What do prenatal vitamins do?

Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated multivitamins that pregnant individuals take to support the health and development of the baby. A balanced diet is crucial during pregnancy, but getting all the necessary nutrients can be challenging even with the most conscious efforts. Here, prenatal vitamins fill potential nutritional gaps, ensuring mother and baby get all the necessary nutrients.

What Prenatal Vitamins Contain

The content of prenatal vitamins varies by brand, but they typically contain higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals than standard adult multivitamins. Some of the key components include:

  • Folic Acid (Folate): This B vitamin plays a crucial role in preventing neural tube defects and severe spinal cord and brain abnormalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 400-800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before conception and throughout pregnancy.
  • Iron: Pregnant individuals require nearly twice the amount of iron compared to non-pregnant individuals. Iron supports the mother’s increased blood volume and aids in delivering oxygen to the baby. Deficiency could lead to preterm delivery or low birth weight.
  • Calcium: Essential for the baby’s bone development, calcium also helps prevent the mother from losing her bone density as the baby uses calcium to grow.
  • Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function and a baby’s brain development. Its deficiency can lead to severe intellectual disabilities in infants and children.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D works closely with calcium to help develop the fetus’s bones and teeth.
  • DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, supports the baby’s brain and eye development.

Prenatal Vitamins and Fertility

While the main purpose of prenatal vitamins is to support a healthy pregnancy, some research suggests they may also help improve fertility. Taking it before conception can prepare the body for pregnancy and ensure the availability of necessary nutrients from the earliest stages of fetal development.

When and How to Take Prenatal Vitamins

Doctors usually recommend starting prenatal vitamins before trying to conceive. Ideally, pregnant individuals should take them throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding. However, each person’s needs may vary, so it’s always best to consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

As for how to take them, it’s typically recommended to take prenatal vitamins with a meal to aid absorption and minimize possible side effects, such as nausea or upset stomach. If morning sickness is a problem, taking the vitamin later in the day or before bedtime can also help.

Do All Pregnant Individuals Need Prenatal Vitamins?

Most healthcare professionals recommend prenatal vitamins to pregnant individuals, particularly those with dietary restrictions, certain health conditions, or who are carrying multiples. However, not everyone might need them, especially if they consume a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet. Discussing with a healthcare provider is important to determine what’s best.

Why they matter, how to choose?

The Importance of Prenatal Vitamins and How to Choose the Right Ones

It plays a critical role in fetal development and the health of the pregnant individual. Here’s why they matter and how to choose the right ones to meet your unique needs.

Why Prenatal Vitamins Matter

Prenatal vitamins are essential for several reasons:

  • Filling Nutritional Gaps: Despite our best efforts, our diets often fail to provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy. It ensures that both the pregnant individual and the baby get enough vital nutrients.
  • Supporting Fetal Development: It contains specific nutrients at higher levels essential for fetal development, such as folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects, and iron, which is crucial for oxygen transport.
  • Reducing Risk of Complications: Adequate intake of the right nutrients can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth and preeclampsia.
  • Benefiting Maternal Health: Prenatal vitamins also support the health of the pregnant individual by meeting the increased nutritional demands of pregnancy, preventing deficiencies, and supporting overall health.

How to Choose Prenatal Vitamins

When selecting a prenatal vitamin, consider the following:

  • Key Nutrients: Look for prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid (400 to 800 mcg), iron (27 mg), calcium (1,000 mg), vitamin D (600 IU), and iodine (150 mcg). If possible, opt for a prenatal vitamin with DHA, which supports the baby’s brain development.
  • Check for USP Verification: Look for products that carry the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) seal. This seal indicates that the product has been independently tested and verified for quality, purity, strength, and consistency.
  • Consider Your Dietary Needs: If you’re vegetarian or vegan, ensure that the prenatal vitamins you choose align with your dietary restrictions. For example, DHA is typically derived from fish, so look for supplements with algae-based DHA if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
  • Factor in Your Digestive Tolerance: Some individuals may experience nausea or constipation from certain prenatal vitamins, particularly those with higher iron content. If you have a sensitive stomach, consider looking for a brand that’s gentle on the stomach or a slow-release formula. Gummy vitamins may also be easier to tolerate but often lack certain nutrients like iron and calcium.
  • Consult Your Healthcare Provider: It’s always best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, including prenatal vitamins. They can guide you based on your specific health needs and dietary preferences.

Remember, prenatal vitamins are intended to supplement a balanced diet, not replace it. Continue to consume various nutritious foods to support your health and the healthy development of your baby. By understanding the importance of prenatal vitamins and how to choose the right ones, you can take a proactive step in ensuring a healthy pregnancy.

Do prenatal vitamins have side effects?

Yes, prenatal vitamins, like any other supplements, can have potential side effects, although not everyone experiences them. It’s essential to remember that the benefits of these vitamins in supporting a healthy pregnancy generally outweigh these minor discomforts. However, if side effects become severe or overly bothersome, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider. Here are some potential side effects of prenatal vitamins:

  • Nausea or Upset Stomach: The high iron content in prenatal vitamins can sometimes cause stomach discomfort or nausea. This effect can be amplified if the pregnant individual is already experiencing morning sickness. Taking the vitamin with a meal or before bedtime can often alleviate these symptoms.
  • Constipation and Bloating: Iron can also lead to constipation and bloating in some people. Staying hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, and consuming a fibre-rich diet can help alleviate these symptoms. If constipation persists, a healthcare provider may recommend a stool softener or a different type of prenatal vitamin.
  • Change in Urine Color: Some individuals might notice a difference in the color of their urine after taking prenatal vitamins, usually to a brighter yellow or light orange. This is typically harmless and occurs due to the excretion of excess B vitamins.
  • Allergic Reaction: While rare, some people might have an allergic reaction to an ingredient in a prenatal vitamin. Signs of an allergic reaction include rash, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the lips, face, or tongue. This requires immediate medical attention.

Remember, just because a product is available over the counter doesn’t mean it’s free of side effects or risks. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement regimen, and don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns or side effects you might experience. Your provider can help adjust your dosage or switch you to a different brand to ensure that you and your baby get the nutrients with minimal discomfort.

 How Is a Prenatal Vitamin Different From a Normal Multivitamin?

While prenatal vitamins and regular multivitamins contain various essential vitamins and minerals, they have different compositions to cater to different nutritional needs.

A prenatal vitamin is specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of a pregnant individual and the developing fetus. Key differences include:

  • Higher Folic Acid Levels: Prenatal vitamins typically contain more folic acid than regular multivitamins. Folic acid is crucial during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus. The recommended daily intake for pregnant individuals is 400-800 micrograms (mcg), significantly higher than the 400 mcg recommended for adults not planning a pregnancy.
  • Higher Iron Levels: Iron needs to increase during pregnancy to support the increased blood volume, transport oxygen, and aid in fetal development. Prenatal vitamins usually contain around 27 milligrams (mg) of iron, while regular multivitamins may contain about 18 mg or less.
  • Presence of DHA: Some prenatal vitamins include DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), an omega-3 fatty acid important for the brain development and vision of the fetus. Regular multivitamins typically don’t contain DHA.
  • Adjusted Levels of Other Nutrients: Certain nutrients like Vitamin A can be excessively harmful during pregnancy, particularly in its preformed versions (like retinol). Prenatal vitamins are designed to avoid excess while providing necessary nutritional support.
  • Calcium and Iodine: Prenatal vitamins often have more calcium and iodine, which are necessary for the baby’s bone, teeth, and thyroid development.

In essence, prenatal vitamins are geared towards the unique nutritional requirements of pregnant individuals and those planning to conceive, whereas regular multivitamins cater to the general population’s broad nutritional needs. Always consult with a healthcare provider to determine which supplement regimen is most suitable for your individual needs.

When Should I Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?

The ideal time to start taking prenatal vitamins is before you become pregnant. Critical fetal development, such as neural tube formation, occurs very early in pregnancy, often before many individuals even realize they’re pregnant. Neural tube defects can occur within the first 28 days following conception when folic acid – a key ingredient in prenatal vitamins – is crucial.

Hence, healthcare providers often recommend starting prenatal vitamins at least one month before trying to conceive. This ensures that the necessary nutrients, especially folic acid, are available during the earliest stages of fetal development.

If the pregnancy is unplanned or you find out you’re pregnant before taking prenatal vitamins, begin taking them as soon as possible.

You should continue taking prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy. Healthcare providers often recommend continuing them during breastfeeding to ensure that the nursing parent and baby continue to get the necessary nutrients.

However, every individual is different and may have specific nutritional needs. Always consult a healthcare provider to determine your right timing and dosage.

 Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal Vitamins

 The 15 Best Prenatal Vitamins of 2023

Choosing the best can be overwhelming, given the many options available. To make the process easier, here are some of the best prenatal vitamins in 2023, listed in no particular order:

  1. Ritual Essential Prenatal: This prenatal vitamin contains 12 essential nutrients, including folate, choline, and omega-3 DHA, all in their most absorbable forms.
  2. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal Multivitamin: Made with raw, whole foods, this vitamin offers a wide range of nutrients, including probiotics, ginger, and zinc, for digestive support.
  3. Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA: A popular choice, these soft gels contain all the necessary nutrients, including folic acid, iron, iodine, and DHA.
  4. Rainbow Light Prenatal One: This food-based multivitamin is gentle on the stomach and includes probiotics and digestive enzymes.
  5. MegaFood Baby & Me 2: Made from real food and carefully selected herbs, this vitamin supports the health of both mother and baby.
  6. Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA: Known for high-quality fish oil supplements, Nordic Naturals offers prenatal DHA soft gels that are third-party tested for purity.
  7. New Chapter Perfect Prenatal Vitamins: These are made with organic, non-GMO ingredients and are formulated to be taken anytime, even on an empty stomach.
  8. Thorne Basic Prenatal: Designed for individuals with sensitive stomachs, this vitamin is free of additives and contains the active forms of folate and B12.
  9. SmartyPants Prenatal Formula: This gummy vitamin is a good choice for those who struggle with swallowing pills. It includes a range of necessary nutrients and tastes great.
  10. Solgar Prenatal Nutrients Tablets: This multivitamin offers a balanced combination of nutrients such as calcium, iron, and folic acid.
  11. One A Day Women’s Prenatal 1 Multivitamin: These soft gels contain key nutrients like folic acid, DHA, and iron and have been third-party tested for purity and potency.
  12. Vitafusion Prenatal Gummy Vitamins: Another good choice for gummy lovers, these contain DHA and folic acid and are a fun, tasty alternative to traditional pills.
  13. Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin: This supplement boasts an all-organic, non-GMO formula with 25+ vitamins and 100% natural DHA.
  14. Zahler Mighty Mini Prenatal DHA: These small soft gels are easier to swallow and packed with crucial nutrients, making them a great choice for those with difficulty with larger pills.
  15. Pink Stork Total Prenatal + DHA: Aimed at supporting every stage of pregnancy, this supplement contains a comprehensive list of vitamins and nutrients, including DHA, folate, and B vitamins.

When selecting a prenatal vitamin, it’s essential to consider your dietary restrictions, lifestyle, and specific nutritional needs. Always consult a healthcare provider to make the best choice for you and your baby. It’s also important to remember that prenatal vitamins are a supplement to a balanced diet, not a replacement for good nutrition.


Prenatal vitamins are a powerful tool in supporting a healthy pregnancy, filling in any nutritional gaps that might occur even with a healthy diet. Their role in providing crucial nutrients to both mother and baby is invaluable. However, It should be considered a supplement to a balanced diet, not a replacement. Always consult a healthcare provider to ensure the healthiest possible pregnancy and baby.

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