preg 1260
22 Feb 2024

What to look for in a prenatal vitamin

4 mins to read
At least half of all pregnant Australian women take prenatal multivitamins, but it’s important to choose wisely. Here’s what to look out for.

Pregnancy is an exciting time, yet also a period when taking good care of yourself and your growing baby is essential. This includes ensuring you consume enough nutrients to support the growth and development of your baby. It is very common for pregnant mothers to take prenatal vitamins during this time.

What is a prenatal vitamin?

A prenatal vitamin is a combination of vitamins and minerals made specifically for pregnant women, and many contain essential nutrients which support your health and that of your developing fetus. 

Why it's important to take a prenatal vitamin?

Although, ideally, you get most of your nutrient requirements through food, with the increased requirements during pregnancy, this can be difficult. 

The Royal Women's Hospital recommends that in addition to a healthy diet, pregnant women should take at least the following nutrients as supplements:

  • Folic acid: 500 micrograms (mcg)

Folic acid, vitamin B9, aids a baby's brain, spine, and nerve development. It plays a significant role in helping to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in which a developing baby's spinal cord fails to develop correctly. You can significantly reduce the risk of NTD by taking folic acid in the month before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy.

  • Iodine: 150 micrograms: The best sources of iodine are fish, seafood, or iodised salt. It may be hard for those who don't eat seafood, and during pregnancy, there is a need to limit some types of fish due to their high mercury levels. At the same time, a high salt diet is not ideal for health.  

Iodine is essential for brain development.

  • Vitamin D: 400 international units (IU): Vitamin D can help promote the development of the baby's teeth and bones. We get most of our vitamin D from that produced in the skin from exposure to sunlight. However, this can be challenging with lots of time spent indoors and limited sun exposure during wWinter. In addition, only a small amount of vitamin D comes from foods like oily fish, egg yolks, margarine, and foods fortified with folic acid.

A prenatal vitamin provides these nutrients and others that play a role in your health during pregnancy and for your baby’s development.

Healthcare providers often recommend them early in the pregnancy journey, as early as when you let them know you are trying to conceive. This is because a baby’s development is rapid in the first weeks of life, often even before you know you are pregnant.


Speaking to a healthcare provider and receiving tailored advice based on your health and diet before starting any prenatal vitamin is essential. They can help recommend dosage and type of prenatal vitamin accordingly. It’s still important to eat a varied, balanced diet while taking prenatal vitamins to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.

How to choose a prenatal vitamin?

As well as iodine, vitamin D and folic acid, ensure the prenatal vitamin you choose also contains the following essential nutrients to support your pregnancy: Calcium, choline, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins B12, B6, and C.

Different brands may vary in the amounts of nutrients they contain, so it's important to read the labels to determine how much of each nutrient they contain and discuss the product with your healthcare provider.  

Prenatal vitamins are formulated to help ensure you get enough of these vitamins without getting too much, which can be harmful. Your healthcare provider might recommend higher doses of certain nutrients depending on your health, diet, and lifestyle. For example, if you are a vegetarian, you may need a B12 supplement, as vitamin B12 mainly comes from animal sources.

Or if a vitamin D deficiency is diagnosed, you may need a vitamin D supplement on top of what is in your prenatal vitamin.

Some prenatal vitamins may not contain all the nutrients you need. For example, DHA, which aids in brain development for your baby, may not be in all prenatal vitamins, so you may want to add a fish oil supplement high in omega-3 fatty acids.

The RWH explains that you should only choose a multivitamin designed for pregnancy, as other supplements may contain vitamins that are harmful at high doses in pregnancy. According to the hospital, the more expensive supplements are not always the best ones for you.


More is not better.

Avoid consuming vitamins and minerals over your daily requirements. According to Pregnancy Birth Baby, specific vitamins, particularly vitamins A, C, and E, can harm you and the baby if taken in high doses. This is why speaking to your healthcare provider is helpful before choosing a prenatal vitamin so they can confirm the supplements that will suit your current dietary and health needs.


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