When it comes to finding the right prenatal vitamin, try, try, and try again is our best advice. This is one thing worth getting right.
At my first pregnancy checkup, I realized that I’d traded one daily pill for another—only this one didn’t come with the promise of an exciting sex life.
Instead, my prenatal vitamin offered an insurance policy for a healthy baby, something nowhere near as thrilling as fantasizing about nursery décor or picking out chic baby names. But choosing a prenatal may actually be one of the most important (if less interesting) stops in your pregnancy, for both your comfort and your baby’s development.
“The #1 role of a prenatal is for patients to get adequate intake of folic acid to prevent birth defects,” says Stephanie Singer, an ob/gyn in Park City, UT. Although whole foods do contain this key nutrient, many of us simply don’t have a diet that’s stellar enough to provide what baby needs.
Read more: 4 super foods every pregnant woman needs now
Nausea can often also play a role, making it difficult to load up on healthy foods when it counts most, at the very beginning of gestation (the first 28 days or so). That makes a prenatal vitamin a must in every pregnancy, and if you’re carrying multiples, an essential bridge to well-nourished babies who won’t zap your nutrition in the process.
But times have changed, and this sure isn’t your mother’s—or even your older sister’s—prenatal vitamin. And while an ever growing smorgasbord of options can make it hard to choose, the upside means you have lots of options. Ask yourself: What works with your lifestyle—a drink, a daily pill, something else? What does your doctor recommend? What does your tummy tolerate? What time of day works best for you to remember, despite the fog of pregnancy brain?
If you’re vegetarian, you’ll want a formula with brain-building DHA that’s plant-based instead of fish-based. This is also a good idea if you find that a fish-oil supplement gives you burps that taste like, well…. And you’ll need to consider your health history: If you’ve been diagnosed with anemia; are allergic to lactose, soy, or other common ingredients; or have an underlying condition, you’ll need a vitamin that meets your special needs.
“Whether it’s prescription or over the counter, I tell patients to try out a variety to see what they tolerate best—every woman is different, and the inert ingredients, dyes or additives may not agree with you,” Singer says. One caveat: More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to prenatal supplements. “Vitamin A, at too high a dose, can possibly lead to birth defects,” Singer says. And loads of iron can increase constipation, the last thing any mama-to-be needs.
Before you pop anything new, be sure to discuss it with your ob/gyn, and know that the Food and Drug Administration regulates prescription vitamins more tightly than those sold over the counter.
A few prenatals we love
One a Day Women’s Prenatal with DHA
This great basic kit packs both prenatal vitamins and DHA liquid gels in the same box, which means no more running around cobbling together a prenatal plan. Another plus: It’s readily available in big-box and drugstore aisles at an affordable price.
Be Nice Berrylicious Prenatal Drink Mix
Miss sipping something pink and fruity? Each stevia-sweetened packet provides 25% of daily folate and plant-based DHA. This does mean you have to drink four a day (that’s 64 ounces of liquid!). Nursing moms should find it a tasty way to stay hydrated.
Belly Bar Prenatal Chewable Vitamins
Instead of a chalky horse pill, think chocolate and chewable. What’s not to love? Each serving (2 chewable tablets) pack iron, folate and calcium. And each DHA Valencia orange supplement packs 100 mg of vegetarian based Omega-3 DHA.
H2Organics Moms Prenatal Nutrition Water in Mandarin Orange
This isn’t a complete prenatal package, but it can be a tasty way to bone up on folate. One 20-ounce, BPA-free bottle of this certified organic drink gets you 20% of your folic acid needs for the day, and we love the zingy refreshment of it!
Bloom’en Nutrition Citrus Ginger Blossoms Prenatal Vitamin Chew
While not a complete prenatal, these yummy citrus guys are a super-easy way to be sure you’re getting the recommended amount of folic acid, plus more than 200 milligrams of DHA (in two chews a day). We keep them in the desk drawer and never once forget to take them!
Your vitamin should be part of a healthy diet, but some critical nutrients are hard to get in food… so they pop up in your pill. Here’s what every basic prenatal should have to keep you and baby going strong:
Folic acid: This B-vitamin is critical to reducing the risk of the birth defect spina bifida. Pregnant women (and those hoping to get pregnant) need 400 to 600 micrograms a day.
DHA: Aim for 300 milligrams a day of this essential fatty acid to help your baby develop healthy brain cells (the brain is about two-thirds fat) and top-notch vision, plus lower your risk of postpartum depression.
Iron: During pregnancy, your blood volume expands by about half, so you need more iron to support it. (Blood carries oxygen around your body, including to baby.) Shoot for a recommended 27 milligrams a day.
Calcium: A growing fetus will get the calcium it needs from the mother’s body when there’s not enough in her diet, reducing her own bone density. You need 1,000 milligrams a day (and even more with multiples).
Kate Geagan, M.S., R.D., is an award-winning dietician in Park City, UT, and author of Go Green, Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet. She’s the mother of two toddlers.