How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

There are so many prenatal vitamins out there!
  • Do you ever wonder how to find out that is right for you?
  • Which are the best nutrients?
  • How much do you really need?
  • Are there certain nutrients you don’t need?
  • Does it matter how they are made or in which form each vitamin is in?

    Choosing a prenatal vitamin can be a confusing task and we are here to help! As moms ourselves we went through it too when we were pregnant. Pouring through and understanding all about prenatal vitamins. It also helped that we are a certified clinical nutritionist and a certified nurse midwife, we have been working with pregnant women for over 16 years and are here to provide you with this necessary and important information. No more guessing... here is exactly what you need to know without the fluff.

    Folate vs Folic Acid

    One of the most known and researched nutrients for prenatal care is folate. It is often referred to as Folic Acid. Folate is important for the nervous system and to prevent a myriad of birth defects. While the RDA for folate is 600mcg, we recommend at least 800 mcg (though a bit more can be even more beneficial) to make sure you get enough of this very important nutrient. The form of folate is also imperative. It comes in a form that is synthetic (known as folic acid) and natural known as folate. As you can probably imagine, the natural form is way better. If you are one of the 65% of people that has an MTHFR mutation, the synthetic form of folate is actually bad for you. (It sits on the receptor and blocks it which then doesn’t allow folate to get in. Those with MTHFR can’t convert the synthetic to the natural form and accumulate the synthetic form which leads to various side effects). However even if you don’t have a MTHFR genetic mutation, synthetic folic acid is not good because it blocks the folate receptors and should be avoided.

    How do you know if your prenatal has natural or synthetic folate?

    Take a look at the back label. If it says folic acid, it is synthetic and you would want to avoid that vitamin. If it says folate, it is natural. Within the folate category, there are also a few different types. The best is going to be 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, methyl folate and glucosamine salt of 6S- 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate. Yes we know, its quite the tongue twister, but it’s the most natural form and matches the form your body knows how to use best. The better quality prenatal vitamins use this natural folate froms from known trademark manufacturers such as Metafolin or our personal favorite Quatrefolic. If you see that on the label, you know you have a trusted and natural brand. 

    Omega 3 - aka DHA and EPA

    The next important nutrient is DHA and EPA. It is not often given as much attention as it should, but it is absolutely imperative in pregnancy. DHA and EPA are essential fatty acids called Omega 3s. They are essential for the developing brain and nervous system as well as eye development. There are countless studies showing the benefits of DHA and EPA in pregnancy and lactation and the valuable effects it has on the growing baby.

    Benefits of Omega 3’s

    • DHA and EPA promote optimal brain development and function, vision and psychomotor development.
    • DHA and EPA help to reduce risk of premature delivery.
    • DHA helps to reduce postpartum depression related to DHA depletion.

    DHA and EPA helps support the significant brain growth occurring prior to 5 years of age, as well as optimal brain function, learning, attention, mood, and control of hyperactivity. DHA may alleviate specific autistic behaviors in regards to social interactions when supplemented along with AA. 

    We recommend DHA/EPA as soon as you find out you are pregnant and continue through the postpartum period. 

    Just like all the other nutrients, not all DHA/EPA is created equal and many fall short when it comes to quality, purity and adequate dosage. Most DHA/EPA is found in the ethel esther form which is synthetic and far less superior. It does not absorb as well as the pure triglyceride oil form and can lead to nausea and the "fish-burp" factor.  

    What to look for in a Omega 3 - DHA/EPA

    Look for DHA/EPA that comes in a triglyceride form. Ideally, the triglyceride count should be as high as possible, 90-100% when available.

    DHA should be a minimum of 350 mg (though of course a bit more is even better and we like 500 mg) and EPA should be at least 100 mg.

    Furthermore, because our oceans are unfortunately polluted, it is important that your DHA/EPA come from a pure source and is distilled and filtered in a proper and safe way to ensure purity and should be tested to not contain any heavy metals, PCB’s and other toxins.

    Vitamin B12 is another important one and your prenatal should contain an adequate level of this nutrient as it helps to support the nervous system and energy levels. B12 should be in the active form which means it should be methylated. 

    What do look for in a B12

    Look for B12 in the form of methylcobalamin. This form is active and methylated. Avoid the synthetic form which is Cyanocobalamin. Look for a dosage of at least 75mcg with ideal levels around 100 mcg.

    Your prenatal should have adequate levels of Calcium. Calcium is a mineral that supports bones and teeth for the mother and for the forming skeleton of the baby. Calcium varies by quality and most lower end vitamins use calcium carbonate which does not absorb very well.

    What to look for in a Calcium

    Look for Calcium in the malate of glycinate form and ideally it should be chelated. Our favorite trademarks for chelated minerals are dimaCal and Albion. Avoid calcium carbonate. Look for a dosage of 150 mg of higher.

    Magnesium is another important mineral and it works together with calcium to help bones but also supports muscles, relaxation, stress and blood pressure.

    What to look for in a Magnesium

    Magnesium is best in the malate of glyciante form that is chelated just like calcium. Dosages of at least 100 mg are recommended.

    Zinc is essential for DNA replication which happens every minute as your baby is forming. It is also important for proper growth and immune system support.

    What to look for in a Zinc

    Zinc should be chelated and some of our favorite trade mark zincs are from TRAACS. Your vitamin should have a minimum of 15 mg of zinc and a bit more is always a benefit.

    Other important minerals are Selenium, Chromium, Iodine, Copper, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Potassium.

    What to look for in these minerals

    These should ideally be chelated for best absorption and TRAACS provides some of the best raw materials for these minerals that we have found.

    Here are the ideal recommended dosage ranges:

    Selenium 200 mcg
    Chromium 175 -200 mcg
    Iodine 75-125 mcg
    Copper .5-1 mg

    Manganese 2 mg Molybdenum 50-150 mg Potassium 50-75 mg

    In addition to the needed folate and B12, other B vitamins are needed to round out the B vitamin family. 

    What to look for in B Vitamins

    Vitamin B6 should be a blend of pyridoxine as well as the phosphorylated P5P form – 20 mg total

    Vitamin B1 as Thiamin – 10 mg
    Vitamin B2 as Riboflavin 10 mg or more
    Vitamin B3 as Niacin 10 mg or more
    Biotin for healthy hair and nails – minimum of 200 mcg B5 as Pantothentic acid 30 mg or more

    Vitamin A is important but too much vitamin A in the form of retinol palmitate can be dangerous in pregnancy.

    What to look for in vitamin A

    Look for the beta carotene form as this is water soluble and will not accumulate like the retinol palmitate can. 500-1000 mg

    Vitamin E is an important antioxidant but like other needs to be natural for best absorption and effectiveness.

    What to look for in vitamin E

    Look for the natural form which is labeled as d-alpha tocopherol or mixed tocopherols. Avoid the synthetic form which is labeled as dl-alpha tocopherol. (it looks very similar but notice the “l” after the d. If you see that in your vitamins, you will want to look for a different type that has the natural vitamin E for instead.

    Vitamin D is another important nutrient. If you live in the northern hemisphere, vitamin D is even more essential for you in the winter months, however even if you live down south or on the west coast, vitamin D deficiency can still be very common. 

    What to look for in Vitamin D

    Look for the natural form which is D3 and labeled as cholecalciferol and avoid the synthetic D2 which is labeled as ergocalciferol. We recommend 2000 IU though you may need to supplement with extra vitamin D in addition to your prenatal if you live in the northern hemisphere and your blood vitamin D levels are below 30.

    Vitamin K should always be included when taking vitamin D and is important for blood and proper clotting.

    What to look for in Vitamin K

    There is K1 and K2. K1 is typically made from you intestinal bacteria and is not as important as K2 which is harder to acquire. We recommend K2 in the form of menaquinone-7 and there is tons of research on its benefits at a dosage of at least 75 mcg.

    Vitamin C is important for supporting the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant.

    What to look for in Vitamin C

    The above are the essentials nutrients that your prenatal should have. If your vitamin has a bit more than what is listed, that is absolutely ok, but do not settle for ones that have less as it may not be enough and you and your baby can be missing out on important nutrients. Please be sure to look at the form of each nutrient to ensure that your prenatal is using the most active and natural form of each vitamin so you get the most benefit from it.

    As you can see there is quite a bit that is required for optimal pregnancy support. All these nutrients can do amazing things for your body and your developing baby. Don’t be alarmed if your “one a day” or prescription vitamin does not measure up.

    It is pretty impossible to fit all of these goodies in one pill. Most better quality vitamins that include everything you need have a dosage of 3-6 pills per day. This is a good thing. You can take then all together or split the dosage throughout the day to make it easier for you.

    Also, don’t be alarmed if you can’t find a prenatal that has DHA in the same pill. This is quite rare as its hard to mix the liquid and solids together. You will most likely need a separate DHA gelcap in addition to your prenatal. But don’t worry, they are very easy to swallow and your baby will thank you.

    Helpful additions

    While you are not required to have anything additional, if your prenatal has whole foods such as various fruits and veggies added, that is always a plus. Please be sure that the whole foods are added and are not the whole vitamin because if that is the case, it will likely not have enough of each nutrient.

    Antioxidants such as Co Enzyme Q10, resveratrol and polyphenols are all welcome additions. Ginger has been studied to help nausea and is always a helpful addition to a prenatal vitamin.

    Be on the look out

    Make sure you are on a look out for brands that have multiple herbs. While some herbs are safe in pregnancy, others are not studied. Mixing too many herbs may be contraindicated and we do not recommend them in a prenatal.

    Your prenatal vitamins are supporting you and your developing baby so you want them to be as natural as possible. Look for brands that use NON-GMO ingredients, do NOT have preservatives, sugars, artificial flavors or colors, gluten or yeast.


    Why you don't need it.  Iron should never be taken with calcium because iron will bind to calcium making both unabsorbable. Therefore, a prenatal should never have both calcium and iron together. Since calcium is what most women are deficient in in pregnancy (more than iron);  It is best to take a prenatal with calcium and then add in iron only if you become deficient in pregnancy. Only about 9% of women will actually need iron outside of their diet in pregnancy.  Many of these women who need supplemental iron have diets lacking in iron rich foods, such as women with severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and those with dietary restrictions from iron rich foods. 

    Feel free to reach out to us directly with any questions you may have about how to choose a us at