What’s in a prenatal vitamin?

During pregnancy, it’s extremely important to meet daily nutritional recommendations, but it can be difficult to track the nutrients in your food. Women are encouraged to take a prenatal vitamin while they’re trying to conceive or once they’re pregnant, to ensure that they aren’t accidentally misplacing any important pieces in their dietary ‘puzzle.’

Why take a prenatal vitamin instead of a regular one?

Prenatal vitamins are designed to replenish certain vitamins and minerals that the body uses up during pregnancy – specifically iron and folic acid. The biggest difference between prenatal vitamins and regular multivitamins is that prenatal vitamins contain much more of these two nutrients than regular multivitamins.

Folic acid

Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is unique in that women are encouraged to start taking it even before they become pregnant. Folic acid is crucial for developing fetuses. Not only does it support neural tube development (which turns into the brain and spinal cord), but it also decreases the likelihood of serious birth defects that can arise in the very early stages of pregnancy, so the earlier it’s taken, the better.

Pregnant women are usually advised to take about 400-800 mcg of folic acid daily.


Iron is an essential mineral for pregnancy, as it helps build red blood cells for both mom and baby, which transport oxygen throughout the body. It also strengthens the body, helping it fight weakness and fatigue, and chronic disease. Iron has been shown to protect against low birth weight and reduce rates of premature delivery.

Pregnant women are advised to get at least 27 mg of iron per day.

What else to look for in a prenatal vitamin

Prenatal vitamins include other nutrients too, and it’s important to supplement your diet with the following:

  • Calcium
    Calcium builds and strengthens bones, helps blood form clots, and facilitates nerve and muscle activity. However, most prenatals only contain between 150 and 300 mg of calcium, so it’s important to get more calcium elsewhere.
    Recommended pregnancy intake: 1,000 mg for women over the age of 19; 1300 mg for women under age 19
  • Vitamin D
    This vitamin strengthens your bones and teeth, and allows your body to absorb calcium.
    Recommended pregnancy intake: 600 IU a day
  • Iodine
    Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine, so it’s important to also supplement your diet with iodine. Iodine helps the body make hormones and assists in fetal nervous system development, though it’s generally not recommended to take a separate iodine supplement.
    Recommended pregnancy intake: 220 mcg per day

Prenatal vitamins also generally contain plenty of other vitamins and minerals as well, like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as several B-vitamins. They may also contain minerals like selenium, magnesium, and others, as well as coenzymes like CoQ10.

Taking the time and effort to choose a well-rounded prenatal vitamin will ensure that mom and baby are getting all the nutrition that they need, at such a critical time for development. It’s important to check with your healthcare provider before you begin any sort of nutrition regimen, and with their approval and input you’ll be able to know what vitamins you specifically need.

While a healthy diet is always the best way to get vitamins and minerals, prenatal vitamins deliver a few essential nutrients that will provide positive, long-term effects in your pregnancy.

  • “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
  • Anna K. Sfakianaki, MD, MPH. “Prenatal vitamins: A review of the literature on benefits and risks of various nutrient supplements.” ModernMedicine. UBM Medica LLC., Jan 2013. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Prenatal Vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Sep 2016. Web.
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