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While it's technically possible to get all the nutrients you need for pregnancy from your diet, most of us don't. That's why doctors and scientists recommend supplementing with a prenatal vitamin.There are a handful of specific nutrients that support different areas of your baby's development, and others that fill nutrition gaps whether you're pregnant or not.
If you find pregnancy as confusing as it is exciting, you’re definitely not alone. Even if you’re getting plenty of insight from your doc, you probably still have questions about all the changes happening in your body, the development of your baby, and what to expect down the line.
We get it—it’s a lot!
But we also think that one thing you should never have to question is your prenatal vitamin. In fact, the right one should take a lot of the guesswork out of supporting your pregnancy nutritional needs. That’s one less thing to worry about during this chaotic time.
So what nutrients do you actually need from a prenatal? We’ve done the research for YOU—keep reading to see what we’ve found.
But first, a quick refresher on why you need a prenatal in the first place.
Scientists and ob-gyns alike agree that a prenatal is a must for a few reasons: namely, that while it’s technically possible to get all the nutrients needed for both you and baby through diet alone, in can be difficult to actually do so. So it’s important to help fill those nutritional gaps with a prenatal vitamin, so that you’re supporting the development of your baby from conception to pregnancy and beyond. (Seriously: The nutrients you’re delivering to your baby will impact his or her health well after you’ve given birth.)
That said, we advise starting a prenatal even when you’re just thinking about getting pregnant—to get specific, three months before conception is a good timeline to shoot for, even if you’re still on birth control.
The nutrients you should look for in a prenatal, and why:
Folate. Because it aids with many different important processes in the body, folate is a must-have for pregnant and non-pregnant women alike. But when you’re expecting, your growing baby needs it too—it’s crucial for supporting neural tube development, as well as DNA synthesis.
The trick is to be wary of folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate: It’s found in many supplements, but it needs the help of enzymes to convert to MTHF, which is the form your body uses. But the problem is that up to 40% of women have gene variations that make it difficult to carry out this extra step. That’s why it’s wise to look for a vitamin with ready-to-use MTHF, like our Essential Prenatal.*
Omega-3. Did you know that DHA is an important component of your developing baby’s brain? Of the three different omega-3 fatty acids, we like to zero-in on DHA, specifically since it’s such a supporter of brain, heart, and prenatal health (and heavily backed by research). DHA is found in foods like salmon, shellfish, and tuna, so if you’re vegetarian, that can be a problem. Our advice? Look for a prenatal that sources its Omega-3 with DHA from algae.
Vitamin B12. B12 helps make the DNA that fuels cell reproduction in our bodies—it’s such a big and important job, that our stomach even has special receptors for B12 molecules. B12 shortfalls can sneak up on us, since the warning signs are not always super obvious: low energy, brain fog, and balance issues are all things to look out for. The other wrinkle is that because B12 is found mostly in meats, vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of meeting their needs.
Choline. You know how we mentioned that a developing baby’s brain is made up of a lot of DHA? Well, one of choline’s jobs is to help shuttle that DHA across the placenta. And that’s not the only way this key nutrient partners up with omega-3 fatty acids: The two also work together to support brain development.
Iodine. Iodine helps support thyroid health*—that’s true for both you and baby. But your iodine needs double when you’re pregnant, because your metabolism goes into overdrive to support all the growth that’s happening. Iodized salt is one of the best sources of iodine, but since many pregnant women choose to cut back on processed foods (which is good!), it might be more difficult to consume enough.
Supplementation is a great way to go.
Biotin. Biotin is important for supporting your baby’s development: Basically, it helps make sure that it’s following the instruction manual provided by their DNA. While most non-pregnant women get enough biotin through diet alone, you need more when you’re expecting to support the gene expression that’s happening during pregnancy.
Vitamin D3. You probably know that one of the best sources of vitamin D is sunlight. But thanks to urban dwelling, lots of hours spent in the office, and wearing your SPF when we do catch rays (a good choice!), many of us are lacking in this nutrient. Your vitamin D needs don’t change when you’re pregnant, but if you’re swapping your multivitamin for a prenatal, it’s not a bad idea to make sure it includes vitamin D.
Iron. Just like vitamin D, our iron needs don’t necessarily change when we’re pregnant. But since many women are lacking in iron to begin with (heavy periods, an athletic lifestyle, and vegan diets can all be factors), you might benefit from including this nutrient in your prenatal.
Boron. This unsung hero deserves a lot more credit: Boron partners with nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium to help support bone health. Because it’s such a solid collaborator, we like to include it in both our Essential for Women and Essential Prenatal.*
Vitamin E. Fun fact: The cool thing about antioxidants like vitamin E is that they fight free radicals, which aren’t so great for the health of your DNA. That’s something we think is worth including in both your multivitamin and prenatal.*
Vitamin K2. While many of us are consuming enough calcium from the food we eat, we also need helper nutrients like vitamin K to help our body make the most of it. K’s specific role is a kind of babysitter: It helps ensure that calcium stays in our bones where it belongs. Vitamin K may also help support heart health, so it’s not a bad idea to look for it in your multivitamin and your prenatal.
Magnesium. Magnesium does a lot of heavy-lifting in the body, from supporting calcium to activating enzyme activity. The bad news is that we need a lot of it, and most of us don’t meet our daily values. So what’s the fix? We recommend using a chelated form of magnesium, which just means that it mimics the form inside our cells. That helps make magnesium easier to absorb and synthesize, so your body can really put it to work. (And that’s true whether you’re pregnant or not.)
The big takeaway? Keep up with a mostly-balanced diet (with a little wiggle room for cravings), and use your prenatal to fill the gaps.