I still remember feeling completely overwhelmed the first time I shopped for prenatal vitamins when I was ready to try to conceive. I’m sure I was putting too much thought into it, but like many others, I was going to take my fertility seriously and I wanted the BEST option. So why did my drugstore have over 5 different types of prenatal vitamins, all with a different concoction of what they claimed was “best?” Some of my friends reported using “prescription prenatal vitamins” and swore they were worth the cost.
I ultimately ended up buying prenatal vitamins that contained docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) since they were advertised as “supporting neurodevelopment” and who wouldn’t want a smarter baby? DHA is an omega-3- fatty acid that is important for brain development. It has been recommended to eat foods which are high in omega-3 fatty acids for women who want to become pregnant or when nursing. Although vegetarian sources are now available, fish and fish oil are often utilized for DHA supplementation. For months, I endured gross fishy tastes in my mouth and a fishy odor to my breath; all in the sake of helping my baby’s brain develop. Was it worth it?
The sale of prenatal supplements with DHA continues to increase, despite limited evidence that it actually helps brain development. A recent study suggests that DHA may not be all that it was chalked up to be. This group evaluated pregnant women who took DHA supplements and compared them to women who didn’t. There was no difference in cognitive, language, or motor development in the children from moms who took DHA compared to those that didn’t at 18 months, and 7 years- DHA doesn’t seem to result in smarter kids. This data is strong enough for me to recommend that you can skip the DHA supplement in your prenatal vitamin, especially if you are having undesirable side effects like gross fish burps.
So what does a good prenatal vitamin need, anyway?
- Folic acid- at least 400 micrograms; some patients require higher doses of folic acid
Although a prenatal vitamin will help supplement your diet with extra amounts of vitamins and minerals, your diet should be the primary source. Iron, calcium, and vitamin D are particularly important in pregnancy.
My advice to anxious patients (like myself a few years ago) is simple: eat a well-balanced diet, stay healthy, and find an inexpensive prenatal vitamin that you like so that you remember to take every day.