If you’re looking for the best OTC prenatal vitamins, you’ve come to the right place! If you want to see all our recommendations, scroll to the bottom of the page. Or if you just want the short answer, these are the prenatal vitamins we recommend!
Your doctor will probably give you a prescription for prenatal vitamins, but the best OTC prenatal vitamins (OTC=over the counter) do the job brilliantly and are far cheaper. Often the only difference is lower amounts of folic acid and iron, but that can easily be fixed with a couple of extra cheap supplements. Your local pharmacy should have everything you need.
But many women wonder whether they even need prenatal vitamins. It’s true that a healthy balanced diet should provide all the nutrients most people need, perhaps with a standard multivitamin thrown into the mix. But pregnant women have greater nutritional needs than anyone else, and simply eating your greens and avoiding processed foods isn’t going to cut it when you’re eating for two. And it’s even harder if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
The Most Important Prenatal Vitamins
The best OTC prenatal vitamins will contain folic acid, iron, iodine, calcium and vitamin D. There will probably be lots of other ingredients too, but those are the really vital ones, so check for them before buying. Other nutrients to look out for include omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, copper and vitamins A, C and E.
Folic acid is the most talked about prenatal vitamin. Low levels of folate/folic acid are known to cause neural tube defects in babies i.e. birth defects of the brain and/or spinal cord such as spina bifida. The importance of folic acid as a prenatal vitamin cannot be overstated. If you want the best OTC prenatal vitamins, aim to find one that includes 400-800mcg of folic acid (and possibly more if there is a history of neural tube defects in your family – speak to your doctor about this).
Low birth weight, premature birth and fetal anemia are all linked to low levels of iron in the mother’s blood. Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, but iron is essential for a baby’s growth and development. You should try to ingest around 30mg of iron per day.
Without iodine, your body can’t synthesize thyroidal hormones. In pregnant women, this can lead to congenital hypothyroidism, brain defects and even miscarriages and stillbirth.
Calcium and vitamin D work very well together. Calcium is needed to support bone growth and to build a healthy skeleton, making calcium especially important during the third trimester. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, so both nutrients are useless without each other.
Note that you won’t be able to get enough calcium from a multivitamin alone. You’ll also need to eat dairy products and/or other calcium-rich foods like kale, watercress and broccoli. A dedicated calcium supplement is also an option.
When to Take a Prenatal Vitamin
In an ideal world, every pregnancy would be planned and wanted. But we realise that’s not always the case. If you are trying for a baby, then make sure you’re taking a prenatal vitamin now, even before you conceive!
A baby’s neural tube (which later becomes its spinal cord and brain) develops during the very first month of pregnancy, before you even know a baby bump is on its way. This means that you should always take a prenatal vitamin if you’re hoping to get pregnant, with the folic acid component being particularly important.
As many pregnancies aren’t planned, there’s a strong argument to take prenatal vitamins (or at least a folic acid supplement) throughout your sexually active, pre-menopausal adult life.
You should keep taking your prenatal vitamins at least until your baby is born. Many women keep up their multivitamin regime after giving birth, which is generally recommended for mothers who intend to breastfeed their newborn.
Prenatal Vitamin Side Effects
Even the best OTC prenatal vitamins can cause side effects. This is also true of prescription supplements and will vary from person to person. Some lucky women won’t experience any side effects at all, while others will be less fortunate.
The most common complaint when taking prenatal vitamins is feeling queasy. You can try to combat this by taking your vitamins with a snack or just before going to bed. If that doesn’t work, try another product – you’ll often find that while one set of prenatal vitamins makes you feel bad, you won’t even notice some of the others. (The very gentle Best Nest prenatal vitamins are particularly popular for women who have problems with nausea.)
As prenatal vitamins contain large amounts of iron, they can often cause constipation. The best options here (apart from trying other products) are to drink lots of fluids, get plenty of exercise and eat more fiber. You could also investigate taking a stool softener.
If you’re still plagued by side effects, talk to your doctor about taking the crucial vitamins separately. It’s more complicated, but it should be able to bypass your problems this way.
One final issue concerns vitamin A. Try to find a product that contains vitamin A as beta-carotene (which is absolutely fine) rather than retinol. In doses over ~2500 IU, retinol can itself cause birth defects, so high dosages of retinol should always be avoided.
The Best OTC Prenatal Vitamins
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to over the counter prenatal vitamins, so you’ll always have another option if one or two give you unpleasant side effects.
To save you the effort of trawling through endless products and reviews, we’ve done our own extensive research to find the best OTC prenatal vitamins. You can find our favorite choices below.
In our opinion, this is the very best OTC prenatal multivitamin. It contains everything that a prenatal supplement should, including a full 800mcg of folic acid and 30mg of iron – almost double the amount found in most competitors.
Crucially, the Rainbow Light Prenatal One is also one of the cheapest prenatal multivitamins on the market, despite outperforming most of the others. The tablets are even vegan and gluten free, (as well as yeast, sugar and dairy/lactose free).
This is without a doubt our recommended choice for a simple once daily prenatal multivitamin.
The Best Nest multivitamin is vegetarian, non-GMO and gluten free. It’s also made entirely from whole food sources and it’s supposed to be much gentler on your stomach than its competitors.
While it has everything you need in a prenatal vitamin, Best Nest’s biggest selling point is the inclusion of methylfolate and methylcobalamin, natural alternatives to standard folic acid and vitamin B12.
These are the cheapest prenatal vitamins we recommend. The Nature Made multivitamin even includes omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, a major selling point, as well as 800mcg of folic acid and 27mg of iron.
However, one possible downside is that these tablets don’t contain copper, one of the secondary prenatal vitamins. But if you’re looking for cheap prenatal vitamins, these are the ones to go for.
This prenatal multivitamin is no exception, being vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free and based on whole foods with no binders or fillers.