A person holding prenatal supplements in their hand.

What to look for in a prenatal supplement

There are no perfect or best prenatal supplements out there. Believe me – I’ve looked. But that’s expected, since a prenatal vitamin is meant only to supplement a healthy nutritious diet.

What to look for to find the “best” prenatal supplements for you

If you are trying to conceive, you may want to begin taking a prenatal vitamin at least three months before you hope to become pregnant. This can ensure you have enough vitamins and minerals stored in your body to get your pregnancy started on a healthy foot.

To help you save time at the store – where you could spend hours trying to decide which supplement is right for you – here is a list of the most important nutrients to look for in a prenatal vitamin:

  • Folic Acid – for preconception 400 mcg, for pregnancy 600-800 mcg: Folic acid is the most important vitamin to take while trying to conceive, since ensuring you are getting folic acid for at least one month prior to conception will help reduce the risk of birth defects, complications and pregnancy loss.
  • Iron – 27 mg: Iron while TTC is important to reduce the risk of pregnancy anemia. Take this along with Vitamin C to increase absorption. Take note: gummy vitamins usually do not contain iron.
  • Calcium – 1000 mg: Because calcium and iron should not be taken at the same time, you may want to take a separate calcium supplement or focus on calcium-rich foods throughout the day, like dairy, dark leafy greens, and fortified juices. Your body will best absorb calcium with Vitamin D, and in doses of 500 mg or less.
  • Vitamin D – 400-600 IU: Not only does Vitamin D help absorb calcium, but it also helps support a healthy immune system! Double whammy!
  • Choline – 450 mg: Similar to folic acid, choline helps protect infants from developmental defects.
  • Iodine – for preconception 150 mcg, for pregnancy 220 mcg: Adequate iodine early in pregnancy can help prevent hypothyroidism for the baby.
  • Vitamin B6 – 1.9 mg: Taken before and during pregnancy, B6 can reduce the risk and severity of morning sickness. It is also important for metabolism and neurological development.
  • Vitamin A – 4000-5000 IU: Look for Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, and do not take more than 10,000 IU per day, as this can increase the risk of birth defects. Many prenatal vitamins sold today contain between 3000-5000 IU.
  • Zinc – 11 mg: An important mineral for reducing oxidative stress, zinc may be important for fertility in women (and men!).
  • DHA – 200 mg: This essential omega-3 fatty acid is important for baby’s brain development, so many prenatal vitamins are now offering this in their formulas. If you are not eating at least 3 servings of fish per week you should ask your doctor if you need to take an omega-3 supplement.

Other tips to help choose the right supplements

Check the serving size! Some vitamins are monster pills that are meant to take once per day, while others split the dose to several pills to be taken throughout the day. Either is fine, but look at the supplement facts label to be sure you are taking your vitamin correctly.

Some prenatals may contain extra B6 or ginger to help combat morning sickness, or probiotics and herbal blends to soothe your stomach. These may be a nice addition, but aren’t necessary for fertility or healthy fetal development.

Finally, vitamins are not inspected for quality, safety or effectiveness by the FDA. Each manufacturer is responsible for testing their own products. You can consider purchasing products that have been tested by a third party, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International or Consumer Lab.

Even though this may be a lot to consider, any prenatal you choose will be fine, as long as it has enough folic acid and you are eating a well-balanced diet. If you are still unsure which prenatal vitamin is right for you, talk with your healthcare provider.

About the author:
Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.

  • Kaiser LL, Campbell CG. Practice Paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Abstract: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2014; 7:1099-1103
  • Nutrition During Pregnancy. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
  • Office of Dietary Supplements – Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.
  • Information for Consumers on Using Dietary Supplements. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/UsingDietarySupplements/default.htm Accessed May 31, 2017.

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