Pregnancy is full of magic. But there is also getting through first trimester nausea. Picking out baby names. And making sure your body has all it needs to grow a perfect little human. During pregnancy your body requires an extra dose of some key nutrients to help your baby develop, which is where a good prenatal comes into play. The pharmacy shelves are stocked with many different brands of prenatal vitamins. But they all fall into two types: whole food and synthetic. So which vitamin provides the best benefits for a healthy pregnancy? I've teamed up with baby nutrition guru, Megan Garcia, to give you all the information you need when choosing your prenatal vitamin.
Types of Prenatal Vitamins
Generally speaking, the body has an easier time with whole food supplements. It turns out that some of the other things in food — like flavonoids and other plant nutrients — support absorption. Examples of whole food prenatals include Pure Synergy PureNatal , Garden of Life Raw Prenatal , and MegaFood Baby & Me .
That said, if you have ever looked at your genes or done genetic testing, you may have discovered that you have a variation of the MTHFR gene (it’s suuuuuper common). If this happens to be you, a synthetic supplement like Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal or Smarty Pants Prenatal Complete is your jam. This is because with a MTHFR mutation, your body will have an easier time absorbing these already-converted nutrients.
Why You Need A Prenatal Vitamin
Let’s face it — human beings thrived and have had babies for thousands of years…without taking a prenatal. But this doesn’t mean your prenatal vitamin isn’t necessary.
Why? For starters, your diet is dramatically different. Even if you cook every meal from scratch with organic ingredients, your ancestors ate what they could find and this included meat raised in the wild. Their eating patterns were in tune with the seasons. And organ meat (like liver) was awesome.
To fully illustrate: Back in 2014, researchers looked at the remains of a group of people living on an island north of Japan. This community flourished, had lots of babies (a sign of health to scientists), and members lived to an old age. So to figure out what made this hunter-gatherer community so fertile and healthy, researchers looked at when babies weaned and what they ate: pre-chewed fish liver, salmon, bear ribs, herring roe aka fish eggs, some roots, and seal oil.
I don’t know about you, but I shop for food at a grocery store and eat my fair share of processed and packaged food. I love seafood, but it’s not an everyday thing. I have also never eaten truly wild game meat, which means my babies aren’t getting any of this either.
Before my second pregnancy, I was already taking a prenatal and some fish oil. Because the bottom line is this: our modern diet has some gaps, so a prenatal makes sure you’re getting what you need.
But — as you might guess — some prenatal vitamins are less than amazing. Here’s my list of what you should be looking for in a prenatal vitamin.
If you’re interested in book smarts and good mental health for your little one, take note of choline. It’s a nutrient that is uber important for brain power and the integrity of cell membranes. During pregnancy, it plays a role similar folate.
Like folate, choline supports early fetal development. According to reports, choline in your amniotic fluid activates a gene that protects against schizophrenia. And this study published in 2013 shows that mommas who take choline while pregnant are less likely to have a child with attention problems and signs of social withdrawal.
Weirdly, not all prenatals offer choline. So check your labels. And find a way to fit choline-rich foods into your diet.
Foods rich in choline:
Peanut butter (woot!)
2. Vitamin K2
Wanna make sure your child has beautiful teeth that aren’t crooked or overcrowded? Pick up some vitamin K2.
Not just any vitamin K2 will do — you’re looking for a nutrient called MK-4, or menatetrenone. MK-4 helps vitamins A and D do their job, ensuring strong bones, beautiful teeth, and robust immune health. Many prenatals only have vitamin K1, which comes from green plant foods and supports blood clotting. And of those prenatals that do have vitamin K2, all of them offer MK-7 from fermented soybean.
MK-7…MK-4. What’s the diff? Let’s put it this way: your body stores MK-4 in your brain and other organs like your liver. Your breast milk gives MK-4 to your baby. Not MK-7. Since the body makes and stores MK-4, this tells us it has a unique function in the body and it’s worth paying attention to.
That said, both MK-4 and MK-7 do good things for bone development. In addition to food high in MK-4, you can also supplement MK-4 with something like Thorne Research vitamin K2 drops.
Foods rich in MK-4:
Grass-fed beef, chicken, or lamb liver
Eggs from happy hens
Meat from grass-fed animals
Milk from grass-fed cows
3. Vitamin D3
There are many reasons why you need enough vitamin D during pregnancy — I cover seven of them here.
For your baby, vitamin D (with the help of vitamin K2) helps to form strong bones. It protects against preterm labor. And it packs some serious mojo when it comes to immune balance and related disorders. Like asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disease.
And yes — absolutely all prenatal vitamins have vitamin D. The problem? It's not nearly enough. According to the Vitamin D Council, pregnant mommas need 4000 - 6000 IU a day to meet the demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding. The most vitamin D you'll find in a prenatal is 2000 IU...while several others offer less than the bare minimum, 400 IU.
When reading labels, check to see if your prenatal contains vitamin D2 or D3. This is because vitamin D3 is what the body makes, meaning it's easy to pick up and use. Vitamin D3 raises blood levels of vitamin D. Whereas vitamin D2, not so much.
Where to get vitamin D3:
Wild-caught salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish
Egg yolks from happy hens raised outdoors
What do you think is the best prenatal? Let me know in the comments!
As always, be sure to chat with your care provider to see what they recommend for you.
About Megan Garcia
Megan Garcia is *really* into baby and momma wellness. And she's on a mission to create tools that help you nourish your baby. You can catch up with her at megangarcia.com.