Every parent wants to make sure that they are as healthy as possible, and one of the best ways to ensure that is by following proper, pregnancy-specific nutrition guidelines. Even those folks who eat a tremendously well-balanced diet need some supplementation of vitamins and minerals, so all pregnant people are strongly encouraged to take a daily prenatal vitamin that contains a variety of critical nutrients. Here’s a general idea of what to look for:
This synthetic form of folate, is found naturally in foods like beans, nuts, and spinach. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant women get 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. But because it can be hard to get that much folate just from food alone, ACOG also recommends that pregnant women take a daily prenatal vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid (4 mg for those who are high-risk for neural tube defects), which helps cell and neural tube development. Most prenatal vitamins, however, may have closer to 800 mcg. Although you can buy prenatal vitamins that contain “folate,” folic acid is the only supplement that has been researched and shown to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects.
ACOG recommends that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron a day in their prenatal vitamin intake to help with blood development and oxygen transport. Iron can sometimes lead to constipation, which can be treated with over-the-counter stool softeners. People with iron-deficiency anemia may need additional iron, so talk to your health provider for more information.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that a prenatal vitamin contain at least 250 mg of calcium to help a fetus develop bones, and to prevent you from developing osteoporosis. Pregnant people should aim to consume 1000mg of calcium each day through foods like dairy, cooked leafy green vegetables, and some fish.
ACOG recommends that pregnant people get between 200-400 IUs (international units) of vitamin D in their prenatal, as it helps with healthy bone growth. All women should aim for at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day, and possibly more if you do not get much exposure to sunlight. This is one simple vitamin where testing to get a personal baseline level can be helpful. Higher levels of supplementation are safe and indicated when vitamin D deficiency is present.
The Mayo Clinic advises that a prenatal vitamin should contain at least 2 mg of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is sometimes also prescribed to help combat pregnancy nausea.
Though often overlooked in the pregnancy nutrient world, ACOG advises pregnant women to get at least 85 mg of vitamin C in their prenatal vitamin to help build a developing baby’s bones and muscles, and keep the mother’s immune system running strong.
An emerging nutrient, most prenatals now contain choline – which is tough to consume through diet alone. 450 mg per day is a typical recommendation.
Although many prenatal vitamins don’t contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid), DHA can be important for nervous system development, so most healthcare providers would recommend taking 200-300 mg a day if you’re unable to eat enough through dietary sources.
You should talk to your provider about any other supplementation you’re considering, and you should also avoid additional vitamin A supplements, as excess can be harmful in pregnancy. It can be tough to choose a prenatal, there are so many brands available and lots of flashy advertising and claims of effectiveness. Remember that “natural” is just a marketing term, and only vitamins with a USP checkmark are tested to verify that the ingredients and their levels are consistent with their label. When in doubt, your OB provider can always help with personalized suggestions.
- AK Sfakianaki. “Prenatal vitamins: A review of the literature on benefits and risks of various nutrient supplements.” Formulary Journal. ModernMedicine Network, January 31 2013. Retrieved July 1 2020.https://www.formularywatch.com/view/prenatal-vitamins-review-literature-benefits-and-risks-various-nutrient-supplements.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, May 1 2020. Retrieved July 1 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945.
- “Nutrition During Pregnancy: FAQ001.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, June 2020. Retrieved July 1 2020. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/pregnancy/nutrition-during-pregnancy.