom and baby? It's important to know what you put in your body, especially when you are expecting. So before you head over to your local pharmacy or push that one-click checkout button, get your facts about prenatal vitamins.
Here are the answers to your top prenatal vitamin questions:
1. What do prenatal vitamins do?
It's important to keep in mind that prenatal vitamins are supplements, not replacements for healthy food. A healthy diet of real foods is really the best way to get the most important nutrients during pregnancy.
Prenatal vitamins are a nice nutritional boost (especially for those who may have morning sickness or food aversions) or at making up for some of the nutrients we come up short on in our everyday diets. That said, prenatal vitamins also have some deficiencies in certain nutrients, like calcium. So remember to eat as varied as possible and check with your doctor or midwife to make sure you choose the right supplement for yourself.
2. Are prenatal vitamins necessary?
Prenatal vitamins are a nice nutritional boosts, but there may be other options to get that boost. There are good multivitamins that are safe for pregnancy.
What are some of the things you need to look for? Adequate amount of folic acid (600mg) and other vitamins and minerals that are essential to a growing fetus, and lower doses of vitamin A, which can cause birth defects. Alternatively, you can opt for more target supplementation. Folic acid, iron and DHA are all important nutrients that you many women are deficient in during pregnancy.
You best bet here is to speak with your provider first. They can guide you toward the best vitamins or supplements for you and your body.
3. What are the best prenatal vitamins?
There are a ton of different brands of prenatal vitamins, and all of them claim to be “complete" or “best" or “fill in positive adjective here."
The best prenatal vitamin is the one you feel best about taking and one that includes the recommended doses of the important nutrients you need. Some people (myself included) prefer food-based vitamins (versus synthetic) because they are derived from real foods—therefore some find them to be digested more completely and easier on the stomach Some prefer the gummies because it's the only way they can stomach taking them. Read your labels and make sure you're comfortable with what you see.
4. Do prenatal vitamins contain harmful ingredients?
This one is really a bummer. You would think if something was marketed as supporting the healthy development of your baby, that you could trust the ingredients to actually be good for you. However, sometimes prenatal vitamins include ingredients that our bodies have a hard time digesting because they aren't recognizable to our systems. These ingredients can include synthetic ingredients and chemicals, such as artificial coloring and flavoring, GMOs and added sugar.
Try to avoid anything that includes a food dye, which you can spot by locating a color and a number (for example, red #40). And the general rule of thumb is: If you don't recognize it or can't pronounce it, make sure to look it up. Your provider can guide you further here, as well.
5. Are all prenatal vitamins safe?
Since vitamins are classified as a supplement, they aren't regulated by the FDA. The only time the FDA steps in to stop a brand from putting out vitamins is if negative side effects have been reported. Kind of scary right? The good news is, a few third-party organizations have emerged to do the testing the FDA has declined to do, so when shopping around, best to look for a seal of approval from U.S Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International. It doesn't always guarantee effectiveness, but should guarantee safety.
6. Are prescription prenatal vitamins better than over-the-counter ones?
Many vitamins that are prescribed are also available over the counter. While pharmaceutical companies would love for you to believe that their prenatal vitamins are the best on the market, most of them will actually work on most women. One of the true benefits of getting prescribed prenatal vitamins is that your insurance may pick up the cost instead of you having to pay out of pocket.
Again, your provider should always be your first stop when choosing the best vitamins and supplements for you.