Last updated: August 30, 2021

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There's no question that pregnancy is an incredibly important moment in a woman's life. Introducing a new family member to the world makes future moms (and dads!) proud, excited - and sometimes overwhelmed with uncertainty. What can you do to make sure your child is born healthy?

The best way to protect your baby is to follow medical advice to the letter and attend every single prenatal checkup. At these appointments, your doctor or obstetrician might suggest you take prenatal vitamins. Are you here to learn more about these mysterious supplements? Come with us - we've got great things to show you!




Summary

  • Prenatal vitamins are nutritional supplements designed for pregnant women or women trying to conceive. They provide vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids essential for fetal development.
  • Your doctor or obstetrician is charge of deciding which micronutrients you should take, depending on your individual needs. Folic acid is prescribed for virtually all pregnant women.
  • When choosing prenatal vitamins, pay attention to which nutrients it includes, their origin, the packaging quality, and the price point. There are also cruelty-free options for vegan moms-to-be.

The best Prenatal Vitamins: Our Picks

Prenatal vitamins are dietary supplements which should be taken with a doctor or OB-GYN's supervision. Health professionals may give you a certain degree of freedom to choose your own prenatal supplement. If you're in this situation, take a look at the prenatal supplements we've selected and recommended.

Buyer's Guide: What You Need to Know About Prenatal Vitamins

Mothers' nutrition affects unborn babies' health in important ways. When pregnant women have insufficient levels of certain nutrients, the fetus may not grow as expected and may be more likely to develop birth defects. Most specialists recommend that expecting mothers take prenatal vitamins to prevent these deficiencies.

Folic acid is the most important compound in prenatal vitamins.
(Source: Dolgachov: 93690277/ 123rf.com)

Why Do I Need Prenatal Vitamins?

Giving birth is surely one of the most beautiful processes on earth. However, this "magical" act of creation is extremely demanding on mothers' bodies. For an unborn baby to grow properly, its mother's body needs to possess large amounts of energy and nutrients. In other words, moms really do need to eat for two!

When pregnant women don't get enough vitamins, minerals, and calories during this crucial stage of life, their health and the health of the baby may suffer. For example, deficient amounts of folic acid (vitamin B9) can increase the odds of spina bifida, a spinal birth defect in newborns.

Plus, nutrient deficiencies can cause newborns to be more prone to illness in the future. These conditions include diabetes and high blood pressure. To prevent deficiencies, most specialists recommend vitamin and mineral supplements specially formulated for pregnant women's specific needs (1).

Dr. Raúl Fanego RodríguezOB-GYN Specialist
"We recommend taking vitamins to replenish those lost during pregnancy and strengthen the body's defenses. The best multivitamin complexes contain vitamin C, iron, calcium, and folic acid, among other nutrients. Always avoid self-medicating."

Which Vitamins Are Most Important?

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet should be a top priority for expecting moms. Even so, some nutrients are more important than others during pregnancy. We've quickly summarized the most important nutrients for mothers and babies:

  • Vitamin A: This molecule is required for unborn babies to develop healthy eyes and strong immune defenses (3).
  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6: These water-soluble vitamins help babies' bodies grow. Studies show that children who received adequate intake of these vitamins had healthier birth weights (4).
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B9): Folic acid helps create new cells. Specifically, vitamin B9 is involved in creating the fetus's spinal column and spinal cord. Low levels can cause the neural tube defects parents fear, as they lead to disability and birth defects (5).
  • Vitamin B12: This molecule contributes to cell replication and helps form your child's nervous system. Any vitamin B12 deficiency could cause serious developmental defects and hinder the baby's brain from developing properly (6).
  • Vitamin C: This important nutrient may promote normal fetal growth. Some studies also indicate that adequate vitamin C intake could reduce the risk of serious pregnancy complications like preeclampsia (high blood pressure and loss of protein) (7).
  • Vitamin D: The "sunshine vitamin" assists fetal development, helps form bones, and possibly contributes to building unborn babies' brains and immune defenses. Adequate levels can prevent pregnancy complications including preeclampsia, infections, gestational diabetes, and premature birth (8).
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K is crucial for both mothers and children. This nutrient allows our bodies to slow and stop bleeding, so pregnant women and unborn babies need normal levels to avoid unnecessary danger during labor (9).

What Other Nutrients Are Important for Pregnancy?

Though we're discussing prenatal "vitamins", we'd be remiss if we didn't name other compounds which are essential for babies' development. Minerals (calcium, iron, iodine, and magnesium) are critical for fetal development. So too are the omega-3 fatty acids. Here's a quick review (2):

  • Calcium: An unborn baby's bones need calcium to grow properly. Healthy calcium intake may also protect mothers from suffering muscle pain, cramps, and changes in blood pressure (10).
  • Iron: Fetuses use large amounts of iron to create new tissues, grow, and mature. Plus, expecting moms use it to form their own blood cells, which keeps away the dreaded anemia which can appear before or after giving birth (11).
  • Magnesium: Meeting recommended intake for this nutrient can prevent multiple pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia. It also promotes healthy growth for babies in the womb (12).
  • Iodine: Iodine is an essential mineral for thyroid development. The thyroid gland located in your neck regulates your entire body's metabolism. Inadequate iodine intake can cause hypothyroidism in both mothers and children (13).
  • Zinc: Healthy zinc levels could promote fetal development and prevent premature birth (14).
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fats are vital for nervous system development in unborn babies. Specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 with a crucial role in forming the brain and the retina (the part of the eye responsible for receiving visual information) (15).

Many prenatal vitamins also include DHA, a compound which contributes to babies' brain development.
(Source: Bizoń: 102565635/ 123rf.com)

What Are the Risks of Prenatal Vitamins?

As far as side effects, prenatal vitamins can cause mild digestive symptoms like nausea, loss of appetite, or stomach pain. If your prenatal supplement contains iron, it may lead to constipation (which you can relieve by increasing your fiber intake). If these side effects don't abate over time, you may need to switch supplements (20).

  1. Allergies. Women intolerant to gluten, lactose, fish, eggs, or any other common allergen should pay close attention to their prenatal vitamin's composition. We suggest consulting your doctor or obstetrician before taking a supplement if you have any uncertainty about possible allergens.
  2. Drug Interactions. If you're on regular medication, remember that these supplements could interact with your treatment. If you take certain drugs, your doctor may adjust the dosage of your prenatal supplement accordingly. For example, women who take medications for epilepsy tend to require higher doses of folic acid.
  3. Misuse. Some people take prenatal vitamins to stimulate hair growth. That's a bad idea! Prenatal supplements have extremely high nutrient content. People who take them and aren't pregnant or trying to conceive could develop a dangerous buildup of excess vitamins. Keep in mind there are products specifically designed to care for your hair.

The normal multivitamins you take are not valid prenatal supplements once you become pregnant.
(Source: Ivanova: 133720720/ 123rf.com)

Shopping Criteria

As you've realized by now, the world of prenatal vitamins is a complex one. Your doctor or obstetrician should guide you through the process of choosing these products, ensuring your diet (or your partner's diet) is balanced and safe. We suggest you also keep these purchase criteria in mind when picking prenatal vitamins.

Vegan or Vegetarian Diets

There's no need for vegan and vegetarian women to struggle when looking for a supplement adapted to their dietary needs. These days, multiple plant-based products have been designed to ensure a healthy diet during pregnancy. Make sure they have a vegan quality seal and that they provide - in addition to folic acid - vitamin B12, which often eludes non-meat-eaters.

Your doctor or obstetrician is charge of deciding which micronutrients you should take, depending on your individual needs. Folic acid is prescribed for virtually all pregnant women. (Source: Kruk: 72249008/ 123rf.com)

Packaging and Labeling

This is no time to experiment! A supplement as important as prenatal vitamins needs to offer clear, concise, and specific ingredient information. It should be similarly precise in the usage instructions and expiration date. Remember to save the label or package in case of any questions which may arise while taking supplements.

Essential Nutrients

If your doctor or OB-GYN advises you to take a supplement with multiple micronutrients, ask them if you should specifically look for any of the following (19, 20):

  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • DHA
Profesor Gudrun MoorePrincipal scientific advisor for Sparks, a pediatric medical research non-profit
"Taking folic acid and inositol together before and during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects, especially in women predisposed to these conditions".

Source of Ingredients

It's crucial that prenatal supplements contain no toxic products or ingredients of questionable quality. If you've picked a supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, remember that these molecules tend to be derived from algae or fish. If they're derived from fish, you must make sure that the source material contained no mercury, a toxic substance.

Summary

Bringing life into the world is a wonderful experience. Doubts and fears are just another part of the emotional process of conceiving and giving birth. During every stage of your pregnancy, your doctor and obstetrician can help you resolve tricky issues like how to choose the perfect vitamin supplement.

If you or your partner are trying to conceive, remember that you should begin taking prenatal vitamins (specifically folic acid) at least one month before conception. We wish you the best of luck in your journey, and we hope you have a little one in your arms soon!

If this guide helped you choose a prenatal vitamin, feel free to leave a comment and share this article. We appreciate your support!

(Featured image source: Dolgachov: 38665052/ 123rf.com)

References (23)

1. Sánchez A. Guía de alimentación para embarazadas. Medica Diet . 2015;44.
Source

2. Diet I. Ingestas Dietéticas de Referencia (IDR) para la Población Española, 2010. Act Dietética . 2010 Oct;14(4):196–7.
Source

3. Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza A, Costa Caminha M, Lins da Silva S, Callou Cruz R, Carvalho dos Santos C, et al. Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review. Nutrients . 2019 Mar 22 ;11(3):681.
Source

4. Pannia E, Cho CE, Kubant R, Sánchez-Hernández D, Huot PSP, Harvey Anderson G. Role of maternal vitamins in programming health and chronic disease. Nutr Rev . 2016 Mar ;74(3):166–80.
Source

5. Folato — Datos en español . 2020 .
Source

6. Dror DK, Allen LH. Interventions with Vitamins B6, B12 and C in pregnancy. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol . 2012 ;26(SUPPL. 1):55–74.
Source

7. Rumbold A, Ota E, Nagata C, Shahrook S, Crowther CA. Vitamin C supplementation in pregnancy . Vol. 2016, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015 .
Source

8. Dovnik A, Mujezinović F. The Association of Vitamin D Levels with Common Pregnancy Complications. Nutrients . 2018 Jul 5 ;10(7):867.
Source

9. Shahrook S, Ota E, Hanada N, Sawada K, Mori R. Vitamin K supplementation during pregnancy for improving outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep . 2018 Dec 30 ;8(1):11459.
Source

10. Hacker AN, Fung EB, King JC. Role of calcium during pregnancy: Maternal and fetal needs. Nutr Rev . 2012 Jul ;70(7):397–409.
Source

11. Institute of Medicine. Iron nutrition during pregnancy. In: Nutrition During Pregnancy . 1990 . p. 1–481.
Source

12. Zarean E, Tarjan A. Effect of Magnesium Supplement on Pregnancy Outcomes: A Randomized Control Trial. Adv Biomed Res . 2017 ;6(1):109.
Source

13. Yarrington C, Pearce EN. Iodine and pregnancy . Vol. 2011, Journal of Thyroid Research. Hindawi Limited; 2011 . p. 1–8.
Source

14. SIMMER K, THOMPSON RPH. Zinc in the Fetus and Newborn. Acta Paediatr . 1985 May ;74(s319):158–63.
Source

15. Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal W Van. Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol . 2008 ;1(4):162–9.
Source

16. Poggi LM. Seguridad alimentaria para futuras mamás – FDA. 2017;1–17.
Source

17. Vujkovic M, De Vries JH, Lindemans J, MacKlon NS, Van Der Spek PJ, Steegers EAP, et al. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil Steril . 2010 ;94(6):2096–101.
Source

18. Review C. Folic acid supplements before conception and in early pregnancy (up to 12 weeks) for the prevention of birth defects | Cochrane . 2010.
Source

19. Control Prenatal del Embarazo Normal. Prog Obs Ginecol . 2018;61(05):510–27.
Source

20. Suplementos en embarazadas: controversias, evidencias y recomendaciones. Inf Ter Sist Nac Salud . 2010 ;34(4):117–28.
Source

21. Hon SL. Vitamin A. In: Encyclopedia of Toxicology . Elsevier; 2014 . p. 960–1.
Source

22. Braun JM, Messerlian C, Hauser R. Fathers Matter: Why It’s Time to Consider the Impact of Paternal Environmental Exposures on Children’s Health. Curr Epidemiol Reports . 2017 Mar 11 ;4(1):46–55.
Source

23. Kolasa KM. Nutrition Across Life Stages. J Nutr Educ Behav . 2018 ;50(9):950.
Source

Official guide
Sánchez A. Guía de alimentación para embarazadas. Medica Diet . 2015;44.
Go to source
Official document
Diet I. Ingestas Dietéticas de Referencia (IDR) para la Población Española, 2010. Act Dietética . 2010 Oct;14(4):196–7.
Go to source
Scientific article
Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza A, Costa Caminha M, Lins da Silva S, Callou Cruz R, Carvalho dos Santos C, et al. Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review. Nutrients . 2019 Mar 22 ;11(3):681.
Go to source
Scientific article
Pannia E, Cho CE, Kubant R, Sánchez-Hernández D, Huot PSP, Harvey Anderson G. Role of maternal vitamins in programming health and chronic disease. Nutr Rev . 2016 Mar ;74(3):166–80.
Go to source
Official website
Folato — Datos en español . 2020 .
Go to source
Scientific article
Dror DK, Allen LH. Interventions with Vitamins B6, B12 and C in pregnancy. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol . 2012 ;26(SUPPL. 1):55–74.
Go to source
Cochrane systematic review
Rumbold A, Ota E, Nagata C, Shahrook S, Crowther CA. Vitamin C supplementation in pregnancy . Vol. 2016, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015 .
Go to source
Scientific article
Dovnik A, Mujezinović F. The Association of Vitamin D Levels with Common Pregnancy Complications. Nutrients . 2018 Jul 5 ;10(7):867.
Go to source
Systematic review
Shahrook S, Ota E, Hanada N, Sawada K, Mori R. Vitamin K supplementation during pregnancy for improving outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep . 2018 Dec 30 ;8(1):11459.
Go to source
Scientific article
Hacker AN, Fung EB, King JC. Role of calcium during pregnancy: Maternal and fetal needs. Nutr Rev . 2012 Jul ;70(7):397–409.
Go to source
Book online
Institute of Medicine. Iron nutrition during pregnancy. In: Nutrition During Pregnancy . 1990 . p. 1–481.
Go to source
Scientific article
Zarean E, Tarjan A. Effect of Magnesium Supplement on Pregnancy Outcomes: A Randomized Control Trial. Adv Biomed Res . 2017 ;6(1):109.
Go to source
Scientific article
Yarrington C, Pearce EN. Iodine and pregnancy . Vol. 2011, Journal of Thyroid Research. Hindawi Limited; 2011 . p. 1–8.
Go to source
Scientific article
SIMMER K, THOMPSON RPH. Zinc in the Fetus and Newborn. Acta Paediatr . 1985 May ;74(s319):158–63.
Go to source
Scientific article
Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal W Van. Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol . 2008 ;1(4):162–9.
Go to source
Scientific article
Poggi LM. Seguridad alimentaria para futuras mamás – FDA. 2017;1–17.
Go to source
Scientific article
Vujkovic M, De Vries JH, Lindemans J, MacKlon NS, Van Der Spek PJ, Steegers EAP, et al. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil Steril . 2010 ;94(6):2096–101.
Go to source
Cochrane Review
Review C. Folic acid supplements before conception and in early pregnancy (up to 12 weeks) for the prevention of birth defects | Cochrane . 2010.
Go to source
Clinical guide
Control Prenatal del Embarazo Normal. Prog Obs Ginecol . 2018;61(05):510–27.
Go to source
Official document
Suplementos en embarazadas: controversias, evidencias y recomendaciones. Inf Ter Sist Nac Salud . 2010 ;34(4):117–28.
Go to source
Book online
Hon SL. Vitamin A. In: Encyclopedia of Toxicology . Elsevier; 2014 . p. 960–1.
Go to source
Scientific article
Braun JM, Messerlian C, Hauser R. Fathers Matter: Why It’s Time to Consider the Impact of Paternal Environmental Exposures on Children’s Health. Curr Epidemiol Reports . 2017 Mar 11 ;4(1):46–55.
Go to source
Book
Kolasa KM. Nutrition Across Life Stages. J Nutr Educ Behav . 2018 ;50(9):950.
Go to source
Reviews