How to Choose a Good Prenatal
This is one of the most common questions we get! It can be so overwhelming to dive into what seems like hundreds of brands. How do you know what to look for? How do you know what brands are trustworthy? Let’s dive in because the answer might surprise you!
What are you looking for?
Choline: This is one of the most important nutrients that pregnant people need, yet so many providers don’t share (or know?) that it is SO important! Many older docs don’t keep up with updated research and their patients pay the price! (This is a shameless plug for yet another reason to join The Birth Lounge so you have direct access to all updated research to make your own choices about your care + know what questions to discuss with your provider.) Choline is essential in brain and spinal cord development-- specifically the hippocampus which is involved in memory! Most pregnant women in the U.S. are not achieving choline intake recommendations of 450 mg/day. The yolk of eggs is very rich in choline! You can also get Choline from fish, nuts, & legumes! Be sure to get your daily Choline intake as a new Cornell University study suggests “When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient choline during pregnancy, their offspring gain enduring cognitive benefits.”
Folate or Folic Acid: This is a vitamin that helps support neural development and spine development. Sufficient amounts of it can prevent birth defects like anencephaly (baby is born without parts of their skull and brain--fatal) and spina bifida (parts of baby’s spine is exposed at birth--requires surgery). It is important to note the difference between the two. Folic Acid is synthetic (lab made) and is not the naturally occurring form of Folate. It’s very important to get adequate folate and to consume it everyday since your baby develops everyday. The CDC recommends every pregnant person consume 400 micrograms daily (there are a few risk factors to discuss with your provider to determine if you need an increased amount) and March of Dimes recommends 600mcg/day . You can get folate from food in broccoli, brussel sprouts, leafy greens, avocados, nuts/seeds, and eggs. Some fortified foods (confirm they are fortified with folic acid or folate) like cereals, breads, flours, and other processed grains can be a good source, too!
Iron: We know that iron levels are important in all humans--even outside of pregnancy. Iron is a mineral that helps prevent anemia and this is especially important in pregnancy. The risk of iron deficiency during pregnancy is extremely likely because as the baby grows, your blood volume changes and it becomes harder for your healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your whole body. Iron gives you energy and low iron levels can lead to an increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and postpartum depression. It is recommended to have 27mg per day while pregnant.
Vitamin K2: Vitamin K is involved in a lot--your baby will received vitamin K after birth to control bleeding and you need it in pregnancy because it supports bone health and heart health (think blood clotting, too). It helps prepare your body to absorb and use calcium, which builds and maintains bones (so you and your baby need this vitamin). A good source of Vitamin K is fortified cereal, brown rice, and eggs! You can also eat lots of leafy greens like brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli. Talk to your provider about the amount of Vitamin K you need in pregnancy based on your weight!
Magnesium: This is a magic mineral!! I use magnesium everyday and recommend people talk to their doctors about it, too! It has so many benefits in pregnancy like reducing your risk of preterm labor and pre-eclampsia! It also reduces anxiety and aids in better sleep! Magnesium helps regulate your body temperature and the formation of new tissue (maternal and fetal).
Iodine: Iodine supports healthy brain development (low levels have been linked to lower language skills) and your daily requirement of iodine increases during pregnancy. The World Health Organization calls the increase ‘substantial’ and recommends everyone consume iodized salt. They even say to talk to your provider because even iodized salt may not be enough. A 2008 study shares that iodization actually does matter. A 2015 study negated this in saying that we should be very careful with suggesting every pregnant person substantially increase their iodine intake because excess iodine can also have detrimental impacts (as does too little). The CDC (and American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends every pregnant and breastfeeding person consume 150 micrograms daily. Talk to your provider to make sure you are getting the recommended amount from your diet + prenatal.
Selenium: This is an essential element to our thyroid’s function and, like so many other things, it decreases in pregnancy. It plays a role in fertility and selenium deficiencies can be the reason for miscarriages or even damaged nervous systems of newborns. Talk to your doctor to make sure you are getting the correct amount of selenium!
What are brands you can trust?
To be honest, it matters a lot because not all prenatals are equal! We aren’t so much worried about the brand you choose, rather looking at how much of each vitamin and mineral you are getting each day. Also, we want to make sure they don’t have a bunch of fillers and unnecessary ingredients. This is a great resource to see everything you may see in prenatals, why you need it, and how much you need of each.
You’ll also want to consider your diet in this equation, but a lot vitamins and minerals require a large consumption of certain food groups (as in, more than what a typical person would eat) to get enough. My friend and Prenatal Nutritionist, Ryann Kipping (also the creator of The Prenatal Nutrition Library), says that her motto is always “Food first,” meaning try to get the majority of your daily vitamin/mineral consumption from the food you are eating before we turn to additional supplements.
What if you are taking a prenatal that has some of the crucial things, but not all?
Talk to your provider about supplementing! First, do some research on the amount of each vitamin and mineral you are supposed to have during pregnancy. Then, compare that to what is in your prenatal and journal what foods you eat each day for 14 days. Find the discrepancies and share that with your provider at your next doctor’s appointment so you can determine the best course of action to getting you the recommended intake of each essential vitamin and mineral needed for your baby’s development.
You can supplement things like iron, magnesium, and folate!
You can see the prenatals and supplement that we so often hear folks love right here! You can call these community favorites!
The Bottom Line
Choose a prenatal that feels most aligned with you and doesn’t make you feel icky! Don’t be afraid to test out various prenatals. If you think your prenatal is making you feel off/nauseas, please don’t continue to take them ‘because you have the whole bottle left.’ This is your body telling you that the current prenatal you’re taking isn’t a best fit for you.
Find a shelf stable prenatal that is certified third-party tested so you can be sure all the ingredients are what they claim to be and safe for consumption (rather than fillers). When you choose your prenatal, do your own research on any vitamins or minerals you may need to supplement with then ask your provider about additional supplements!
Ps. Always take your prenatal with food! Here’s one last really cool resource for you!