10 Best Prenatal Vitamins of 2022, According to Doctors
One of the most important steps you can take during pregnancy to ensure you have a healthy baby is also one of the simplest: take a prenatal vitamin every day. A prenatal vitamin cannot replace a nutritious diet, proper health care and stress management, but it can help your baby get a balance of essential nutrients to support development.
Here’s how prenatal vitamins benefit you, as well as how to choose the best prenatal vitamin.
What are prenatal vitamins and when should I start taking them?
Prenatal vitamins are supplements specially formulated for pregnancy, and most contain a similar balance of key nutrients to support the health of mother and baby. “All of these help the baby’s development or help the mother maintain her levels of certain vitamins and minerals,” says Nicole Rankins, MD, OB/GYN and site director of OB Hospitalist Group in Norfolk, Virginia.
Dr. Rankins ideally suggests starting prenatal vitamins three months before expecting to conceive. Indeed, women who take folic acid supplements – a key component of good prenatal vitamins – before getting pregnant may reduce the risk of neural tube defects (which affect the brain and spine).
However, since many pregnancies in the United States are unplanned or untimely, this makes it difficult to take preventive vitamins! — give yourself some grace if you didn’t start taking prenatals early. “Don’t beat yourself up, take them as soon as possible,” says Dr. Rankins. Also, be sure to ask your health care provider about continuing to take prenatal after you give birth and stop breastfeeding (if you choose to do so).
What vitamins should be in them?
It is important to remember that each person (pregnant or not) has slightly different nutritional needs based on genetics and any pre-existing health conditions. Always check with your provider about your specific needs for a prenatal, and if you’re vegetarian or vegan during pregnancy, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients.
That said, the following vitamins and minerals, listed here along with the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA), are considered essential during pregnancy. You can get many of these nutrients from your diet, but prenatal vitamins are meant to fill in the gaps. Note that while you shouldn’t expect your prenatal to contain full RDAs of every ingredient listed, it should have decent doses of the following:
- Folic acid (also called folate or vitamin B9): 600 mcg. As mentioned above, folic acid can help protect your baby against early neural tube defects.
- Vitamin A: 750 to 770 mcg “Vitamin A plays a role in the formation of the eyes, ears, limbs, and heart of the fetus,” says Jill Purdie, MD, medical director and OB/GYN at Northside Women’s Specialists in Atlanta, Georgia. Amounts over 10,000 IU (aka international units) can be toxic, which is why many manufacturers use the safer beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A.
- Vitamins C (80 to 85 mg) and E (15 mg): “Both of these play an important role in fetal collagen production and support the mother’s immune system,” says Dr. Purdie. Too much vitamin C can be dangerous for your baby, so don’t take it without consulting your doctor.
- Vitamin D: 15 mcg (600 IU). “Vitamin D supports bone health in the fetus and the mother, and new studies also suggest it helps with immunity and improves the mother’s mood,” says Dr. Purdie. If your doctor suspects you’re not getting enough, they may recommend an additional supplement.
- Calcium: 1000 to 1300mg. All women between the ages of 19 and 50, including pregnant women, need 1,000 mg per day of this essential nutrient to help build your baby’s bones and teeth. (Calcium supplements may also reduce the risk of preeclampsia in people with low calcium levels.)
- Iodine: 220 mcg. Iodine promotes the development of your future baby’s thyroid and brain. According to Dr. Rankins, “many people can get enough of it through their diet because the salt is fortified with iodine.”
- The iron: 27mg. This mineral is essential for increasing the blood supply of the baby (and yours). “Iron requirements during pregnancy increase, so supplementation is necessary to maintain adequate blood cell production,” says Dr. Purdie. If, like many women, you become anemic during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend more.
Zinc: 11 to 12mg. This mineral supports your immune system and healthy cell division.
You may also want to consider these extras when selecting a prenatal vitamin:
- DHA: Regular prenatal vitamins may not contain DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in many types of fish. DHA can help with baby’s brain development, both before and after birth. If you can’t get the recommended two to three servings (8 to 12 ounces) of pregnancy-safe oily fish per week, ask your doctor if you need to take a supplement.
- Other nutrients: You may also see several other additions on the label such as copper, choline, thiamin, vitamin B12, magnesium and ginger, or vitamin B6 (both can help relieve morning sickness).
Are there any side effects to prenatals?
Generally, prenatal vitamins are considered safe when taken as directed. However, some specific vitamins or nutrients can cause mild side effects, mostly related to digestion. Here is an overview:
- Constipation: “Progesterone, a pregnancy hormone, can cause constipation, and if you add extra iron, it can be difficult,” says Dr. Rankins. Drink plenty of water and make sure you get enough fiber in your diet. You can also ask your doctor to suggest a stool softener to help get things going.
- Nausea and vomiting: Iron can also make people feel uncomfortable. Dr. Rankins suggests taking prenatals with “easy to digest” foods such as crackers or applesauce. You may also need to take your vitamins at bedtime, switch brands, or even experiment with different formulas.
- Bright yellow urine: High doses of B vitamins like riboflavin can give your pee a more colored tint which is usually harmless, but always consult your doctor if you are concerned.
What are the different types of prenatals?
Walking into the pharmacy or searching for prenatals on Amazon gives the impression that there are about 10 billion different types of prenatals. But they can be broadly divided into these categories:
- Capsules or tablets: “If a woman wants to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals in a single prenatal vitamin, a pill that you swallow whole is the best choice,” Purdie says.
- Liquids, powders and chewable tablets: “For women with nausea, a chewable or liquid vitamin may be a better option, but they may be missing some of the essential nutrients above,” says Dr. Purdie. “It’s important to read the labels to see if you might need to take an additional supplement.”
- Prescription: Some women who experience side effects with their pregnancies may want a prescription. “Prescription and over-the-counter vitamins will have all the necessary nutrients, however, the formulation may be different – the prescription vitamin may have iron which causes less constipation, or it may include a stool softener to help with constipation or vitamin B6 to relieve nausea,” says Dr. Purdie. But assuming you can tolerate the OTC versions, there’s no reason to run to the doctor. “In general, it’s easier, more convenient, and maybe even less expensive to stick with one over-the-counter vitamin,” Dr. Rankins adds.
How to buy the best prenatal vitamin
When you start researching vitamins, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you get the best type for you.
- How long will this bottle last? Vitamins are expensive, so it’s a good idea to look at the number of pills in a bottle and compare that with the number of pills recommended daily. (A big bottle goes fast if you take three pills a day.)
- Which format suits me best? Do you hate swallowing pills? Look for capsules with a smooth coating and those without calcium, as they tend to be smaller. Or opt for liquids or chewable tablets, keeping in mind that you might be lacking in certain nutrients.
- How is my diet? If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, for example, it may be more difficult to get iron and calcium from food alone, which makes it a good idea to opt for supplements containing these minerals or take more of them. Also talk to your doctor for their recommendations.
In the end, consistency is the most important factor. “The best prenatal is the one you can tolerate and take every day,” says Dr. Purdie.
How We Chose the Best Prenatal Vitamins
We started with the ingredients above and found supplements that contain most (if not all) of the nutrients you need. We also kept in mind the criteria of Dr. Purdie and Dr. Rankins. From there, we checked out those that have been tested and recommended by OB/GYNs, editors, and members of the What to Expect community of millions of moms. Here are our top picks.