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How to choose the best prenatal vitamin

Last Modified: March 05, 2018

Women & Children


Pregnant? Thinking about becoming pregnant? Sakina Zaheer, PharmD candidate, Purdue University College of Pharmacy, and Abby Todt, PharmD, BCPS, tell us the basics on prenatal vitamins, from a pharmaceutical perspective.

During pregnancy, the body needs higher amounts of certain nutrients to ensure the baby is healthy. Prenatal vitamins usually have higher amounts of vitamins and minerals that are needed for healthy growth of the baby.

When should I start taking a prenatal vitamin and how long should I take it?

If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, start taking a prenatal vitamin at least three months before you conceive. If you think you are pregnant and are not taking a prenatal vitamin, start taking one right away, even before you see your doctor. You should take your vitamin throughout your entire pregnancy. Some doctors also recommend continuing it after the baby is born, especially if you are breastfeeding.  

What should I look for in a prenatal vitamin?
  • Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important in pregnancy. Pregnant women need higher amounts of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. These are major birth defects that affect the baby’s brain and spine. It is recommended that pregnant women get at least 600 mcg of folic acid every day during their pregnancy.
  • Every person needs iron to make sure their red blood cells can carry oxygen around the body, but pregnant women need more to supply oxygen to the baby. Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily. If your body is not used to taking iron, you may get constipation as a side effect. You can take a daily stool softener to help with this.
  • The baby needs calcium and vitamin D to build bones and teeth. Vitamin D is also needed for healthy skin and eyesight. Pregnant women should get 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D every day.
  • DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that helps the baby’s brain and eyes develop. Look for a prenatal vitamin that helps you get 200 mg of DHA every day.
What is the difference between prescription and over-the-counter prenatal vitamins?

Most prenatal vitamins have the nutrients recommended in pregnancy. However, prescription products often have more folic acid. Prescription prenatal vitamins may also contain a form of iron that is less likely to upset your stomach.

Some women find it easier to take gummy prenatal vitamins instead of pills. It is important to know that the gummies do not have iron, so these women should also take an iron supplement.

You might also think about the cost. Some insurance policies cover prescription prenatal vitamins, but not over-the-counter (OTC) products. If insurance does not cover it, an OTC product may be a better option.

The bottom line:

Not all prenatal vitamins are the same. Talk to your doctor about which product is best for you. You can also talk to your local pharmacist for help finding a prenatal vitamin that meets your needs and your budget.

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