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The Best Prenatal Supplements, According To The Experts

Ensuring your body gets all the vitamins it needs is the most important thing you can do in the lead up to and during your pregnancy. In addition to a balanced and healthy diet, the best prenatal supplements allow for exactly this. “Prenatal supplements are designed to support the unique nutritional needs of pregnant women,” says Dr Sara Kayat. “During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes numerous changes, and her dietary needs increase to support the growth and development of the foetus.” But with so many options to choose from, it can be hard to navigate, so we’ve asked the experts for their top tips below.

How do you choose the best prenatal vitamins for you?

When it comes to choosing the best prenatal supplements, there’s a lot to take into account, namely whether they contain the right vitamins and their correct dosages. In some cases, your healthcare provider might recommend a specific brand, or recommend a specific dosage of certain nutrients depending on your circumstances. “Nutrient deficiencies are common, so higher doses of certain nutrients may be needed, and relying solely on prenatal vitamin packs may not give you what you need throughout your pregnancy,” says nutritionist Lola Ross. “Your prenatal stage is not a time to work out vitamin deficiencies by yourself – always speak with your healthcare provider, or a registered nutritionist about nutrient deficiencies and safe supplementation.” It should also be noted that prenatal vitamins should never replace food. “They are supplementary boosts during a time of increased nutritional demands.”

What types of nutrients should I look for in prenatal vitamins?

The most important prenatal vitamins are folic acid and vitamin D. “Folic acid is essential for cell growth and development,” says Charlotte Hoskin, registered midwife and advanced nurse practitioner at My Expert Midwife. “Taking 400 mcg folic acid every day can help reduce the risk of your baby developing brain and spine health issues, which are known as Neural Tube Defects (NTD). If you did not take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.”

Vitamin D is responsible for regulating our calcium and phosphate levels, which keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. For optimum results, experts recommend taking 10 mcg or 4000 IU (international units) daily. “Ensure you check the label as taking more than 100 mcg of vitamin D a day can be harmful to you and your baby,” warns Hoskin.

Besides folic acid and vitamin D, Hoskin recommends supplements that contain calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and B12, zinc, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help promote a baby’s brain development. When choosing omega fish oils, consider brands that show their provenance and a clean supply chain, so you are limiting your exposure to harmful pollutants like mercury. If you are vegan and want to avoid fish, consider algae oil alternatives.

Another thing to be mindful of is iron, a key component of Vida Glow’s Prenatal+ supplements. “Some pregnant women require iron supplements as iron needs increase during pregnancy to support the growing foetus and placenta,” says Dr Kayat. “Iron is vital for forming red blood cells, which are needed to transport oxygen to the foetus.”

In the lead up to pregnancy, you might also want to look for a formula containing antioxidants like Coenzyme Q10 especially if you are over the age of 32. “After the age of 32 our fertility declines naturally, as does our ability to synthesise COQ10, so including this is a good way to proactively support egg quality,” says Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner and founder of Artah. Stephenson also recommends supplements that contain a good dose of Choline (at least 150 mg). “Studies have shown that women don't get enough to meet their own RDA, let alone the increased needs in pregnancy,” she says. “This is not only essential for foetal cognitive development, but is involved in basic reproductive health, including ovulation, egg quality, and implantation.”

Other than that, look for a balanced nutritional supplement with the right amounts of vitamins and minerals to support you and your baby, that don’t contain anything you don’t need. You can lay the groundwork for good health by taking a supplement when you are trying to conceive, or as soon as you discover you’re pregnant.

What factors should I consider when looking for a prenatal vitamin?

Beside the actual nutrients present there are a few things to consider such as form and dosage. “Prenatal supplements come in various forms, such as capsules, tablets, and gummies,” says Dr Kayat. “Choose a format that is easy for you to take and digest. Also, check the dosage and ensure it meets the recommended daily allowance for pregnant women.”

Another thing to be mindful of is quality and safety. “Look for a prenatal supplement from a reputable brand, ensuring the supplement is certified by a third-party organisation,” adds Dr Kayat. If in doubt, talk to your GP or midwife about supplementation to ensure that it is appropriate for your specific health needs and won’t interact with any medications you are taking.

The quality of folic acid is particularly important. “Absorbable forms like folate are much better assimilated than folic acid,” says Lauren Windas, MIM Habits’ recommended nutritionist and author of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Your Route to Recovery. “Opt for supplements with no fillers and binders or bulking agents.”

When should I start taking prenatal vitamins when pregnant?

As a general rule, experts recommend that women planning to become pregnant or in their early stages of pregnancy should take a prenatal supplement as soon as possible. “This is because many of the important nutrients needed for foetal development, such as folic acid, are most critical in the early weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.” says Dr Kayat. “Women already pregnant and have not yet started taking a prenatal supplement should take one as soon as possible.”

Do you really need prenatal vitamins?

Yes. In the UK, the NHS only recommends the need for folic acid and vitamin D prenatally. “Adequate folic acid intake before and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can help reduce the risk of specific brain and spine congenital disabilities while vitamin D (and calcium) are essential for developing strong bones and teeth in the foetus.” If in doubt, speak to your healthcare provider.

What to avoid with prenatal vitamins?

The key thing to avoid with prenatal supplements is taking anything you don’t need or too much of something you do need, which is why it’s so important to check with your doctor or midwife.

Other than that, things to be mindful of are supplements with fillers, additives, and bulking agents. “Cheap, synthetic prenatal formulations should be avoided where you can as many of these can contain bulking fillers, and less bioavailable forms of the vitamin,” says Ross. “Also, buy your vitamins from a trusted store to be sure that they are authentic products. Vitamins can be fake.” You might also want to look for chemical-free supplements, ensuring they are as natural as possible.

“Only take a prenatal or pregnancy supplement specifically designed to support a healthy pregnancy,” advises Hoskins. “There are some ingredients which can have adverse effects during pregnancy, so look out for these and avoid supplements containing: goldenseal (a herb common in many supplements), cod liver oil, vitamin A (too much is harmful to your developing baby), vitamin E (too much is harmful to your developing baby), caffeine (can impact mineral absorption). St John’s Wort, Mugwort, red clover, and yarro.”

Can I take a multivitamin instead of a prenatal vitamin?

In short: no. “Not all vitamins are created equal and it’s important to seek out prenatal supplements that cater to your nutritional needs at this demanding time of life,” says Hoskin. “While there are some overlapping ingredients in daily multivitamins and prenatal supplements, multivitamins often contain more general vitamins and minerals like vitamin C or zinc. Prenatal vitamins, on the other hand, are specifically designed for pregnancy and include nutrients that cater to both the mother and the baby.”

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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