Pregnancy + Parenthood

A Primer to Prenatal Vitamins

7 min read

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Most experts agree that taking a prenatal multivitamin is a must, but many of us might not understand why. If you only take one thing away from this guide, let it be this: Nutritional experts recommend starting a prenatal multivitamin regimen a few months before pregnancy. (Our rule of thumb? Take one when thinking, trying, and when it's time.)*

Prenatal multivitamins aren’t just for during pregnancy

Reaching a nutritional status requires consistent intake, which may include a mix of a healthy diet and supplementation. It’s important to help maintain essential nutrient levels before pregnancy, since those initial first weeks of pregnancy are critical (and someone might not even realize they're expecting yet). That's why eating a mostly-balanced diet—and starting a prenatal multivitamin early—can have a positive impact.*

Nevertheless, while nutrition plays a foundational role during pregnancy, the approach shouldn’t vary all that much from supporting the body with a healthy diet during any other life stage. In other words, eating plenty of whole, unprocessed foods is generally a wise wellness strategy to abide by—but pregnancy may be an especially good time to double-down on those habits.

OBGYN and Ritual Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Jason Rothbart says, “Most pregnant women† don't find out they are pregnant until around 4-7 weeks, which is past the first 28 days. In the first 28 days, the organs are rapidly forming." (Already expecting? Taking a prenatal multivitamin is still important, regardless of what trimester a pregnant person may be in.)*

Food comes first

According to Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, a registered dietitian and Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs, meeting nutrient needs doesn’t require a complicated approach: “Aim for a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, then use supplementation to help fill the gaps.” By embracing a food-first approach to nutrition—one that considers both macronutrients (carbs, healthy fats, protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)—can help set the stage for success.* That said…

“Supplementing the diet with extra essential nutrients is important not just after you become pregnant, but when you start to think about pregnancy.” Robin Berzin MD, Founder and CEO of Parsley Health

Eating for two may not (always) be enough

Usually when we hear about "eating for two," we think in terms of calories, not nutrients. However, it's worth noting that “some key nutrients like vitamin D3, folate, choline, and iron can be more tricky to get enough of solely from our diets," according to Dr. Blanche Ip, PhD in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition and Ritual Advisory Board Member. Omega-3 DHA is another example—studies show that less than 5% of pregnant women consume the recommended daily value.* (1)

Supplementation can help support some of these key nutrient needs—which is why taking a prenatal multivitamin early is ideal. A prenatal multivitamin’s formula may help fill the gaps in the diet with key micronutrients necessary to support the nutrient needs of pregnancy. (Psst—protein demands are also important to mind during pregnancy and postpartum.)*

Let’s talk about nutrients

As for what to look for in a prenatal multivitamin? There’s a few central markers of a high-quality formula—traceable ingredients, bioavailability, delayed-release capsules (designed to dissolve later in the small intestine, an ideal place for absorption) and of course, key nutrients to help fill gaps in the diet. We recommend choosing a prenatal with the following 12 key nutrients: choline (approximately 90% of Americans, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, are not consuming enough choline), folate, omega-3 (we’re partial to vegan algal oil over fish oil), vitamin B12, iodine, biotin, vitamin D (vitamin D3, to be specific), iron, boron, vitamin E, vitamin K2, and magnesium.* (2)

When taken together, these key nutrients help support nutrient needs in a variety of ways—from supporting normal neural tube development (folate, choline), brain development (omega-3 DHA, choline, folate), red blood cell formation (iron, folate, vitamin B12), and bone health (vitamin D3, vitamin K2, magnesium, boron) to supporting normal DNA synthesis (folate, vitamin B12) and antioxidant support (vitamin E from mixed tocopherols).* Notice anything missing? That’s because when it comes to micronutrition, sometimes less really is more—a philosophy that extends beyond specific nutrients like vitamin C and calcium into shady extras, like artificial colorants and shady fillers (ingredients not used in our multivitamins). Something else not found? Common allergens. Essential Prenatal is also gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan-friendly.*

Reminder—form matters

Exhibit A: Look for a prenatal multivitamin with 5-MTHF folate. Folic acid, which is a synthetic form of folate, is commonly found in prenatal multivitamins. The catch? Up to one-third of people have a genetic variation that makes it difficult to efficiently utilize folic acid. 5-MTHF folate is a bioavailable, cell-identical option—even for those with that gene variation. That's why we use it in Essential Prenatal.*

Another example? Omega-3 DHA, which helps support brain, heart, and eye health. Omega-3 fatty acids are traditionally sourced from fish, which is a no-no if a plant-based lifestyle or sustainable production methods are preferred. That's why we source ours from microalgae, a vegan alternative that’s extracted using an environmentally-friendly process. Bottom line? You deserve to know what's going into your body and why—especially when navigating (or preparing for) pregnancy. And as always, if you have any specific questions about prenatal multivitamins or pregnancy nutrition in general, we suggest reaching out to a trusted health care provider.*

Already gave birth? Check out Essential Postnatal multivitamin, which was formulated for the new nutrient demands on a mother for 6 months postpartum, and throughout lactation. (And learn more about when to make the switch from taking prenatal vitamins to postnatal vitamins.)*

References:

  1. Zhang Z, Fulgoni VL, Kris-Etherton PM, Mitmesser SH. Dietary intakes of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids among US childbearing-age and pregnant women: an analysis of NHANES 2001-2014. Nutrients. 2018;10:416.
  2. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016. 2020.

†As a health company that adheres to standardized nutrition research—which is often reliant on assigned sex at birth—we face some unique challenges regarding our gender-specific messaging. Our decision to use gendered terms is, unfortunately, a result of these limitations in nutrition research. In cases where complying with the binary distinction is necessary for scientific accuracy purposes, we want to make it very clear that we recognize a person’s gender identity might differ from their assigned sex.

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Meet our Experts

This article features advice from members of our Scientific Advisory Board.

PDP-Bio-Rothbart

Dr. Jason Rothbart, MD, FACOG, Physician, Cedars-Sinai (Obstetrics and Gynecology)

Dr. Jason Rothbart is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist offering a comprehensive practice of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

PDP-Bio-Rothbart

Dr. Jason Rothbart, MD, FACOG, Physician, Cedars-Sinai (Obstetrics and Gynecology)

Dr. Jason Rothbart is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist offering a comprehensive practice of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Robin Berzin

Dr. Robin Berzin, MD, Doctor & CEO, Parsley Health (Functional Medicine)

Robin Berzin, MD is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health, a primary care medicine provider with a data-driven, whole body approach.

Dr. Robin Berzin

Dr. Robin Berzin, MD, Doctor & CEO, Parsley Health (Functional Medicine)

Robin Berzin, MD is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health, a primary care medicine provider with a data-driven, whole body approach.

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