Your reasons for shopping for prenatal vitamins are real, and really important. You have health goals, and the right prenatal vitamins can help you reach them. But options for products that claim to support your goals seem endless. Which prenatal vitamins are superior, and which are just a sham?
After reading hundreds of supplement labels, we were shocked to find that most supplements are only kind of aligned with nutrition research. Many companies put other concerns before your health, like maximizing profit with low-quality ingredients, or cramming everything into one pill in amounts too low to make a difference.
When you know how to read the label, it’s easy to spot vitamins with sub-par ingredients, ineffective formulas, and poor manufacturing processes. Here’s what we look for to make sure you get the cleanest, most effective vitamin for your goals.
Start with Serving Size
How many pills count as a serving, and how often should you take them?
Check the serving size so you understand how many days the bottle will cover. Some vitamins suggest a serving size of 8 pills, which is a lot to swallow! Set yourself up for success by selecting vitamins you know you’ll be able to take.
Scan the Ingredients List for Quality and Quantity
Begin by checking through the ingredient list to make sure the vitamins and minerals you need are listed. Stay away from vitamins that list “proprietary blends” on the label without listing ingredient amounts. You need to know how much of each nutrient you’re getting. Each individual has different needs. Your prenatal vitamin routine should look different than your friend’s due to health history, nutrient status, gut health and more.
A trusted healthcare provider who knows you will be able to provide insight about the nutrients you need to reach your prenatal goals. In the meantime, Brooke Boskovich, The Fertility Dietitian, recommends starting with a prenatal that has the following:
Iron OR Calcium: Calcium and iron compete for absorption, so if they are both in your prenatal you aren’t actually getting the amount indicated. Many women need to supplement iron during pregnancy as iron requirements increase. Work with your healthcare provider to see if you need iron and/or calcium.
Choline: Research shows that women should be consuming 425 mg of choline per day preconception and 450 mg/day during pregnancy. Choline is essential for egg quality during the preconception period, prevents neural tube defects during the early weeks of pregnancy, and supports babies brain development throughout the first year of life.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in the northern countries with over 3 million people diagnosed each year. The evidence shows that 4,000 IU’s (100mcg) of vitamin D supports fertility and pregnancy.
Folate not Folic Acid: Folate is more bioavailable (easier to absorb) than folic acid. Vitamin companies often use these names interchangeably, so you have to look for the type of nutrient on the label. Specifically, a methylated form.
Vitamin B12: Following a vegetarian or vegan diet? You are at risk for being deficient in B12. Research shows that 62% of vegetarian women are deficient in B12 even when including eggs and dairy when compared to 3% of women including meat in their diet. Being deficient in B12 during pregnancy & breastfeeding has irreversible effects on motor development & growth. To improve B12 levels, look for a prenatal with bioavailable B12 as methylcobalamin.
Iodine: A deficiency in iodine is associated with thyroid disorder, ovulatory disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth and congenital abnormalities. More than 50% of pregnant women in the USA have inadequate iodine levels. Many prenatals are lacking in iodine. Look for a prenatal with at least 25 mcg of iodine to support a healthy thyroid and healthy pregnancy.
After confirming that your vitamin contains the right stuff, make sure there is enough of each ingredient to support your health. Ingredient amounts should be listed by total volume. Remember to always check this amount against your unique goals: nutrition needs vary for men and women and change throughout the stages of adulthood.
Check for Bio-Availability
Not all nutrients are created equally! It’s common for low-quality supplements to include vitamins in forms your body can’t metabolize. For example, most forms of vitamin B are difficult for the body to absorb. We’re looking at you, folic acid! What’s the point of taking vitamins your body can’t use? Make sure your multivitamins include folate and vitamins B6 and B12 in their methylated forms so your body can use them right away.
The Never, Ever List
The fact that a supplement additive is allowed doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Always scan your vitamin labels to avoid potentially harmful additives. Here’s our list of ingredients that should never appear on your label:
Confirm Clean Manufacturing Conditions
Don’t take a risk with supplements made under shady conditions with poor quality control. Look for the “Good Manufacturing Practices” or cGMP seal of approval, which ensures that supplements are manufactured in a safe and standardized way to ensure quality control and product consistency. Facilities that use cGMP are able to monitor their production and quickly recognize any issues that arise so customers are protected from manufacturing mistakes. It’s also important to choose products made in an FDA-registered facility that is available for regular inspection.