Last modified on March 12th, 2023
Prenatal vitamins are incredibly important for women to take, not just when they are actually pregnant, but even if they are thinking of becoming pregnant or are actively trying to get pregnant. The most important vitamin you should take during pregnancy and ensure is in your prenatal vitamin selection is folic acid or folate, but there are other important ones a well.
We review the best prenatal vitamins, to help you as you make the important decision for your health and the health of your unborn child.
What Are Prenatal Vitamins?
A prenatal vitamin will provide you with the vitamins and minerals you need while trying to get pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.
As mentioned, folic acid is the most important ingredient in a prenatal vitamin.
Folic acid is a B-vitamin, and it’s required by the cells in all of our bodies to facilitate growth and development. It’s advised that you take 400 mcg of folic acid each day at least a month before you become pregnant, and every day during your pregnancy.
Taking a folic acid supplement can help reduce the risk of what are called neural tube defects, which are problems with a baby’s spine and brain.
The majority of your vitamins and minerals should come from the food you eat, but that can be challenging even when you aren’t pregnant. If you are pregnant, it can be even tougher because you may have food aversions or morning sickness.
For most women, if there are any side effects of prenatal vitamins, they’re mild. You may feel nauseous when taking them, or you might get constipated. If you experience these side effects, switching brands and products can usually help quite a bit.
Prenatal vitamins are also unique from other multivitamins because they tend to have more calcium and iron than regular vitamins, in addition to folic acid.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Pregnancy
It’s fairly common for pregnant women not to get the recommended amount of vitamins and nutrients.
There was a study included in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with data from 2001 to 2014, and it found that a significant portion of the pregnant women they looked at had significantly low levels of magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and iron.
Some of the women were also deficient in vitamins A, B and C, calcium folate, and zinc.
Vitamin deficiencies can restrict the growth of a fetus because a mother is feeding her baby through what she’s consuming.
One big issue often faced by pregnant women is anemia.
Anemia is a low red blood cell count.
Being anemic is one reason why pregnant women may feel very tired and low-energy during their pregnancy.
If a pregnant woman is anemic during her pregnancy and then experiences blood loss during delivery, it can turn into a life-threatening situation.
Anemia can also contribute to low birth weight or even fetal death.
Most Important Vitamins During Pregnancy
The following are some of the most important vitamins and minerals pregnant women need, and this can serve as a guide as you choose a prenatal vitamin.
- Calcium: You need 1,000 mg a day if you’re between the ages of 19 and 50. It’s important to help build your baby’s bones and teeth.
- Iron: The recommended daily amount of iron each day is 27 milligrams. You need it so that your red blood cells are able to deliver oxygen to your baby effectively.
- Vitamin A: 770 mg of vitamin A is recommended each day, to help your baby’s skin and eyes, and to promote your baby’s bone growth.
- Vitamin C: For pregnant women, the recommended amount of daily vitamin C is 85 mg. For your baby, it helps with healthy gums, bones and teeth and it also helps your body better absorb iron.
- Vitamin D: The recommended daily amount of vitamin D during pregnancy is 600 IU. Vitamin D helps your baby’s bones and teeth and vitamin D is important for healthy skin and eyesight. We’re also increasingly learning about vitamin D’s positive effects on our immune system.
- Vitamin B6: You should aim for around 1.9 mg of vitamin B6 daily when you’re pregnant, and it helps with the formation of red blood cells. Vitamin B6 also helps your body use carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
- Vitamin B12: This other important B vitamin helps your nervous system stay healthy, and it’s required to form red blood cells. Aim for around 2.6 mcg a day of vitamin B12 during pregnancy.
- Folic Acid: This is such an important nutrient for pregnant women to prevent neural tube birth defects. You should get at least 600 mcg a day when you’re pregnant.
The Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins
If you’re unsure whether or not you should take prenatal vitamins, consider some of the following potential benefits of doing so:
- Even when you eat a very healthy diet, it can be challenging to get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. No one eats the nutritionally perfect diet each day, and when you’re pregnant and experiencing symptoms like morning sickness, a well-balanced diet can be even more challenging. While a prenatal supplement isn’t going to do all the work for you in terms of vitamins and nutrients, it can fill in the gaps quite a bit.
- There’s some evidence prenatal vitamins may actually help reduce nausea you experience. Vitamin B6 in particular is known to help with symptoms of morning sickness. If you take a multivitamin with at least 10 mcg of vitamin B6 even before you conceive, you may experience less nausea during your first trimester.
- This has been mentioned several times, but the importance can’t be overstated—vitamins are necessary to reduce the risk of birth defects. Folic acid and B12 in adequate amounts before conception and the early stages of your pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Folic acid may also help reduce the risk congenital heart defects.
- Some studies have shown that if you take prenatal vitamins regularly both before you’re pregnant and during your pregnancy your child may be at a lower risk of having autism spectrum disorder.
- Having a prenatal vitamin that you regularly use throughout your pregnancy is linked to a reduced risk of preterm birth. Vitamin B12 is especially important in this way because B12 deficiency is believed to be linked to preterm birth and lower birth weight.
- Iron which is usually included in prenatal vitamins, helps your body make the blood that then supplies oxygen to the fetus, supporting the development of both the placenta and the fetus.
How to Choose the Best Prenatal Vitamin
The following are important things to consider as you choose the best prenatal vitamin:
- If you aren’t sure where to begin as far as choosing the best prenatal vitamin, you might want to ask your health care provider who will likely have suggestions for you.
- You should look for a prenatal that has folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D in particular.
- Your doctor may also recommend that you supplement with certain vitamins or nutrients in higher doses depending on your needs and your health.
- Don’t take higher doses of a prenatal vitamin than what you need or what you’re instructed to take. Overdoing it on vitamins can be harmful. For example, if you take too much vitamin A when you’re pregnant it can be harmful to the developing baby.
- Sometimes you may find that a certain prenatal vitamin gives you side effects like nausea or constipation. If so, you may want to change brands because a lot of women find that helps. You may also want to experiment with capsules and tablets and see which works best out of those options.
- You might think about looking for a prenatal that has omega-3 fatty acids or add that to your supplements on its own. This may help boost your baby’s brain development and you might especially need to supplement if you don’t eat a lot of foods that are high in omega-3s like fish.
- When choosing the best prenatal vitamin, try to find one that has an independent seal of approval. Three of the organizations that offer independent seals of approvals for the best prenatal vitamins are United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and Consumer Lab.
- If you do find that taking your prenatal vitamin makes you nauseous even if you switch brands, try taking it with a meal or snack. Having a vitamin with more B6 can also help since it helps with nausea.
- If you experience symptoms like gas, diarrhea, or constipation with your prenatal, it could be because of the iron in the pill. Try to up your water and fiber intake or perhaps ask your doctor if you could do a supplement without iron. Another option would be using a liquid iron or a slow-release iron separately that’s easier on the digestive system.
The MTHFR Gene and Folic Acid
There is a unique consideration to keep in mind when choosing the best prenatal supplement, which is the MTHFR gene. The MTHFR gene instructs your body on how to make the MTHFR protein, which is used by your body to process folate. Your body requires folate for the production of DNA and to modify proteins, and it’s also needed during pregnancy.
If you have the gene variant, you might take a supplement with folate instead of folic acid. However, you should also know that taking a folic acid supplement can help prevent neural tube defects even if you have the MTHFR variant. However, if you’ve already had a baby with a neural tube defect or you have other conditions, your doctor might advise you to take more than the standard recommended dose of 400 mcg.
Folic acid is a human-made version of folate, while folate is a naturally-occurring nutrient that comes from food. Methylated folate is the most bioavailable form of folate, and that may help your body better absorb it.
Top 6 Best Prenatal Vitamins
These are our picks for the best prenatal vitamins, along with details of why each is included in this ranking and review.
Mama Bird AM PM Prenatal Multi+Methylfolate
Best For: Digestive Health and Comfort
The Mama Bird AM/PM prenatal is a wonderful supplement in so many ways.
It’s a vitamin that contains organic herbs, a digestive enzyme blend, probiotics, and all the vitamins and minerals that are recommended for pregnant women. You take two servings a day to help your energy levels.
- The Mama Bird vitamin contains choline, which has been shown to help neurodevelopment in babies and it plays a role in memory and attention
- Mama Bird has methylated vitamins, which are the active forms naturally found in our bodies so that you can better absorb all the important nutrients.
- Easy-to-swallow and gentle even on an empty stomach
- Doesn’t have soy, yeast, fish/shellfish, GMOs, artificial colors or flavors, nuts or dairy or lactose
- Vegan with vitamin D from lichen instead of animal sources
- Includes probiotics to boost immunity
The Mama Bird AM/PM is an innovative prenatal vitamin for several reasons. There’s something called methylation that sets this prenatal supplement apart.
Methylation is the production of methyl groups. Because of stress, age, lack of sleep and the MTHFR variant, many women experience methyl group depletion. However, using methylated vitamins can improve your own memory, energy, mood and sleep quality as well as helping support the neuro-development of your baby.
If you have MTHFR, your body can’t process folic acid, which is why this is especially relevant when choosing a prenatal vitamin.
Pink Stork Liquid Prenatal Vitamins
Best For: Women Who Don’t Want to Swallow Pills or Capsules
The Pink Stork vitamin is a great option if you have a hard time with pills or capsules. It’s a liquid multivitamin, and it’s from a women-owned company.
We love liquid vitamins in general because they absorb into the bloodstream faster and more effectively than pills.
- Includes iron, zinc and vitamin C and the iron is non-constipating
- Also includes elderberry for immune support
- Free of GMOs, gluten, sugar, animal products, preservatives and more
- Whole food complex with fruits and vegetables to help give your health a boost holistically
According to reviews, the Pink Stork Liquid Prenatal has been a life-saver for many women who use it because it was the only one that didn’t give them nausea. It also helps make up for nutritional deficiencies because of the whole food inclusions in the product.
Reviews also say that taking this prenatal made a big difference in energy levels and it’s a good option for women with pre-existing gastrointestinal issues that could make it hard for them to absorb a pill or capsule.
Nature Made Prenatal Multivitamin
Best For: Affordability
Nature Made is a well-known vitamin and supplement company with a long history and a positive reputation. Their Nature Made Prenatal Multivitamin includes 200 mg of DHA as well, to help boost your baby’s brain development.
Each package includes 110 vitamins, and the price is relatively low compared to other top prenatal vitamins.
- You only have to take one softgel a day, rather than three which is the common dosage with other prenatal vitamins
- Includes omega-3 fatty acids including DHA and EPA for brain development
- Including DHA in the formulation of this best prenatal vitamin also helps with the absorption of the folic acid and the iron
- Includes a full vitamin profile including all eight B vitamins, vitamin C and the fat-soluble vitamins which include A, D, E and K
Some prenatal vitamins can be very expensive, and the Nature Made product isn’t. We also like the addition of DHA and omega-3s so you don’t have to buy an additional supplement. You only take this product once a day, making it easy to keep up with.
Reviews say that they feel it gives them a good bang for their buck, and it doesn’t give them negative side effects.
Do be aware that some reviews say it has a fishy smell, however.
SmartyPants Prenatal Formula Daily Gummy Multivitamin
Best For: Brain Development
SmartyPants has a full range of vitamins, many of which are for children. Their Prenatal Formula is an excellent product with everything you’ll need to stay healthy during your pregnancy and to promote the healthy development of your baby.
- The SmartyPants prenatal formula includes high-quality ingredients you don’t find in all prenatals like beta carotene, vitamin K2 and choline
- The gummy formulation is easy to take and has a pleasant taste
- Each serving includes omega-3 EPA and DHA essential fatty acids for fetal development as well as immune health and energy levels
- Includes selenium to support thyroid health and metabolism
- Iodine is included in the SmartyPants Prenatal which supports brain development and development of the fetal nervous system
We like all the different ingredients included in this formulation as well as the fact that it’s a gummy, which is much easier to take for many pregnant women. These gummies are 3rd party lab tested and they include 18 essential nutrients including folate, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
SmartyPants vitamins don’t include GMOs, and they’re gluten and allergen-free. The formula also receives the Clean Label Project’s Purity Award, which is the highest available rating for purity and value.
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal Vitamin
Best for: Making Up for Nutritional Gaps
As we’ve discussed, when you’re pregnant, it can be tough to get all the necessary nutrients and vitamins from the food you eat for different reasons, including nausea and food aversions.
The Garden of Life Prenatal Vitamin tries to remedy this problem because it’s a multivitamin that provides nutritional support for both baby and mom.
- Made from organically grown raw fruits and vegetables to add antioxidants as well as cofactors that boost absorption
- Includes a blend of enzymes and probiotics for healthy digestion
- Can be taken with or without food
- Third-party certified Non-GMO Project Verified, NSF Gluten-Free and Kosher
- Includes folate rather than synthetic folic acid
- Gentle iron for heart and blood health
This is a natural product that doesn’t include binders or fillers, and the Garden of Life company is known for quality. The Garden of Life vitamin offers support before you conceive, during pregnancy, and during lactation.
The formulation includes vitamin D3 to help with calcium absorption and 100% of the daily recommended value of vitamins C, E, and B-complex. It includes 23 fruits and vegetables as well.
Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin
Best For: The MTHFR Gene
The Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin includes more than 25 vitamins along with DHA and EPA. It’s a good value because it comes with a 3-month supply, and the product is made in the U.S.
- Made in an FDA-approved facility
- Includes micro and macronutrients including B vitamins, iron and calcium
- The formulation includes naturally sourced EPA, DHA and omega-3 for brain development
- 100% natural folic acid
- Digestive support because of the inclusion of natural probiotics
One thing that we like the most about the Actif Organic Prenatal Vitamin is the inclusion of 100% organic folate, which is the most effective form of folic acid. It also includes ingredients like spirulina and chlorella for full nutritional support.
According to reviews, it’s an easy to swallow prenatal vitamin, and it doesn’t have any smell or side effects for most users.
This supplement may also work well for people with the MTHFR gene because their body doesn’t metabolize folic acid. The vitamins, with their form of folic acid, take care of that.
Above, we ranked some of our choices for the best prenatal vitamins, focused primarily on the ingredients. During pregnancy, while a healthy diet is the best way to get vitamins and nutrients, it’s not always easy. You may be feeling sick and have changes in your appetite. The best prenatals include all necessary nutrients including minerals, as well as folic acid which prevents neural tube defects. You might also want a vitamin with iron, because iron needs increase during pregnancy and anemia is somewhat common.
It’s fine to take prenatals when you’re not pregnant, because they are ultimately just multivitamins. Be careful about your iron intake, however, if you’re taking a prenatal supplement that contains iron. You can get too much and prenatals often have iron because anemia is common during pregnancy and pregnant women’s iron needs increase.
Prenatal vitamins are simply a way to make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you and the baby need during pregnancy. They may be formulated with specific ingredients in mind, especially folic acid or folate. It’s essential to get enough of this nutrient during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects.
Prenatals don’t increase fertility directly, but nutritional support can help promote the liklihood of becoming pregnant. Additionally, taking prenatals before you’re pregnant isn’t a bad idea, because they help your pregnancy and reduce complications. The recommendation is to begin a prenatal supplement around three months before you plan to try to become pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins are incredibly important and offer essential nutrition for you and your developing baby. If you’re unsure where to start as far as choosing the best prenatal vitamin, speak to your health care provider to ensure you’re getting everything you need and make up for any gaps in your nutrition during this time.