Getting all the vitamins and minerals you need through eating nutrient-dense foods alone can be tough, especially if you’re currently pregnant or trying to conceive. Obviously, you’re very invested in supporting you and your baby’s health.
Specifically designed to fill any gaps in your diet, ob-gyn Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, says that a good quality prenatal vitamin ensures that all the nutrients your baby needs to grow are present in your system while you're pregnant. For example, you'll want to prioritize getting more magnesium, DHA, zinc, calcium, vitamins B and C, and folic acid into your system.
Peep some of the best doctor-recommended prenatal vitamins here:
And, no matter how healthy you are, it’s likely that your diet alone isn't providing you with all the vitamins needed for your baby's growth and development according to Dr. Tiffany Woodus, MD, an ob-gyn: "Most women simply do not consume enough of the key nutrients that have been shown to give babies the best possible start in life."
Meet the experts: Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, is an ob-gyn based in Orange County, California. Dr. Tiffany Woodus, MD, is an ob-gyn in Dallas. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, is the author of Menopause Bootcamp. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, ob-gyn, is a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University Medical School. Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian in Miami, Florida.
Why are prenatal vitamins important?
Taking prenatal vitamins benefit both mom and baby.
"To support growing a baby, a mom needs to be healthy first and foremost! During pregnancy, a woman's needs for macronutrients and micronutrients increases," says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami, Florida. "A pregnant woman needs more overall calories, vitamins and minerals compared to a woman who isn’t pregnant to help support the growing baby, and to ensure they are growing in a healthy manner and developing well."
Ehsani adds that some women during pregnancy may experience morning sickness or food aversions, which can make it more difficult to get enough nutrients. "Supplementing with a prenatal can help ensure mom and baby are getting the nutrients it needs to thrive and stay healthy," she says.
Are prenatal vitamins FDA-Approved?
Unfortunately, like other dietary supplements in the United States, prenatal vitamins are not FDA-approved.
"Therefore, it’s so important to check to make sure the prenatal vitamins you are picking up are third party tested and purchased from reputable companies," says Ehsani.
Should you take a prenatal vitamin before pregnancy?
Ob-gyn Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, says you should start taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as you begin trying to conceive. After all, your pre-conception health is absolutely vital to the health of your future baby.
"The health of a pre-pregnant person has a direct impact on the lifelong health of the fetus and person who develops from that fetus," she says. "Being aware of glucose and thyroid function, Vitamin D, and folate levels is important because they all have a direct impact on the health of a baby."
And, the data is here to prove it, says ob-gyn Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD. "Women who conceive while on prenatal vitamins with extra folic acid have a lower risk of having a baby born with a neural tube defect," she says.
What is the most effective prenatal vitamin?
You should look out for a few things when shopping for prenatal vitamins. Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says they should have nutrients that are bioavailable (meaning the body can easily absorb them) in the correct dosages.
"Many new prenatals on the market have good ingredient profiles but the dosages are too low to make a difference," she notes. "Also, when you have a million things in one vitamin, they literally won’t fit the correct doses."
So, the best vitamins have the fewest number of ingredients in the right dosage. Here's what Dr. Gilberg-Lenz suggests for a daily dosage:
- Folate/folic acid (400-800 mcg minimum): prevents birth defects, restores ovulation, and boosts egg quality to make getting pregnant easier
- Vitamin D (depends on patient's lab values but generally, 1000 IUD): helps reduce chance of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, pre-term birth, and postpartum depression
- Iron (depends on patient's lab values but generally, 27 mg minimum): helps produce more blood and oxygen for your baby
- Choline (450 mg minimum): promotes baby's brain development and cognition
- Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (350 mg minimum): helps brain development
Dr. Minkin adds that folic acid and Vitamin D are the most important to intake on a daily basis.
Is it okay to take a prenatal vitamin for hair growth?
Both Dr. Gilberg-Lenz and Dr. Minkin agree that there isn't a lot of evidence to support the claim that prenatal vitamins boost hair growth. "Prenatal vitamins for hair health is a myth," Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says. "Hair grows lush in pregnancy due to cessation of the normal lifecycle of hair." So, hair loss stops temporarily during pregnancy.
Because there's such little data on taking high doses of biotin for hair growth during pregnancy, Minkin doesn't really recommend taking it. Taking a small amount is fine, she says.
When should you start taking a prenatal vitamin?
You should start taking a prenatal vitamin the minute you decide to try conceiving. But if you find out that you are pregnant unexpectedly, start it as soon as you get a positive test.
What are side effects of taking a prenatal vitamin?
Unfortunately, there may be some negative side effects from taking a prenatal vitamin.
"Some women may experience nausea, bloating, or constipation," says Ehsani. "Pill size or scent may cause nausea for some women. And constipation might be from the type of iron found in the prenatal."
To supplement what you're already getting from your diet, see below for the best prenatal vitamins in 2023, according to ob-gyns and a registered dietician.
1.Best Prenatal Vitamin For Iron: Ritual Prenatal Vitamins
This vitamin doesn't contain calcium, FYI. So if you're anemic, it may help you better absorb the iron in it.
"Iron and calcium compete with each other for absorption," says Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MD, an ob-gyn. "I recommend getting iron from a vitamin and calcium from your diet," she says, since it's much easier to get calcium from foods than iron.
Dr. Dweck adds that these vegan vitamins have a minty flavor that's a nice, refreshing bonus for women experiencing morning sickness and nausea.
"I was having an unpleasant experience with a leading national brand of prenatal vitamins when a coworker recommended Ritual. What a game changer! Much easier on the digestive system, with a pleasant citrus flavor. Absolutely thankful to have found Ritual and they will remain a part of my daily life postpartum, as well."
- Made without calcium for better absorption of iron
- Minty flavor may help nausea
- Loved by both our fitness editor, Jennifer Nied, and senior commerce editor, Neha Tandon
2. Best Prenatal Vitamin For Iodine: TheraNatal One Prenatal
This prenatal contains iodine, a mineral that's vital in hormone regulation, fetal growth, and brain development, says Dr. Wright. She notes that ideally, you want to take in about 150 micrograms of iodine every day, making TheraNatal's vitamin a great pick.
The one major downside: These don't come cheap. By far one of the most expensive OTC options on the list, you may be able to get them at a lower price through your doctor's prescription.
"I was recommended to take these by my doctor. They are big pills, and sometimes have an unpleasant after taste, but I'm very happy with everything they provide me as a vitamin. I used these all throughout my pregnancy, did not have any issues associated with taking them with or without food, and I continue to use them post-pregnancy. I'm struggling to find a multivitamin that I like that will provide me with everything I need after I stop taking these prenatals!"
- Brand is independently-tested
- Contains iodine for hormone regulation and fetal growth
3. Best Prenatal Vitamin For Folic Acid: Thorne Basic Prenatal
Ob-gyn Dr. Felice Gersh, MD likes this one because it contains even more folate (a full milligram more, in fact) than most vitamins out there, which makes it ideal for women who don’t get enough leafy green vegetables in their diet. "This is also high in vitamin D and provides a healthy blend of calcium citrate and malate, though it does take three capsules daily to get these amounts,” says Dr. Gersh.
"My sister (lactation consultant) looks into all the different prenatals and highly recommended this one. So of course bought it. My blood draw tests showed great signs of all the nutrients the baby needed. I haven’t been eating the best if I’m honest. I just hit my second trimester. But I showed the Dr the prenatal I was taking and she was impressed. She said to keep using it, and keep doing a great job at feeding the baby."
- Contains more folate than other options
- Great option for women who don't get enough leafy greens
4. Most Affordable Prenatal Vitamin: Garden of Life Vitamin
In addition to being a good source of vitamin D, this also offers a blend of vitamin A, which is known for being beneficial for your (and your fetus’) eyes per the WHO. It even contains ginger to soothe nausea, probiotics that support a healthy immune system, and an organic blend of vegetables. “This is a great pick for women looking for a very affordable option that doesn't contain any unhealthy binders and fillers,” adds Dr. Gersh.
"I switched to this prenatal about halfway through my pregnancy and noticed a huge difference! My old prenatals were making me nauseous, but these actually helped my nausea and I finally felt my energy come back! The smell and taste are unpleasant, so I would recommend taking these while holding your breath or with some juice. You also have to take three per day, which isn’t a big deal once you get into the habit of it. Nutrition is super important during pregnancy, especially if you have morning sickness and unable to eat a balanced diet. I highly recommend these!"
- Made with ginger to soothe nausea
- Also contains probiotics and vegetables
5. Best Prescription Prenatal Vitamin For Iron: OB Complete One
This prescription option recommended by Dr. McDonald stands out for being loaded with iron (40 mg, to be exact). That's great because, per The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, your body needs extra iron during pregnancy to help make more blood that will carry oxygen to the fetus. She just warns that you'll want to be sure to avoid eating or drinking dairy within 30 minutes of taking this vitamin, as the calcium can interfere with iron absorption.
"I was given this vitamin by a fertility specialist, discontinued my old vitamin and started taking it immediately. Conceived naturally, breastfed for over a year & am now pregnant again. I have been taking the vitamin the entire time & love it! I get the DHA without the fishy after taste and no acid-reflux/heartburn from it. And yes, it is easy to swallow."
- Made with 40 mg of iron
- Also available in powder form
6. Smallest Prenatal Vitamin: Prenate Mini
If the word "vitamin" freaks you out (hi, huge horse pills), Dr. McDonald recommends Prenate Mini, a micro-sized pill that provides all the essential nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. Of particular note is its large amount of DHA (350 mg).
Quick review: DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid (you know, the brain-boosting fat that you can frequently find in fish). Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to play an important role in the fetus' brain development before and after birth according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is why extra DHA is super important.
"The pills are small and easy to swallow. I have not been sick from them at all! :)"
- Small size
- Large amount of DHA
7. Best Gummy Prenatal Vitamin: Smarty Pants Prenatal Formula
Gummy vitamins aren't just for kids. These are packed with 18 essential vitamins, all of which play a part in promoting fetal growth. Plus, Dr. Woodus says iodine is essential for healthy brain development (the recommended daily intake is 220 mcg), and these pack in 290 mcg of it.
"I have been a pregnant or nursing mom for over four years now so I have been taking these for a long time and every time it’s empty I do research to make sure I am getting the best quality for my money and a good vitamin for my needs and every single time I end up repurchasing these. I will be a forever consumer."
- Yummy gummy texture
- Contain iodine
8. Best Prenatal Vitamin For Choline: MegaFood Baby & Me 2
"Choline is important for the development of the baby's brain and spinal cord," says Dr. Woodus. These prenatal vitamins from MegaFood include 300 mg of it. The recommended daily amount is 450 mg, but Dr. Woodus says the nutrient can also be found in foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy products to get your daily fill.
"The minis are a lot better than the regular ones. They have a strong taste when initially taking them but I really like that there is no after taste. I’ve had vitamins that constantly bring back up the iron taste hours later."
- Contain choline
- Small size
9. Best Prenatal Vitamin With Fish Oil: Vitafusion Prenatal Gummies
Vitafusion's prenatal formula includes essential vitamins and minerals and provides an excellent source of folic acid as well as 50 mg of omega-3 DHA, says Dr. Minkin. Plus, the fish oil has been tested for mercury and PCBs, two things that she says can be toxic and cause neurobehavioral issues.
She says the DHA can help support your baby's brain development while the folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects, and vitamin D promotes bone development—and it's all in an easy-to-take gummy form.
"I switched up my prenatal and these are amazing!!!! Taste is great and very easy to take. Will be buying more."
- Contain fish oil
10. Best Prescription Prenatal Vitamin For Nausea: Vitafol Prenatals
Vitafol is a go-to prescription for ob-gyn Dr. Sandy Dorcelus, DO. Specifically, Dr. Dorcelus likes that Vitafol's pills are small and easy to swallow. Plus, they are enteric-coated, which basically means they're easy on the stomach—she says about one-third of her pregnant patients complain about nausea due to prenatal vitamins.
That said, if you’re anemic, on anti-seizure medications, or have had a previous birth with neural tube defects, Dr. Dorcelus recommends taking an additional iron supplement with this vitamin.
"Out of all the prenatal vitamins that I've used, I must say that this one has been great. I hate taking pills however, this one is smaller than the average prenatal vitamin and is very easy to swallow. Unlike other pills, there's no aftertaste, no nausea and they only need to be taken once a day. Highly recommended."
- Small size
- Coated to reduce nausea
11. Best Prenatal With DHA: NOW Prenatal Gels + DHA Softgels
Ehsani is a big fan of NOW supplements because they ensure all their supplements are third-party certified an exceed standards of NPA’s cGMP (good manufacturing practices).
"You can feel at ease that you are taking a safe supplement that is supporting a healthy pregnancy for you and baby, and everything that is listed on the label is truly in the soft gel you are taking," she says.
This supplement also has a non-constipating form of iron, ferrous bisglycinate. It also has 250 mg of DHA to help support brain, eye and nervous system of the baby. According to Ehsani, you don’t need to take a separate fish oil supplement since this is all in one.
"I've taken a bunch of different prenatal vitamins in the last 3 years and these are definitely the best deal I can find for ones that have all the great things you want in your prenatal, including the ones some of the other brands don't include but that you definitely want like iron, magnesium zinc, and iodide, etc. Plus the DHA is included! You do have to take 3 a day for the full amount and they are large gel caps but most prenatal vitamins are bigger and way harder to swallow because they are not gel caps like these and I personally never have trouble with them. They also are gentle on my stomach which not all are so I'm a big fan of NOW's prenatal for a lot of reasons but especially for the cost for such a comprehensive vitamin that you don't need to buy extra DHA supplements as well!"
- Third party tested
- Non-constipating form of iron
12. Best Single-Dose Prenatal: Nature Made Prenatal with Folic Acid + DHA Softgels
"This is by far one of the most affordable prenatals you can purchase at a local grocery store or pharmacy," says Ehsani. "It’s also third-party tested and you only need to take 1 soft-gel per day."
"I took this during my pregnancies and while breastfeeding. Any time I stop taking it, my iron deficiency anemia worsens. I can immediately feel the difference once I resume taking them. I love that everything is included in one pill. The pill is a bit large, but not unbearable. I would highly recommend these pills."
- Only need to take 1 per day
- Affordable and accessible
13. Best Chewable Prenatal: Seeking Health Prenatal Essential Chewable
"If you struggle to swallow a pill, a chewable prenatal may be up your alley," says Ehsani. "No swallowing required, it's sugar-free and contains most of the micronutrients needed. Keep in mind it doesn’t contain iron or DHA, so either grab it from food stores or you might need to invest in another supplement."
"I am so happy to have found these! I have a double MTHFR mutation and have a cupboard full of vitamins I was taking daily and not seeing changes. I must have been missing the micro-nutrients because this is the only vitamin I have ever noticed any changes! My nails are growing and stronger and I have NEVER had any nail length as they would rip and break (sometimes painful) and were terribly thin. I have more energy and hair loss has subsided. The pills are large, but I expected that, and I think the taste is fine. I enjoy taking these as to swallowing a bunch of capsules. I sometimes split them up between meals. I cannot say enough about this company, and I will take these from here on out!"
- Chewable tablet
Addison Aloian (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. When she’s not writing about all things pop culture, health, beauty, and fashion, she loves hitting leg day at the gym, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and watching whichever hockey game is on TV. Her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L’Officiel USA, V Magazine, and Modern Luxury Media.
Neha Tandon is the senior commerce editor of Women's Health—she's an expert in discovering the best products and services you can buy and giving recommendations. She discovered her love for magazines when as a teen, she started stealing her mother's magazines. Determined to see more women who look like her and her family members on the glossy covers of magazines, she was guided by seasoned editors and mentors to write for brands including New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan, BRIDES, Harper's Bazaar, Business Insider, Byrdie, and Well+Good. When she’s not grilling dermatologists about the latest skincare trends, she’s doing candlelit yoga or watching Humphrey Bogart movies over vegan pizza. Follow her on Instagram.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.