The Best Prenatal Vitamins: Should You Spend More for Better Quality?
How can you select the best prenatal vitamins? Are more expensive vitamins actually better? Are some vitamins more crucial than others? With so many options on the market, it can be confusing to figure out which one to pick and if you should be spending more for better quality.
This post will delve into everything you need to know about how to choose the very best prenatal vitamins, including:
- How vitamins are regulated
- How to make sure your vitamins are safe
- What to look for in a good supplement
How are Prenatal Vitamins Regulated?
They are NOT regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (aka the FDA).
In fact, as stated by the FDA, they DO NOT regulate any vitamins. This is because vitamins are intended to supplement your diet, not act as a drug treatment, so the FDA categorizes them as “food” not “drugs”. So, the FDA does not require prenatal vitamins to go through a rigorous approval process before going to market like a drug would, placing the responsibility for safety on the manufacturers. While the FDA doesn’t need to grant approval before supplements are available to consumers, they have the discretion to recall them if people report adverse effects.
This puts prenatal vitamins in a controversial position. Regular vitamins are not mandatory, but pretty much every doctor agrees that pregnant women should take them to prevent issues with fetal development. So, are prenatal vitamins a supplement or drug?
This controversy is still debated. In fact, about five years ago, people launched a citizens’ petition against the FDA, arguing for a new FDA-based regulatory approval. But the FDA denied the petition (FDA decision here), and prenatal vitamins remain unregulated.
How Can I Tell Which Prenatal Vitamins are Safe?
Because the FDA doesn’t regulate the manufacturing of prenatal vitamins, this means you have to be a conscious consumer. Here is a checklist of what to look for when you’re deciding which brand to select:
- Testing: The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends looking for approval from one of these independent organizations: U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations means that the vitamins have been checked for proper manufacturing, accurate listing of ingredients, and no harmful contaminants (but it’s important to note that this doesn’t guarantee safety or effectiveness).
- Name Brand: Because literally anyone can bottle up a vitamin and sell it, price doesn’t matter as much as going with a brand you trust. Name-brand vitamins are more likely to be safe and to have been safely used by other women. If you go for a generic version, use a reputable generic brand or store you trust.
- Check the % DV: Vitamins should have 100% daily value (or DV). If it’s more than 100%, then it has more than what you need, which could potentially cause vitamin overdose. If it’s substantially less than 100%, then the vitamin might be more filler material than nutrients.
- Talk to your doctor: Always keep a record of the brand, dose, and how frequently you take a vitamin and disclose this information to your health care provider. You should ask if your doctor has any recommendations on the best prenatal vitamin options, and if they have other specific recommendations based on their knowledge of you.
What are the best prenatal vitamins to take?
Unless you’re already having trouble with certain vitamin deficiencies, you’re likely getting enough vitamins and minerals from eating a varied and nutritious diet. To ensure you get enough while you’re pregnant, the best prenatal vitamins need to have the following:
- Folate: Whether you choose to take folate or folic acid, this vitamin in particular is important for prenatal health. Folate is instrumental in preventing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
- Iron: Iron is crucial for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. When iron levels are low, this increases risk for anemia.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for proper immune function and bone growth.
- Calcium: Calcium is important for health bone development and heart development
Aarthi Gobinath, PhD
She tackled the issue of sex bias in research by looking at why standard treatments for depression don't always work in the case of postpartum depression. Her work has been covered by Vice and Massive Science.