Selecting the Best Prenatal Vitamins
To compensate for any nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet and safeguard her health as well as that of her unborn baby, it's important that pregnant women take prenatal multivitamins during pregnancy. But with so many out there, how can you know which ones are best?
Food-Based Prenatal Vitamins
Health care professionals generally recommend that women take prenatal vitamins daily, beginning as early as possible in the pregnancy, if not earlier. Not all vitamins, however, are created equally, and some certainly rank higher in the opinions of health care providers than others. According to Dr. Ben Kim, vitamins are either derived from food sources or synthesized in a laboratory. The differences between the two are important to note:
- The majority of commercial vitamin supplements consist of synthetic vitamins.
- Synthetic vitamins do not perform the same functions in the body as vitamins found naturally in whole food.
- Many synthetic vitamins deplete the body of other nutrients and tax the kidneys before being excreted through urine.
Many health experts suggest the best prenatal vitamins are food based. These contain folic acid that, according to the March of dimes, helps a fetus’s neural tube develop properly. When the neural tube does not properly close, a baby may be born with a serious complication called neural tube defect. Folic acid, however, can prevent this from happening, and women should receive at least 400 micrograms every day.
Food based multivitamins also deliver nutrients to the body’s cells in a bioavailable form. This relates to the portion of a nutrient or bioactive ingredient absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract for use or storage in the body. Vitamins that are more bioavailable allow the body to absorb more nutrients, where they enter the bloodstream, find their ways to organs and other body systems and then begin to support a woman’s health with specific functions.
Compared to synthetic vitamins, those that are food based provide high absorption rates often without digestive upset or nausea. This factor may be critical at the six-week mark in a woman’s pregnancy, as this is the time most women report the start of morning sickness.
What to Look for in All Prenatal Vitamins
In addition to folic acid, certain nutrients can assist with prenatal development. Women thus need to know what ingredients are most critical when selecting prenatal vitamins, including food based brands. Iodine is of particular importance because it supports normal thyroid function in fetuses, which in turn is crucial for normal neurocognitive development.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), iodine deficiency affects more than 2.2 billion people and is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation worldwide. Even mild iodine deficiency may have adverse effects on the cognitive functions of children, but studies reveal only 51 percent of U.S. prenatal multivitamin brands contain iodine.
Other ingredients and their corresponding doses that should be contained in prenatal multivitamins are as follows:
- 400 IU of vitamin D
- 200 to 300 mg of calcium
- 70 mg of vitamin C
- 3 mg of thiamine
- 2 mg of riboflavin
- 20 mg of niacin
- 6 mcg of vitamin B12
- 10 mg of vitamin E
- 15 mg of zinc
- 17 mg of iron
Some of the most highly-recommended brands of vitamins, which are food based, include Rainbow Light Complete Prenatal System, New Chapter Organics Perfect Prenatal and Garden of Life Raw Vegan Prenatal. Simply One Prenatal Vegetarian and Healthy Belly Essentials Prenatal Health are highly regarded as well.
For women actively planning or trying to have a baby, a prenatal multivitamin should be started as early as preconception. Women who are already pregnant should begin this regimen as soon as possible.