What You Need to Look For in a Prenatal Vitamin

March 23 2021

What You Need to Look For in a Prenatal Vitamin

What You Need to Look For in a Prenatal Vitamin

Today, we're talking about one of the most common concerns we hear about from women in our natural fertility clinics: prenatal vitamins.

We meet so many women who are confused about what they should be looking for in a prenatal.

A lot of women think that if they get prescription vitamins from their OB-GYN or buy from a reputable brand, they’re guaranteed to get the nutrients they need for a healthy baby.

Unfortunately... finding the right prenatal vitamins is a lot more complicated than that.

Most prenatals that we see are entirely lacking in key nutrients, have the wrong form of the nutrient making it hard for your body to absorb, or have improper dosages.

Even prescription prenatals are often lacking in the recommended amount of nutrients, and sometimes missing those nutrients altogether.

Nutrient deficiencies are more common than many people realize. Sometimes, lab tests from even the healthiest eaters reveal significant deficiencies. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to get all the nutrients you need from food alone, which is why taking vitamins are so important.

There are thousands of women walking around right now with suboptimal levels of certain nutrients, who think they’re giving their body everything it needs for a healthy pregnancy… and have no idea that they aren’t.

There's a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding around what should be in prenatal vitamins…

So we’ve put together this guide to help you decide which vitamins to buy.

Why Good-Quality Prenatal Vitamins Are So Important

There’s a lot at stake when you’re not getting the right nutrients.

Sub-optimal nutrition can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage and problems in pregnancy including preterm labor and long-term health complications for your baby. 

These complications can impact your child’s health for years.

For example, studies show that Omega 3s are important for brain development before and after birth. Which means that if you aren’t getting enough Omega 3s during pregnancy, it can impact your child for life.

Kind of terrifying, right?

But don’t worry.

We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about the nutrients in your prenatal vitamins.

Note: Studies suggest that you should start taking prenatal vitamins long before you get pregnant. We recommend starting at least 3 months beforehand, to give these nutrients time to build up in your body before the baby arrives.

Let’s take a look at the nutrients most commonly missing or suboptimal in prenatal vitamins…

Folate: A lot of women who come into our clinics know they need a prenatal vitamin with folic acid or folate in it, but there’s more to the story than that…

Folate is a B Vitamin that is proven to boost natural fertility rates and IVF success rates.

But… only 12% of women struggling with infertility and seeking IVF were found to have an optimal level Folate for the prevention of fetal defects. [1]

That means that almost 90% of infertile women have suboptimal levels of B12 & folate for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

That’s a huge problem!

Getting the right amount of folate is especially important during the first three months prior to conceiving and during the first three months of the pregnancy, since it significantly reduces (up to 70%) the risk for neural tube defects.

Folate is often found in prenatal vitamins as folic acid, which is the version of folate extracted in a lab. Many people (up to 30% of Americans) have difficulty absorbing this due to a genetic mutation known as MTHFR. [2] To make sure your body gets the folate it needs, choose a prenatal that contains methylated folate (methylfolate), an easily absorbable form of the vitamin that your body can actually use. 

According to recommendations made for vitamin and mineral supplementation for pregnancy put out by The CDC and ACOG, women should be taking 2.6–8 mcg of vitamin B12, and 400 mcg of easily absorbable folate a day, and men need that much or more. (CDC, ACOG)


  1. Nutrition during pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed here: https://www.acog.org/-/media/Womens-Health/nutrition-in-pregnancy.pdf. May 18, 2018.
  2. Folic Acid. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/index.html. May 18, 2018.
  3. CDC. Trace Elements: Iodine. National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed here: https://www.cdc.gov/nutritionreport/pdf/Nutrition_Book_complete508_final.pdf. May 18, 2018. 

Note: You should always take your B Vitamins with food for optimal absorption.


Most prenatal vitamins have some calcium… but few have the amount your body needs. In fact, 1000 -1300 mg is recommended by the CDC and ACOG for supplementation in pregnant women.

Because calcium takes up a lot of space in a pill, it's difficult to get the recommended amount of calcium by taking one supplement. And not having enough calcium when you're pregnant is associated with an increased risk of complications like hypertension and preeclampsia. 

Note: Calcium and magnesium are very important to take during pregnancy, but they should be taken separately from your prenatal, as they can interfere with iron absorption.


Choline may not even be on your radar! It is absent from most prenatal vitamins and is so important for healthy brain development. Some studies have shown that less than 10% of pregnant women have the recommended amount of choline in their systems.

Not having enough choline can cause major health and development issues for your baby. Choline supports the development of your baby’s brain and neural tube, and some studies have shown that it prevents health complications for pregnant mothers. [4]

Women should be getting a total of 450 mg of choline from a combination of food and supplements.


We often see women in our offices who struggle with infertility who have low iron levels that go undetected. Some studies have shown that getting the recommended amount of iron may help you get pregnant.

We find that women who are struggling to get pregnant tend to need more iron, something like 24-30 mg daily.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

DHA, a.k.a. Omega 3 Fatty Acid, is an important nutrient for fetal development that comes from fish oil. Science has established that DHA plays an important role in fetal brain development before and after birth.

But more often than not, DHA levels are too low in prenatal vitamins. And most women only take DHA, and don’t realize that there are other nutrients in fish oil that are helpful for fertility and fetal health.


Some prenatal have probiotics in them, but it’s rarely enough. You should be taking separate probiotic supplements and eating probiotics in your diet to ensure you’re getting the right amount.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is particularly important for your fertility.

Many studies have shown that a Vitamin D deficiency is associated with: gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, low birthweight, preterm birth, and increased risk for recurrent pregnancy loss.

And for those doing IVF… a recent study showed that women doing IVF who were Vitamin D deficient had lower live birth rates than those who were not deficient.

IVF patients who had the recommended levels of Vitamin D had 4 TIMES the pregnancy rate!

The Endocrine Society recommends getting regular maintenance of 1500-2000 IU/d of Vitamin D in your system…

That’s about 3-4 oz of cooked salmon, 11.4 oz of water packed tuna, 26 oil packed sardines, AND 15 large eggs. That’s a lot to eat everyday.

Which just goes to show how important having the right supplement is!

So… how do you know if your prenatal has everything you need?

To give your body an easier time absorbing the nutrients, look for easy to swallow capsules that are not compressed into tablets that use binders. [1]

We use this chart to help our patients identify what nutrients (and how much) they should be getting at different stages of pregnancy:





Vitamin A (μg/d) 




Vitamin E (mg/d) 




Vitamin K (μg/d) 




Folate (μg/d) 




Niacin (mg/d) 




Riboflavin (mg/d) 




Thiamin (mg/d) 




Vitamin B6 (mg/d) 



Vitamin B12 (μg/d) 




Vitamin C (mg/d) 




Calcium (mg/d) 




Iron (mg/d) 



Phosphorus (mg/d) 




Selenium (μg/d) 




Zinc (mg/d) 



Data from Otten JJ, Pitzi Hellwig J, Meyers LD, Editors. Dietary reference intakes. The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2006. 


We recommend that women also make sure they are getting these vitamins and minerals that are often overlooked in prenatals: 

    • Folate in the form of Methylfolate (not folic acid!): 400 mcg 
    • Iodine: 180-250 mcg
    • Biotin: 100-300 
    • Vitamin D: at least 400 mcg
    • Choline: for brain health 160-400 mg
    • DHA/Omega Fatty Acids

If that seems like a lot to ask for from a vitamin… it is!

That’s why we always recommend taking multiple vitamins a day to make sure your body is getting the nutrition it needs.

Keeping yourself and your baby nourished during pregnancy can be a daunting task, which is why choosing a quality prenatal vitamin is so important. It’s hard enough for women to get the nutrients they need when they’re just eating for one!

A well-formulated prenatal can help fill in gaps in your diet, making sure both you and your baby get the support you need. 

Avoid these common mistakes

We see a lot of women in our clinics trying to do “quick tricks” to get the nutrients they need without putting the work in to find a good vitamin.

But these “quick tricks” rarely work.

The best thing you can do for your body and your baby is to invest in good quality vitamins that can give you everything you need.

Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid...

Trying to get everything you need from one vitamin 

Everyone wants to just take one pill and be done with it…

But the truth is, even the best vitamins companies can't fit everything you need into one pill. 

Let’s look at some quick facts about the 9 most common prenatals (Bayer 1 A Day, Ritual, Nature Made, Thorne Prenatal, Garden of Life, Mama Bird, Rainbow Light, Theralogix) [3]...

  • Only 4 contain choline
  • None have even close to the recommended amount of calcium (the highest, Bayer, had 300mg to the recommended amount of 1,000mg)
  • Only 3 contain the recommended amount of biotin
  • Ritual contains no vitamin A, calcium, or zinc
  • 2 don’t contain the recommended amount of iron
  • Only 1 (Bayer) contains Omega Fatty Acids [3]

Click here to download our full analysis of the most popular prenatals (and what they’re missing) 

The moral of the story?

Most prenatals — even “good” ones — lack  key nutrients.

Even the prenatals that have all or most of the nutrients you need don’t have high enough amounts of those nutrients. 

Usually what happens with a “one-size-fits-all” vitamin (a.k.a. a vitamin that has a little bit of everything) is that there is just that — a little bit. There are not enough key nutrients to support your baby and your body through pregnancy.

Thinking you can get the nutrients you need from gummy vitamins

We get why gummy vitamins are so popular. Who wouldn't want a vitamin that’s so fun to eat?

Sorry to break it to you, but gummy vitamins just don’t work for giving you the nutrients you need.

Instead, you’re going to find yourself nutrient deficient even though you’re paying for and taking these gummies.

So if you want to eat a gummy bear, eat a gummy bear…

And then afterwards, take your vitamins.

Thinking you can “drink your vitamins” in a liquid or powder

The same as above goes for liquids or powders that you can stir directly into your drinks or smoothies.

Time and time again, we’ve seen them get pulled from the market because they make false promises and just don’t work.

Here’s Your Next Step...

Our Cultivate Fertility supplements are doctor-formulated and optimized to have the most bioavailable forms of each nutrient, so that your body can fully absorb it.

Our ingredients come from the highest quality and cleanest traceable vegetarian sources.

We offer a Complete Prenatal Protocol that contains optimal levels of all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy and baby. 

We also feature specialty combination protocols that support women’s and men’s fertility, so you don’t have to deal with multiple bottles (but you can still get all the nutrients you need).

To learn more about exactly what should be in your prenatal vitamins, check out our Prenatal Checklist.




  1. La Vecchia, I., Paffoni, A., Castiglioni, M., et al.  “Folate, homocysteine and selected vitamins and minerals status in infertile women,” 2017. Published in The European Journal of  Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, 22(1), 70–75. http://doi.org/10.1080/13625187.2016.1263292.
  2. Dr. Low Dog, “Five Supplements Every Woman Should Consider,” May 17, 2019. https://drlowdog.com/five-supplements-every-woman-should-consider.
  3. Kominiarek M., Rajan P. (2016). “Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation.” Med Clin North Am. 2016 Nov; 100(6): 1199–1215.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mcna.201f6.06.004.
  4. “How Choline Benefits Baby’s Development,” https://blog.theralogix.com/choline-benefits