Picking Your Prenatal Vitamin
Not sure how to pick the best over-the-counter prenatal vitamin? As a pharmacist, I want to help take the guess work out of it!
As a pharmacist, I realize that not everyone feels as comfortable picking out over-the-counter products (OTCs). I mean you can walk into any grocery store, scroll through social media, or browse on Amazon and purchase your supplements. We have become so quick to add an item to our cart and hit "pay now." But how comfortable are you with selecting a reputable over-the-counter product?
My goal is to take the guess work out of it mama. First a little background on OTCs.
OTC products are NOT regulated by the Food & Drug Administration.
This means that they do NOT undergo the same testing that is required for approval of prescription drug products. OTCs are not required to go through clinical trials before they end up on shelves and so there may not be safety, quality, or efficacy (aka how effective they are) data to support their claims. This also means that each lot or batch of product may contain inconsistent levels of the active and inactive ingredients. Due to this lack of regulation, there are A LOT more manufacturers out there creating similar products.
You may be drawn to pick one based on aesthetics (great job marketing world), but is it a higher quality product or just a prettier label?
Let me simplify that further, quality control may not be at the same standard as it is for prescription drugs. SOOOO you may not be ingesting exactly what the label says is in there. If I just blew your world, welcome to reality. Big Pharma has a bad rep, but we don't seem to scrutinize supplements that influencers tote as life-changing with the same suspicion.
Here is What You Want in Your Prenatal:
During pregnancy your body needs more iron and folate. These are two ingredients that should be in your prenatal vitamin.
The iron helps prevent anemia, which can occur during pregnancy. Anemia means not having enough blood cells to bring oxygen to your baby or to your own organs. Anemia is common in pregnancy since your body needs to produce more blood for the fetus. If you are severely anemic, this can put you at risk for early, preterm delivery or low-birthweight babe. There are different types of anemia: iron-deficiency, B-12 deficiency, folate-deficiency anemia. If you are feeling extra tired or weak during pregnancy, your doctor can check your labs to see if you are anemic and need additional replacement.
The folate or folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in your baby. The neural tube is the precursor to baby's brain and spinal cord, so you definitely want to prevent abnormalities if you can! Generally, it is recommended to start the prenatal vitamin a few months before conception for this reason.
In general, if you eat a well-rounded diet you can and should be getting other vitamins and minerals from your diet and not vitamins and supplements. So don't take extra without talking with your doctor, especially because some vitamins can be harmful in excess during pregnancy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are having food aversions, lots of vomiting, and don't get adequate nutrition your doctor may recommend additional vitamins and supplements.
How to Pick a Quality OTC Prenatal:
I will start off by saying, I have no ties or affiliation to any prenatal vitamin brands. No sponsorship here. I do believe that not all OTCs and supplements are created equal and there are some that are more credible than others. That being said, here is what you should look for mama. High quality OTCs will go through voluntary third-party testing to ascertain that their products are produced according to good manufacturing practices and tested to verify the contents of their packaging. They will have a Certificate of Analysis (CoA), which means the product contains what and the quantity that is stated on the label. You can look for a stamp on the product label, such as one by the National Sanitation Foundation. Another third-party stamp is USP
It's kind of how I feel about fitness influencers on instagram. There are A LOT of folks out there with huge followings but no accreditation or expertise, but the good ones have certifications.
Here are three different prenatal vitamin brands that have a CoA and more options here from Babylist.
- Best bang for your buck: Naturemade Prenatal Vitamin
- Fruity & Chewable: Smarty Pants Prenatal Formula
- Natural: Megafood Baby & Me
P.s. make sure you always read the product label so you know the serving size required to get the nutrients you need!
Money Saving Tip:
If your employer provides you with a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Healthcare Spending Account (HSA), you can purchase OTCs with this benefit. However, you will need a prescription from your doctor. Then you can buy the OTC prenatal or whatever else you need from the pharmacist at the counter.
Also as a pharmacist, pretty please tell your doctors of any herbals, supplements, or vitamins you are taking. It is so important for them to know your whole health picture, not just the prescription drugs!
Ives Hot, PharmD BCACP