One of the most common questions I get from readers and clients is, "What prenatal vitamin should I choose"? I've avoided answering this question for a while because it's hard to give specific brand name recommendations when there is so much to choose from and product availability varies tremendously depending on where you live. That being said, this week I'm going to offer a launching point for women. You'll find a much more in depth answer to this question on Baby Making and Beyond but for now, here's a great place to start.
Why do I need a Prenatal if I have a tip top diet?
This is a great question. Some women do decide not to take a prenatal combination, which is cool, but there are some things that are important to consider:
- Pregnancy (and while breastfeeding) is a time with increased, some might say insane, nutrient demands. We quite simply just need, LOTS of essential micro nutrients to support the body's process of creating a new life. Most diets, even the best, can't provide all you need. The good news is that most of the time your baby will get what he or she needs by depleting you of nutrients. If you aren't replenishing your stores, you can, and will become deficient. This is especially true if you are having multiple babies 2-3 years apart or less.
- Soil and food quality just isn't what it used to be. Even the cleanest of diets won't provide all of the nutrients you need for optimal fertility and pregnancy. The carrots our grandparents ate are not the same as the ones we find in the grocery store today, even the organic heirloom rainbow ones. A Scientific American article looked at several different studies which demonstrated time and time again that from 1975 to 1997 average calcium levels in 12 fresh veggies dropped by 27%, iron levels by 37%, vitamin A by 21% and vitamin C by 30%.
- The stress of our modern busy lives and athletic pursuits depletes all of us of essential micronutrients. Stress and high cortisol will drain you of several critical fertility and pregnancy nutrients like B- vitamins (including folate), vitamin C, zinc and magnesium.
- If you've are a recovering vegan/vegetarian, have had a history of food restriction, over exercise or spent much of your life (like most of us) eating a standard american diet, you are nutrient depleted. It takes many years to correct these imbalances.
What to look for in a Prenatal Vitamin
- Steer clear of drugstore or mainstream brands of prenatal (centrum, costco ect). They are made with synthetic vitamins that are not well absorbed or utilized well by our bodies and may even be harmful. For example, synthetic vitamin E can cause congenital heart defects in babies and DNA damage in mamas.
- Look for a brand that lists Folate (5- methyltetrahydrofolate) not "folic acid" especially if your have or suspect you have MTHFR or other methylation issues as you won't be able to utilize the synthetic form of this B-vitamin. While high dietary FOLATE is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, a high rate of FOLIC ACID consumption or supplementation has been suspected in promoting the progression of breast tumours in some women and can reduce the expression of beneficial tumor suppressor genes while increasing the expression of HER2 (breast cancer promoting genes). High dose folic acid supplementation can also mask B12 deficiency which could put you at risk for preterm labour. Baby Making and Beyond will have lots more on this critical difference. Folate must be sourced from real food so a "raw or whole food" like brand will usually have folate not folic acid in it.
- Look for the inclusion of both Vitamin K1 and K2
- Has a combination of Vitamin A from BOTH retinol and retinol palmate (Learn the details about why this is in Baby Making and Beyond) and talk to your provider about elevated or reduced need for vitamin A
- Look for choline in your prenatal
- Look for synergistic combinations of vitamins with cofactors to aid in absorption and assimilation. These may include fruit powder extracts, enzymes or herbs.
- Ensure they don't contain soy, gluten or dairy and look for 3rd party testing and verification.
Meg the Midwife's Favourite Prenatal Vitamin
NUMBER ONE VERY BEST: Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal - Not cheap but awesome ingredients and a correct blend of vitamin A sources. If you have low iron, this is pretty much the only thing that is missing.
Innate Response Baby and Me. I love the ingredient list and in my mind this company is legit. This is a new formulation as of 2016 and it works great for the entire childbearing cycle (aka prenatal-postpartum)
If you’re too nauseated to stomach a prenatal
This happens and don’t worry, there are some options:
Seeking Health Protein Powder: This is my ideal choice. It can help stave off nausea with its high protein content and gives you all the nutrients you need. Great for Vegans.
Seeking Health Chewable: Same formula (more or less) as the Optimal Prenatal capsule but chewable
Smarty Pants Prenatal- For women who have lots of nausea and can't stomach a traditional prenatal vitamin OR who are sensitive to iron (this is iron free). If this is all you can get into you, it's a good option until your nausea clears.
Thorne Basic Prenatal. Thorne's Basic Prenatal provides the active forms of folate (5-MTHF) and vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) for optimal tissue-ready use. Basic Prenatal also contains well-absorbed iron bisglycinate, which meets a pregnant woman's increased need for iron while being easy on the stomach and non-constipating. Several of Basic Prenatal's ingredients (including vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin K) have been demonstrated to benefit "morning sickness." Basic Prenatal is manufactured with the purest possible ingredients and without the additives and coatings usually found in mainstream prenatal supplements. This supplement doesn't contain K2 so it's important that you get your K2 from your diet or from another supplement.
Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal- This one is significantly more affordable than some of the others and has some decent ingredients. If budget is a concern for you, I'd stick with this one.
Knowing what supplements to take during pregnancy can feel complicated. Prenatals are a good place to start but in order to optimize your health, you may benefit from taking a few other things (such as calcium, DHA ect), it's best to talk to your functional medicine practitioner about this or become one of my wellness clients and book your consult today.