How to Shop for Prenatal Vitamins

A nutritionist cheat sheet for all your prenatal vitamin needs.

A simple Amazon.com search for prenatal multivitamins yields over 250 unique results. What used to be mainly available by prescription-only is now widely accessible over the (virtual) counter. And, they come in every form, shape and size, with varying nutrient profiles.

But, not all prenatal multivitamins are created equal, and while some are truly better than others, there is no universally perfect supplement. Choosing the right bottle depends on your personal diet, lifestyle and preferences.

When walking down the prenatal vitamin aisle, choose the form you are most comfortable with when it comes to your tolerability and schedule. Choose a brand that has no artificial ingredients and has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Scan your diet to find any gaps in the key nutrients (iron, DHA, calcium, vitamin D plus B12 and zinc for vegans) and confirm the brand you choose meets the minimum requirements. If you’re unsure of your diet, you can always get your levels checked for some peace of mind, or consult a Registered Dietitian who can guide you.

Here’s our cheat sheet for finding the perfect prenatal vitamin for your pregnancy.

All-Around Pregnancy Health
There are 5 key nutrients all pregnant women need, whether from diet or a supplement: folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D and omega 3. Folic acid supports neural tube development, iron helps oxygen delivery to the baby, calcium and vitamin D maintain bone growth, and omega 3 promotes brain development. You don’t necessary need all of these nutrients in supplement form. Do a quick review of your personal diet to find where you may have gaps that your prenatal vitamin will need to fill. Because your nutrient levels and absorption may change during pregnancy, it is always an option to get your levels checked in the beginning and throughout pregnancy to see where you stand.
Nutritionist Picks: Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System (if you can swallow 6 tablets), Similac Prenatal Vitamin + DHA, Rainbow Vitamin World Prenatal Mega Complex, Healthy Mama, Rainbow Light .

Vegan
Find a multivitamin with iron, calcium, DHA sourced from algae, as well as with vitamin B12 and zinc.
Nutritionist Picks: Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System will provide you with nice amounts of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and calcium, however you need additional DHA supplement. Deva Vegan Prenatal is designed for vegans with adequate vitamin B12 and zinc, however, it does not contain DHA and sufficient amounts of calcium or iron, so you will need to ensure your diet can make up the rest, or you will require additional supplements.  

Iron Deficiency
If you are iron deficient, vegan, vegetarian or just not a big carnivore, choose a supplement with at least 20 mg of iron to ensure that you’re getting in at least 75% of your iron requirements.
Nutritionist Picks: Similac Prenatal Vitamin + DHA, Deva Vegan Prenatal, Zahler Prenatal,  Honest Company Whole Food Prenatal, Nature Made Prenatal, BellyBar Prenatal Chewable Vitamin, Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System , Mommi shake.

Sensitive Stomach
If you have a very sensitive stomach, are not tolerating your current prenatal, and are prone to severe constipation, you may want to try an iron-free supplement. Be sure to up your intake of iron rich foods like beef, lentils and blackstrap molasses.
Nutritionist Picks: VitaFusion, SmartyPants PreNatal, First Response Prenatal

Dairy Free
For those avoiding dairy and milk, pick a supplement with 1,000 mg of calcium to get in your daily fix. There is a cap on how much calcium our bodies can absorb at once, so you will likely need to take 2 pills a day.
Nutritionist Picks: Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System, Vitamin World Prenatal Mega Complex

Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in NYC, so most mamas-to-be can benefit from some added Vitamin D. If you avoid dairy and sunlight, or are vitamin D deficient (a quick blood test to find out), choose a multi with at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D.
Nutritionist Picks: Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System, SmartyPants PreNatal, Mykind Organics Prenatal, Honest Company Whole Food Prenatal , New Chapter Perfect Prenatal Vitamin

Low DHA Intake
If you not eating fatty fish 3x a week or getting in your fair share of chia seeds and walnuts, choose a supplement with at least 200 mg DHA, an essential nutrient for your growing baby’s brain.
Nutritionist Picks: Similac Prenatal Vitamin + DHA, Spectrum Essentials Prenatal DHA, Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA, Zahler’s Prenatal + DHA, First Response Reproductive Health, Mommi Shake, Nature Made Prenatal + DHA

Probiotics and Prebiotics
While probiotics and prebiotics are not necessities, these gut friendly add-ons can promote digestive health. If you are prone to gas and bloating, steer clear of supplements with prebiotics (though probiotics are still okay), which may be aggravating. If you are buying a supplement with probiotics be mindful of how you store the bottles since probiotics are temperature sensitive. Some prenatal supplements contain laxatives, but because laxatives can cause cramping, it’s best to start with a vitamin without one.  
Nutritionist Picks: If you struggle with constipation, choose supplements with probiotics to help with regulation, like Rainbow Light One or Honest Company Whole Food Prenatal.

Pills vs. Alternative Forms
Prenatal multivitamins come in so many forms- softgels, tablets, capsules, chewables, gummies, powders and juice preparations -and this is when want to choose the bottle you are most comfortable with. Some supplements require you to take up to 6 pills per day, so before grabbing a bottle, check what the recommended dosage is. If you are the busy, forgetful type a one-a-day may be a better option. Generally, if you can swallow pills, soft-gels, tablets and capsules are better options since they do not contain the added calories and sugar commonly found in gummies, powders, and juices.
Nutritionist Picks: If you cannot tolerate swallowing big pills, some alternatives are Belly Bar Chewables, Rainbow Light Petite Prenatal(small pill size), drink mixes like Premama Prenatal Vitamin Drink Mix, or a prenatal protein shake mix like Mommi Shake.

Please avoid!
There are a few key things you want to avoid when choosing your supplement: artificial colors and flavors (FD&C Red #40, Yellow #6), sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol) and unsubstantiated claims. Over the counter supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means they can claim a lot of things without the research to support them.

Ditch the bottles that sound too good to be true, like promises of breast enhancement – you can’t make this stuff up! Many prenatal supplements are made with gelatin, so take note if you avoid gelatin for any specific dietary observances or veganism. And, steer clear of your regular, non-prenatal multivitamins. They may contain mega dosages of certain nutrients, especially vitamin A, which may not be safe for the baby. So, it’s best to stick with a supplement formulated for pregnancy.

Nutritionist No-Nos: Unfortunately, artificial food coloring is commonly found in the lower price point supplements, such as Walgreens Prenatal as One A Day Prenatal. Some prenatal multivitamins contain digestive enzymes, like Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System –  while these enzymes are not harmful or dangerous, they may not actually improve your digestion.

Remember, that your body is changing by the week, so keep an open mind. The benefit to having so many options is that there is room to experiment and find what works best for you. Ultimately, while the prenatal multivitamins are important feel confident that you are able to nourish your body and baby with a well balanced, nutritious.

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Nicole Silber

Nicole Silber

Nicole Silber, RD, CSP is the Director of Pediatrics at Middleberg Nutrition, a nutrition and wellness practice in New York City. She’s a registered dietitian, board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition, certified lactation counselor, as well as a recognized expert in family and prenatal nutrition. Follow Nicole on instagram, twitter and pinterest.

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