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How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin and Why Prenatal Vitamins Are Important

As I always say, a supplement cannot replace a healthy diet however I do feel it’s important to share that during pregnancy you have increased nutrition needs and things are a little different. You need to know how to choose a prenatal vitamin. There are certain micronutrients that provide specific health benefits for you and the baby. Prenatal vitamins have proven to be effective in preventing abnormalities and issues with development so it’s actually very important and highly recommended. Like really important. 

Can’t I just take my multivitamin?

No. Prenatal vitamins focus on essential nutrients specific for pregnancy. Don’t take shortcuts on this one. I encourage my clients to create an account under Fullscript https://us.fullscript.com/welcome/rdrxnutrition to ensure they are getting a high quality brand.

Order supplements through my Fullscript store.

When Should I Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin?

In a perfect world, you’ll start taking prenatal vitamins before conception. It’s generally recommended for women of reproductive age to regularly take a prenatal vitamin. So if you’re sexually active, just go ahead and do it because the baby’s neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops during the first month of pregnancy (which may happen before you know you are pregnant). It’s better to be prepared and start early by getting into a habit of taking your prenatal vitamin. 

Vitamins and Minerals to Look for in a Prenatal Vitamin

Pro Tip: Put your vitamins next to your toothbrush, it’s easy to remember.

Folic Acid ~ 400-600 mcg:

Folic acid prevents neural tube defects including fetal brain and spinal cord abnormalities.

Eating foods high in folate like avocado, legumes, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, beets, peas and oranges. Roasted crispy brussel sprouts are my personal favorite source of folic acid. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified in folic acid. 

Recipes: Blueberry Banana Ginger Spinach Smoothie

 Iron ~ 27 mg

Iron helps your body make blood to supply oxygen to the fetus, supports development of the placenta and. Low levels can increase the risk for anemia as well. 

Prenatal vitamins with iron are often suggested, you should also include iron-rich foods like beans, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, beef, turkey, and shrimp. 

Be smart: Pair your iron rich foods with vitamin C for better absorption including orange juice, grapefruit, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers. 

Recipes: Chicken Chickpea Vegetable Soup

Calcium ~ 1000 mg

Helps promote teeth and bone development. All women ages 19 to 50, including pregnant women, need 1,000 mg per day. Milk, yogurt or other calcium-rich foods like cheese, sardines, salmon and seeds. 

Side note: most prenatal vitamins don’t contain this much calcium, so if you don’t get enough from your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a separate calcium supplement. 

Recipes: Overnight Oats 

Vitamins in a Prenatal

Vitamin D At least 400-600 IUD

Vitamin D is essential combined with calcium to grow your baby’s bones and also keep yours strong. Most prenatal vitamins contain 400 IU of vitamin D, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends getting 600. 

Vitamin D-fortified milk, salmon and egg yolks are also great ways to incorporate this vitamin into your diet. If your doctor suspects you may not be getting enough vitamin D (a relatively common issue among women), he or she may screen your levels at your first prenatal checkup.

Other Recipes: Almond Crusted Salmon

Iodine at least 150mcg before pregnancy, 220 during

Iodine is needed for thyroid hormone creation, and development of the brain and nervous system. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 150mcg pre-conception and 220 mcg during pregnancy. Not every prenatal contains adequate amounts of iodine. 

Iodine sources include iodized salt, shrimp, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. If your doctor has any suspicion that you may be low in iodine, they may run a blood panel to check your thyroid hormone function. Or these levels may be screened at your first visit.

Recipe ideas to add more Iodine into your diet: Cottage Cheese Caprese and Yogurt Parfait 

Other Honorable Mentions for Prenatal Supplementation:

Omega 3s

Women should eat at least two servings of fish or shellfish per week before getting pregnant, while pregnant, and while breastfeeding. A serving of fish is 8 to 12 ounces (oz) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3046737/)


Most pregnant women don’t get enough choline, so it’s important to include choline-rich foods like egg yolks or dairy in your diet or take a supplement that contains this vital nutrient. Choline is important for your health and is essential for fetal brain development and placental function.

What to Watch Out For With Prenatal Vitamins:

Since vitamins are categorized as “dietary supplements,” they don’t have the protection of FDA oversight. It’s important to buy a brand you trust. When looking at supplement nutrition fact labels pay attention to the percent daily value section (reference the image to the left). If the percentage is over 100% you may want to consult your doctor before purchasing the vitamin. The only value that may be higher during pregnancy vs a normal multivitamin will be folate (600mcg vs 400mcg). 

Other tips for buying high quality supplements and how to choose a prenatal vitamin:

A Guide to Buying the Best Supplements

I encourage my clients to create an account under Fullscript

Order supplements through my Fullscript store.
Prenatal Supplement Resources and References:

Co Author: Katie Kluth B.S. Exercise Science, CPT, Current Dietetics Student and Fitness Enthusiast, @thelittlemuscle, Kilowatt Wellness LLC on Facebook

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