Prenatal Vitamins Made Simple – What should you be looking for?

A balanced diet is the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy.  However, it is easy to fall short on key nutrients during a pregnancy.  A prenatal vitamin can fill in the gaps.

Here are a few key rules to consider when thinking about prenatal vitamins:

Rule #1: Start the prenatal vitamin before you try to conceive.

Many pregnancies are unexpected some it’s reasonable to consider taking a prenatal vitamin daily even if you aren’t actively trying for pregnancy.  Important events are happening in an early pregnancy before a woman even misses her period and knows she is pregnant.

Rule #2: Find a prenatal vitamin that is cost effective.

It will need to be taken for a year or more as it is also recommended to continue a vitamin while breastfeeding.  Prescription prenatal vitamins are no better than over the counter prenatal vitamins.

Rule #3: Make sure your prenatal vitamin has these critical components:

  1. Iron, 27 mg. In the United States approximately 20% of pregnant women are iron deficient. During pregnancy, the body needs to make extra blood to support the health of the mother and fetus. It takes iron to make this extra blood.  Iron is also needed for fetal brain development.  Although gummy prenatal vitamins tend to be easier to tolerate, they do not contain iron.  A separate iron supplement would be needed if you are using gummy prenatal vitamins.
  2. Folic Acid, at least 400 micrograms.  Low folic acid levels are directly linked to neural tube defects or spina bifida.  The adequate amount of folic acid needs to be present from conception which is why prenatal vitamins should be started before a woman knows she is pregnant.  It can be challenging to consistently get the adequate amount of folic acid in the food we eat.
  3. Iodine, 150 mcg . Many prenatal vitamins do not contain iodine. Iodine is needed for normal maternal and fetal thyroid function as well as fetal brain and central nervous system development.
  4. Other important ingredients in your prenatal vitamin that are important for fetal bone, central nervous system and overall growth include:
    • Calcium 1,000 mg
    • Choline 450 mg
    • Vitamin D 600 IU
    • Vitamin A 770 mcg
    • Vitamin C 85 mg
    • Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin B12 2.6mcg
    • Zinc
    • DHA: 200 mg There’s evidence indicating that omega-3 fatty acids (particularly DHA)–a fat found in some types of fish–may play an important role in the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system.

There are many medical conditions where the amounts recommended above would need to be adjusted.  For example, taking the prenatal vitamin depends on adequate absorption through your gastrointestinal tract.  If you have certain gastrointestinal conditions or have had gastric bypass surgery, speak with your ob/gyn.  In general, a preconception counseling visit is always a wonderful idea to discuss any woman’s history and unique needs.