If you’re thinking of getting pregnant, or already have passed that home pregnancy test with flying colors, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to grow a healthy baby. That means quitting smoking and drinking, exercising in moderation, eating a healthy diet—and taking a prenatal vitamin every day.
If you’re new to this whole bun-in-the-oven concept, you’re probably thinking that the prenatal vitamin is the easiest part of this deal. Quitting smoking, saying no to Pinot and cutting back on Doritos would appear to be the tougher tasks. But if you’re afflicted by severe morning sickness, constipation, heartburn or other pregnancy ails, swallowing that daily capsule might be easier said than done. There’s also the fact that the market is crowded with hundreds of different varieties—even if you have no issues swallowing or digesting your vitamin, how do you know whether you’ve chosen the right one?
Here’s a practical guide to finding a prenatal that will help keep you and baby happy and healthy before, during and even after pregnancy:
Minimums for mamas-to-be
Make sure any prenatal vitamin you take meets the following criteria:
- 400 mcg of folic acid to prevent neural-tube defects such as spina bifida
- 1000 mg of calcium
- 30-40 mg of iron (ask your doctor if you need more than that if you’ve tested anemic)
- Zinc and manganese (especially if you’re still trying to conceive)
- Vitamin B6
Nearly every prenatal vitamin on the market will contain these values—even ones that cost less than $10 for a two-month supply.
Unfortunately, sometimes swallowing a prenatal isn’t enough assurance that you and your baby will be getting the benefit of the added nutrients, because some vitamins simply don’t dissolve in your stomach quickly enough to be useful. Some prenatals that are made with whole foods, however, specifically market their absorbability–Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code RAW Prenatal contains a number of ingredients to optimize absorption and has a trademarked “UltraZorbe” formula.
Before you purchase a prenatal, check the serving size. Rainbow Light Prenatal One offers everything you need in one tablet, but with other prenatals, you’ll be swallowing 2-4 caplets just to get in a daily dose.
A prenatal might not be a bitter pill to swallow, but swallowing anything can be tricky during those first few weeks of pregnancy, when hormone swings can make you feel like you’re riding around a merry-go-round on a swaying ship while trying to read the newspaper upside down (i.e. very, very prone to nausea!). Then there’s the whole constipation issue that affects so many pregnant women. New Chapter’s Organic Perfect Prenatal is formulated with whole foods for ideal digestibility.
Special diet needs
Vegan? Gluten-free? Allergic? Not to worry—many of the best prenatal vitamins are designed for moms-to-be who are following all sorts of special diets. Nature’s Plus Source of Life Prenatal is hypo-allergenic, vegetarian and gluten-free—and is also made from whole food extracts. Vegan mamas should check out Deva Vegan Prenatals, which is made from 100% vegan sources.
The DHA deal
DHA is a type of omega 3 that is thought to support your baby’s brain and vision development. Many doctors recommend that expecting mothers take a DHA supplement in addition to their prenatal vitamin for optimal health. Fish oil-based supplements are the most popular source of DHA, but if you don’t want to take fish oils (some moms will worry about ocean-borne contaminants), there are other options, such as Spectrum Essentials Prenatal DHA, which are fish-oil-free. If you’d rather not deal with multiple vitamin and supplement bottles, One-A-Day Prenatal Multivitamin with DHA packages up everything you need into convenient daily doses.
Of course prenatals are only one aspect of your maternal health. You’ll want to drink lots of water, eat as healthfully as you can manage and avoid toxins—for your sake as well as baby’s. And as hard as all of this “careful consumption” might be, keep in mind that this is the only time you’ll ever really be able to control what your baby takes in. Once he or she has arrived, let the fun with spit up and rejected vegetables begin!
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 9.