How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamin

By Coach Jillian, MPH, RDN, IFNCP, IBCLC

During pregnancy, you have different nutrient needs to meet the demands to nourish you and your baby’s growing bodies. Here at Fooblie we are all for getting your nutrients from food first. In most cases it’s possible. But, we still recommend a daily prenatal vitamin. In this article we take on how you can choose the best one for you.

Why a prenatal vitamin? 

There are some nutrients that are hard to get enough of from just food alone and that is why nearly every healthcare professional recommends a prenatal vitamin. (This is especially true if  you are suffering from nausea during pregnancy. If this is you, check out our ‘morning sickness’ tips).

What’s the best prenatal vitamin? Before you go shopping for supplements, know that prenatal vitamins are not created equal. Here is what to consider when choosing the best prenatal vitamin for you, read on! 

What form are the nutrients?

Some nutrients have a synthetic form, found in supplements, that is different from their natural form found in foods. Synthetic versions are typically poorly absorbed by your body.

Supplement companies tend to focus on the cost of the ingredients. They choose the least expensive form of the vitamin not the version your body can better absorb.

For example, look for a prenatal vitamin that has “activated” B vitamins to make sure you can metabolize what’s in the bottle. Activated just means your body doesn’t have to break it down. If a vitamin is ‘inactivated’ your body my excrete it before you have time to absorb the good stuff. 

Another is folate. It is an especially important nutrient to take in its natural form. Folate is well-known for reducing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Try to avoid its synthetic version, folic acid, instead look for methylfolate. 

If you can swing it, these two checks are worth the extra cost.

 

The BsActivatedInactivated
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)Thiamine Mononitrate and Thiamin diphosphateThiamin
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)Riboflavin-5-phosphate and Flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD)Flavin mononucleotide (FMN)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)Niacinamidenone
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)Pantothenic acidnone
Vitamin B6Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P)Pyridoxine hydrochloride
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)Biotinnone
Vitamin B9 (Folate)FolateFolic Acid
Vitamin B12MethylcobalaminCyanocobalamin

 

 

Is it a comprehensive formula?

Commercially available prenatal vitamins often lack iodine, choline, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and magnesium. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES Survey from 2007-2010) over 90% of pregnant women fell short of recommended amounts of these exact same vitamins. As some of these are hard to get enough of from food alone, make sure your prenatal vitamin has these in there.

What ingredients should I look out for and why? 

These are some vitamins worth calling out. Check those labels! 

Choline

First is choline. Although the importance of choline during pregnancy is increasingly recognized, it is still missing from many prenatal vitamin formulas. Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) want pregnant women and young children have adequate choline intake. Research on this nutrient is exploding, and it looks like 450–1000 mg choline/day is an intake level to support fetal development (especially brain health), and improve pregnancy outcomes. 

Vitamin D

Next up, vitamin D. Vitamin D is another nutrient with lots of exciting research. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy puts you at a higher risk for preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. For your baby, inadequate intakes elevates the risk for low birth weight and Vitamin D deficiency. Researchers found that 4,000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day was a safe and effective dose in achieving sufficiency in all women and their babies regardless of race. Be sure to choose a prenatal vitamin with 600 IUs of Vitamin D3 (or more) or take a Vitamin D3 supplement separately. 

EPA and DHA

Continuing on, let’s take on EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are types of Omega 3 fats that help brain development. Try to eat more lower-mercury fish, or take a DHA supplement to meet the necessary requirements. 

Iron

Lastly, iron. Iron needs are higher during pregnancy due to an increase in red blood cell production. Iron plays an important role in your baby’s development. Watch out, iron supplements can be poorly absorbed and have side effects like constipation, heartburn, and nausea. This is why we recommend eating as many iron-rich foods as you can to avoid needing a supplement. The iron from foods are well-absorbed and do not cause undesirable side effects. Chicken liver, sardines, ground beef, and chicken are foods rich in iron. If you do need a supplement, the well-absorbed form of iron is called iron bisglycinate. 

What’s your budget?

Ya know, some decisions are easy to make if you think about your wallet! Be mindful that some vitamins cost a lot because of the business. Are they spending a lot in marketing? Are they investing in clean ingredients? Some forms of the nutrients cost more than others. Look critically at the price tag. 

Does taste or convenience matter?

I hear you. Sometimes you just want a gummy. The form the vitamin takes matters! You can find pills, gummies, and powders to mix into things. Make a choice that fits your lifestyle.

How About Clean Vitamins?

A Quick Note from Coach Rachel,  MA, RD, CSP, CDN

Prenatal vitamins, like all supplements, are not reviewed by the FDA for safety and effectiveness before going for sale. This means that supplements could contain harmful ingredients (like lead!), contaminants, or not even contain what they claim is in the bottle!  This is why we recommend that you choose a prenatal vitamin that is tested by an independent company to make sure that the bottle contains what it says it does and is free from contaminants. A couple other tips:

Tip 1: Check your vitamins. Head on over to the Clean Label Project. They independently test several prenatal vitamins on the market. For example they look at if what was on the label, matches what is in the product. They also check for contaminants. Their research is not entirely complete, but it may give you peace of mind. There are actually more offenders than good ones on their list so check it out.

Tip 2: Go for medical grade vitamins. Another sign that the company cares to be clean is they produce medical or doctor grade products. This means there are regular analyzed for toxic contaminants.

Best Prenatal Vitamin Brand Recommendations from Coach Jill & Coach Rachel

Note: this section includes some affiliate links

For the best and most comprehensive formula, Coach Jill recommends Full Circle Prenatal (developed by a Registered Dietitian). Thorne Basic Prenatal provides most of the nutrients needed during pregnancy, but I would also recommend adding in choline and more vitamin D when taking this one. Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal is another good brand. For DHA/EPA ProOmega-D Lemon by Nordic Naturals has a nice flavor. 

Coach Rachel’s fave on the ‘clean’ front are Full Circle Prenatal or Smarty Panty prenatal + a choline supplement. Other clean brands we trust are Biotics, Thorne, Moss Nutrition, Designs for Health, and Metagenics.

Full Circle Prenatal

Best + most comprehensive formula

Thorne Basic Prenatal

Provides most of what you need

Seeking Health Optimal

Also a good choice

ProOmega-D Lemon

DHA/EPA with a nice flavor

Designs for Health

A clean medical-grade brand

Smarty Pants

Our fave clean gummy

Metagenecis

Another clean brand

Biotics

Another good clean medical grade brand

Calm

Did your provider recommend magnesium? Try this.

Bottom line: Choose what works for you (and your budget)

When choosing which supplements are right for you, here’s some questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s most important to me? Think Budget, Composition, Taste
  • What nutrients are you probably eating enough of from your diet, and which ones do you need more of?
  • Do you have any health conditions that may impact what’s your best choice? If yes, talk to your doctor. 

Like to see what works for others? Fooblie Founder Melissa shares how she made her decision about what prenatal was best for her. Check that out if you want to feel some mom love.  

Want more help?

Our pregnancy nutrition experts are on standby to help you figure out what is the best prenatal vitamin for you. Learn more about our pregnancy nutrition appointments. 

You’ve got this!