Last week I briefly touched on prenatal vitamins, but I wanted to devote a whole post to this important topic. Eating well and making smart nutrition choices during pregnancy is important, but try as you may, there are certain nutrients that you may not get enough of that are important for the normal growth and development of your baby and your health as well.

If you are reading this post before becoming pregnant, all the better because it is ideal to prepare your body for conception by taking a prenatal even when you are just thinking about becoming pregnant. Certain nutrients (like folic acid) are especially critical during the time between conception and a positive pregnancy test so it is important that they are circulating in your blood at appropriate levels well before you conceive. Research also shows that taking prenatal vitamins may help in the prevention of a low birth weight baby.

Week 6 Vitamin Collage

For many moms, the first question is usually whether to pick an over-the-counter variety or to get a prescription from your care provider. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to a picking a prenatal is to figure out which one works with your tummy and go with it! You will find that some varieties just don’t sit well with your stomach and you need to find something that you can take daily without dread. The best way to do this is through good old trial and error. When I was pregnant the first time, I found that Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA worked for me and I’m sticking with it this time around too. I wish it had more calcium and choline (more on that below), but I drink a lot of milk (calcium) and eat a lot of eggs (choline), so it works for me.

Please don’t go spend a small fortune investing in different brands of prenatals. First, call your care provider and ask if they have samples that you could pick up. If your provider is anything like mine, you might walk away with a haul like one pictured below. Next, ask your friends and relatives who are taking or who have recently taken prenatals. What brands do they recommend? Purchase small bottles of one or two of their suggestions. Then, try your options one at a time (make sure to set aside the package so you know which one you are testing!). Does it sit well? Do you get an upset stomach? Don’t be afraid to move on to the next variety, there are plenty of options to try!

I was stunned at the size of the bag they gave me when they asked "do you want some samples?"

I was stunned at the size of the bag they gave me when they asked “do you want some samples?”

Nutrients to Look For

When it comes to the nutrients in prenatal vitamins, the Nutrition Facts panel will read like the alphabet. While each of these nutrients has an important role, keep a particular eye out for the ones below:

Nutrient Amount Function
Folic Acid 400 mcg This vital nutrient helps in the development of the brain and spinal cord and is important in the prevention of neural tube birth defects.
Iron 30 mg Iron carries oxygen in the blood and low iron during pregnancy can lead to increased tiredness. You are already tired enough – get your iron.
Calcium 200-300 mg As your baby develops he will need calcium from your stores (that’s your bones!) in order to develop his skeleton. Just one of the many ways you’ll be sacrificing for your child!
Vitamin D 400 IU Much like calcium, vitamin D is critical for bone health – both your baby’s and yours.
Choline 50+ mg Much like folic acid, choline helps in brain development and may help prevent neural tube birth defects. Many prenatal vitamins don’t contain choline so it might be hard to find one, but it is worth a look. Note: the recommendation for choline is 450 mg/day for pregnant women, but no supplement will have this much so be sure to eat foods like eggs, meat and fish as well.
DHA 200 mg Not all prenatal vitamins include DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help with brain development. Some folks argue the results are mixed regarding the beneficial effects of DHA, but DHA is good for you regardless, so what have you got to lose?

A Few More Tips for Taking Your Prenatal

  • Don’t take it on an empty stomach – I’ve had the most success when I take my vitamin a few bites in to a meal or right at the very end. Trust me when I say I’ve had a “porcelain throne” moment when not following this rule and one of my favorite bloggers describes a similar “rookie mistake.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.
  • Even if you’ve had a snack, don’t take your vitamin right before bed – In my experience, this can lead to crazy heartburn and/or nausea.
  • Set an appointment in your phone for the same time every day to remind yourself to take your vitamin. Pregnancy brain has been known to do a number on even the sharpest of memories!
  • If you are taking a prenatal with DHA, be prepared that some may have a fishy aftertaste. Some DHA comes from fish oil while others come from plant sources. The way the pill is encapsulated will have a lot to do with how you digest it. Follow the same advice as above to find a pill with DHA that works for you. I promise they don’t all produce a fishy aftertaste!

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  • This is a nice tip for preggies like me. Anyway, I always asked my doctor to prescribe me prenatal vitamins. Incidentally, he also recommended Nature Made Prenatal Multi + DHA. Now, I’m satisfied with it. 😀

    • Kate G. Byers, MS, RDN

      Hi Janet! Thanks for the comment and glad you like the tips. I hope you continue to feel healthy throughout your pregnancy. All the best!

  • Nice post!! One benefit of getting a prescription prenatal is that, in some cases, they’re free (and can save you significant money over the course of a year) …

    • Kate G. Byers, MS, RDN

      I never thought of that, thanks Adrienne! Good tip:-)

  • I’m not yet pregnant but planning to be. Your blog about some prenatal vitamins lending a hand
    towards a healthy conception comes in pretty handy. I’ve taken notes of what nutrients and elements need to be in them to suit my particular case. Thanks.

  • Great Post.i like those tips which you share for taking prenatal vitamins.So informational post.

  • Leah

    What pill brand is the little blue capsule in the lower left hand corner?

    • Kate G. Byers, MS, RDN

      Hi Leah! That brand is called Vitalfol-One. I received most of the brands pictures as samples from my OB’s office and I think all of them are prescription brands, so your best bet is probably to check with your provider if you are interested.

  • Mel

    Just wondering about the size of the Nature Made pills. I HATE taking pills so the smaller the better!

    • Kate G. Byers, MS, RDN

      Hi Mel – I hear you! It is tough to choke down some of those big horse pills! I will say the Nature Made pill isn’t small. It is probably comparable with some of the other ones on the larger side. However, the thing I like about it is that it is a gel cap which, I think, are easier to swallow than the ones that are the hard/dry pills.

  • Lindie

    The Nature Made pills are GINORMOUS. Whoever designed them had never experienced pregnancy and knew very little about the fact that pregnant women’s gag reflexes are much more sensitive than normal. I had my first prego barf last night thanks to these babies, despite my very careful technique for getting them down, which is usually successful. Thankfully I’m almost done with my bottle and can find something much smaller soon.

    Also, my personal experience has been that taking my prenatal at night with a protien snack helps me feel less sick in the mornings, because my system isn’t so devoid of nutrients all night. I know everyone is different!

  • Kate G. Byers, MS, RDN

    Hi Lindie – Great suggestion regarding the protein snack – that always helped me too! I hope you find a prenatal that works for you:-)

  • Emily B.

    What brand is the little blue pill on the bottom left? I am in the market for TINY pills.

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