Updated: Mar 26
The supplement industry can be overwhelming. There are so many different brands and companies and so much variability in ingredients. This definitely rings true for prenatal vitamins. They aren't standardized and not all prenatal supplements are alike. There are some non-negotiables when it comes to quality and ingredients and it's great to know what you are taking and why you are taking it. And yes, the name prenatal is sort of misleading because yes, if you are pregnant you should definitely be taking it, but if you are a menstruating individual, there is a chance you should be taking one too, even if you aren't trying to get pregnant. Of course, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider since all of our needs are unique.
First, let's look at some of the key, important nutrients in a prenatal vitamin.
Folate, Folic acid - you will see one or the other. A prenatal that has it in the form of L-Methlyfolate works best for most people. This is the most widely bioavailable form. If you unknowingly have an MTHFR gene mutation it is more difficult to convert folic acid to methylfolate in your body, and up to 40% of the population has this mutation. Folate is a b vitamin that is essential for neural tube and fetal brain development in utero.
Iron - pregnancy requires women to make 25% more blood to support the new life, meaning their iron needs are increased. Pregnant women are not alone in needing iron supplementation. In fact, a lot of menstruating individuals require additional iron due to monthly blood loss. Not all iron is created equally. Look for a prenatal with iron glycinate. It is easily absorbed and less likely to cause constipation.
Choline - you won't see this in all prenatal vitamins, but it's really important! Choline is naturally found in eggs, organ meats, salmon, shiitake mushrooms, and some greens. It is vital because it influences stem cell proliferation, placenta development, and baby's neuro system development. Because of its important role, it could help reduce the risk of early miscarriage.
Vitamin D - this vitamin helps with your energy levels, can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, and helps with bone growth. A large portion of the population is deficient, especially during the winter months.
Biotin - this water soluble b vitamin helps with food metabolism, to make sure you get the nutrients you need from the food you eat. Biotin also helps with blood sugar regulation and insulin control. You may be most familiar with it because of its role in healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Vitamin A - another influencer of fetal development, particularly aspects of the circulatory, respiratory, and neuro systems, but vitamin a also helps support tissue repair postpartum.
B Vitamins - so B6, B12, B5 - we need these to convert food into energy. They are essential for making new blood cells and support healthy enzyme activity. They can also help prevent or reduce pregnancy induced nausea.
Calcium - the obvious answer is that calcium is needed for bone and tooth development. It also helps with muscle and nerve growth. Sufficient calcium has been linked with reduced PMS symptoms, improved mood, and less water retention during the luteal phase of your period.
Of course, you will find prenatal nutrients with different ingredients, but these give you an excellent baseline for how to decipher between them and what to look for.
So it's obvious that in pregnancy you should take a prenatal, but what other circumstances does it make sense?
Those using hormonal forms of birth control. Hormonal birth control can deplete essential nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin d, vitamin c, vitamin e, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Taking a prenatal can be a great way to get all of these in one place.
Those who are anemic or have very heavy periods. The foundational b vitamins, iron, and vitamin c in prenatals can help you replenish blood loss during your period or if you are symptomatically anemic.
Sexually active menstruating folks that are not using birth control and would keep a pregnancy should one occur. Because of the imperative role these nutrients play in the early development of a pregnancy, if it's possible for you to get pregnant and you would keep the pregnancy, you should consider taking prenatal vitamins to support fetal development and your health before you are even aware you are pregnant.
Those that plan to try conceiving - if you're actively trying to conceive but also if you are planning to start trying in the near future. In TCM we say that you should prepare the soil before planting the garden and prenatal supplements are a great fertilizer. It can be helpful in TTC to prepare and support the body with adequate supplementation, diet, and lifestyle choices before starting to try.
For reference, in the clinic, I carry Pure Encapsulations Prenatal Nutrients. In addition to containing the important things listed above, they clearly list where ingredients are derived and provide the ability to take it in divided doses to improve efficacy and reduce GI impact.
I'm Amy! I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, registered nurse, and expert in women's health, anxiety, and stress relief.
If you are looking for acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping in Denver, Lakewood, or Golden Colorado, get more info here.
**All information and resources found on balancedstonewellness.com are based on the opinions, experience, and research of the author unless otherwise noted. All information is intended to educate and motivate readers to make their own health decisions after consulting with their health care provider...even if that provider may be the author ;)