By Caitlin Fiss, MD
One of the first questions my moms-to-be ask is: Do I need to take a prenatal supplement and how do I pick one? I always tell them first that yes, a good prenatal fills in any nutritional gaps you might have in your pregnancy, which is good for you and for your baby.
The second part of the question is a bit trickier. Every body and every pregnancy is different, so your nutritional needs may vary from other women—or even from your other pregnancies.
To help you figure out what’s best for you, I’ve developed a list of prenatal nutrients that are good for every mom-to-be. And here’s an important note: I also recommend that women who are actively trying to get pregnant go ahead and start that prenatal before they get a positive test. Here’s why: a baby’s neural tube is almost completely formed by eight weeks, which is often before a mom even knows she’s pregnant. Taking a good prenatal during that critical development period can help ensure your baby’s off to a good, healthy start.
Here’s what to look for in a prenatal:
Folic Acid (at least 400 mcg)
Folic acid is the synthesized version of vitamin B9 (which, when it’s in a whole food, is called “folate”), and it supports healthy brain and spine development (also called neural tube development) in your baby. This nutrient is most important in the preconception phase and your first 12 weeks, but it’s also safe to continue throughout your pregnancy. A good option is Mommy’s Bliss multivitamins. They have a multivitamin + probiotics and a multivitamin + iron, both of which contain Quatrefolic(R), the most bioavailable form of folic acid available, and both are a one small pill a day serving.
Vitamin B6 (at least 10 mcg)
Research shows that women who take at least 10 mcg of B6 daily before they conceive, as well as during their first few weeks of pregnancy, have less “morning sickness” in that first trimester. Vitamin B6 is fine to take throughout your pregnancy.
Vitamin D (at least 400 IU)
Working hand-in-hand with calcium (see below), vitamin D helps grow your baby’s bones and keeps yours strong, too. At my practice in New York City, so many moms are deficient in Vitamin D. Part of this trend is due to our environment (tall buildings that block the sun) and part of it is, of course, how much we’ve been staying inside this past year due to the pandemic. On top of that, many people have gotten a lot better at wearing sunscreen regularly—as they should!—but sunscreen does block the body’s absorption of vitamin D. You can take vitamin D throughout your pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and beyond.
Omega-3 DHA (at least 200 mg)
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that you most often get from eating fatty fish (think mackerel), which isn’t usually on the menu. Research shows that DHA supports healthy brain, eye, and nervous system development, and most of my patients get their DHA through supplementation—from either fish or vegetarian (chia, algae, flax) sources. I’m a huge fan of DHA supplementation in general, and Mommy’s Bliss Prenatal Omega + DHA gummy is a great vegetarian option as it’s made with DHA derived from chia seeds. DHA is safe to take throughout your pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
OTHER NUTRIENTS TO CONSIDER
Many of the moms in my practice come in with iron deficiencies, and over the course of their pregnancy, they can actually become anemic. For these moms, I recommend taking a prenatal with added iron. Iron is a crucial “building block” for a baby’s developing cells, so you need more iron during pregnancy than usual. And iron’s good for mom, too: research shows it helps with that all-to-common fatigue, especially in the first trimester. I like Mommy’s Bliss Prenatal Multivitamin + Iron as it contains iron and extra vitamin B12 to support energy levels.
With the growing popularity of plant-based milks, creamers, and ice creams, I’m recommending my moms make sure they’re getting enough calcium. It’s not only important for your own bone health, it’s what helps support healthy bone development in your baby. For my patients, I recommend 1,200 mg a day.
While you may be making positive changes to your diet now that you’re pregnant (good for you!), supplementing with a prenatal is a good “insurance policy,” giving you peace of mind that you’re doing all you can to feed your body and your baby with the most critical nutrients. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, check in with your doctor. We are the best resources for you.