I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Prenatal vitamins are recommended even before you conceive to prepare for pregnancy and ensure you’ve got the proper nutrients to grow a human!
But mama, you might be spending A LOT of money on a prenatal vitamin that may or may not contain what you and Baby actually need.
Here’s the thing about prenatal and multivitamins: More is not better.
Side Effects of Even the Best Prenatal Vitamins
We’ve been sold a lie, y’all:
Take your prenatal vitamin, and you don’t need to worry about prenatal nutrition or anything else.
And if you do, your pregnancy will be all rainbows and happy thoughts.
But I’m telling you, friend, not all prenatal vitamins are equal. Especially if you’re throwing back those sugar-covered gummies that your older kids beg you to share every morning.
Here’s the thing: Those gummies might be easier to swallow with morning sickness (ahem, ALL DAY sickness, amiright?!), rearing its ugly head but some gummy prenatals have 10-20 calories per dose and the culprit? All that lovely, sugary goodness (I can think of a dozen better ways to spend those extra calories.)
I mean, you might as well eat some gummy bears after dinner for all the good it’s doing. I mean, I’m not telling you to eat gummy bears for dessert, but I’m also not NOT telling you that. Just eat your protein first.?
Plus, did you know that some vitamins can counteract others? Yeap, it’s true.
Common pregnancy advice on those happenin’ Due Date Club forums is supplementing with vitamin D. Now, they aren’t talking about good ol’ fashion vitamin D from our sun. They’re talking about the synthetic vitamin D in a bottle.
Technically vitamin D is a hormone (like melatonin), and too much supplementing tells our bodies to stop producing/synthesizing it properly. Supplementing too much, too often, or too long over time actually works against your body’s natural processes, which is never what we want.
If you choose to supplement vitamin D, or your provider recommends it be sure you find a good-quality supplement that also contains vitamin K2, so it absorbs properly.
As always, I recommend having your levels tested and reviewed with an experienced provider before and during your regiment, so you’re not just blindly dosing without a plan. Because over-supplementing Vitamin D can cause magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A deficiencies and inhibits calcium absorption putting it in your tissues rather than your bones and teeth.
It’s not just vitamin D that does weird shit when we supplement all willy-nilly, y’all.
Iron is another commonly found mineral in prenatals, but when it’s not balanced with copper, it can overload your tissues and cause all kinds of issues.
Say it with me: “Iron in your tissues causes all kinds of issues.”
Not to mention, iron overload is often the villain behind that dreaded constipation resulting in prenatal hemorrhoids, which you most def do not want before the “pushing the baby out of your loins” part.
But what about B-complex…isn’t that important during pregnancy?
You’ve probably heard how vital vitamin B9 (folate) is for your baby. In fact, women are encouraged to take it three months before conceiving to prevent conditions like spina bifida.
Unfortunately, you’ll most likely find the synthetic version (folic acid) rather than the naturally occurring B9 (folate) in multivitamins. Why does that matter?
Because folic acid is SUPER hard for your body to convert and metabolize into bioavailable B6. If you’re taking a prenatal with it and eating foods fortified with folic acid, you risk having it build up in your bloodstream. And folic acid buildup is now linked to some cancers.
How to tell if you are over-supplementing B-complex
It’s worth noting that if you take B vitamins and your pee is a bright neon color, you’re just flushing your money down the toilet. B vitamins are water-soluble, so if your body isn’t absorbing them, you’ll definitely notice before you flush.
Choosing the right B-vitamins for your genetics
Your unique genetic makeup (MTHFR/COMT mutations) may require a methylated B-complex rather than stand-alone folate. I’m no geneticist, and this stuff can get overwhelming, so if it piques your interest, you can learn more from the book Dirty Genes by Ben Lynch.
Third-party testing of Prenatal Vitamins
Look, no one really monitors what goes into vitamins and at what ratios. So, you have to completely trust when a company tells you their multivitamin is completely balanced. Make sure they aren’t increasing profits by decreasing bioavailable nutrients at the expense of you, your baby, or your wallet.
Of course, with a bit of label-reading and investigating, you can find some reputable brands of prenatal multivitamins with reliable third-party testing and whole-food ingredients.
I recommend always starting with real food first and then working with your provider to fill in the gaps with targeted supplementation.
And listen, I don’t say all this to pile on guilt…
If you’ve previously taken multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, or even those gummies we all know and love, don’t sweat it, my friend.
I legit ate so many prenatal gummies when I was preggo, so no judgment from me. (Hey man, we do the best we can with the information we have at the time. ?♀️)
But now that I know some things, I probably would do the prenatal vitamin thing quite differently if I had a redo. So, let’s talk about what I would do differently and what we can do from here on out to learn from my “mistakes.”
Basically, it comes down to nature’s vitamins = good. Synthetic vitamins = bad.
A Better Alternative to Prenatal Vitamins
The thing is, not all supplements are bad, but not all are necessary, either.
Best case scenario, you’re peeing out the majority of the unneeded nutrients.
Worst case, you end up with an empty wallet and some wonky side effects that you will probably blame on crazy pregnancy hormones. Really though, it might be caused by over-supplementing certain nutrients your body doesn’t want or need.
So how do you know what supplements are right for you?
Consider an HTMA or Similar Test
A Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is a quick procedure that verifies your vitamin/mineral levels. It’s more accurate than a blood test because it reflects what is stored in your tissues.
//Side note// Our bodies are so cool! They can actually store vitamin D, iron, and other nutrients in your fat for later, i.e., in the dark winter months…like whhhhy must the sun go down at 4 pm?! ?
If the results from your HTMA show you are deficient in a specific area, you can supplement 1-2 vitamins from a reputable source rather than blindly taking a multivitamin.
Chances are that yummy-gummy is targeted so broadly for *everyone’s* needs that it actually is more likely to meet no one’s true vitamin needs.
First Things First: Get Your Nutrients from Food and Nature
Let’s think about how mothers had healthy pregnancies before prenatal vitamins came on the market? Answer: They ATE. They ate REAL, good (get it? Real good. Pun intended) food.
Wholesome, delicious food straight from the gardens they sowed and the farms they worked with the sun kissing their bare shoulders until the cows came home.
Focus on real food, straight from the source
For those of us not focusing on any specific “type” of diet or eating plan, when I say real food, I’m talking about:
- Ditching the processed convenience foods
- Focusing on fresh, whole, raw dairy, grass-fed beef
- Eggs from free-range chickens (they lay the B E S T eggs with those deep orange yolks)
- Drinking rich bone broths stewed with organs, fresh root vegetables and savory herbs grown in rich soil
- Eating savory comfort foods made with fresh, local fruits and vegetables and warm fresh sourdough slathered in real salted butter…
- (Note: don’t come at me about vegetarian or vegan intake during pregnancy. I know it CAN be done, I am just not educated enough to speak on the matter. I do know one would have to focus very specifically on getting well-rounded plant-based nutrition.)
Together with proper nutrition, HYDRATION is one of the most important things you can do for your growing body/baby. You can add trace minerals to your water or make a habit of drinking coconut water daily.
They make those drink packets now of dehydrated coconut water you can drop into a water bottle for electrolytes on the go.
Or if you’re really in a pinch, Liquid IV tastes great (just watch your sugar count.)
*Random side note (that I learned the hard way)
…make sure you use a dedicated “packet” bottle or wash your bottle like every single night…because the added sugars create a very cozy place for mold and bacteria to thrive and you do NOT want that during pregnancy…or anytime really. Because ?.
Adding Collagen Peptides to your Choice of Beverage
Drinking bone broth daily or adding collagen powder to your hot drinks or soups is another way to supercharge your essential amino acids, minerals, and protein intake.
To get my collagen in, I like to:
- Add Vital Proteins collagen peptides to my morning coffee.
- Put a scoop of Get up & Glow to my afternoon adrenal cocktail.
- Or if I feel restless before bedtime, I might make a Blueberry Moon Milk Latte
Prenatal Nutrition Basics to Master Before Supplementing
Once you have a handle on these Pregnancy Diet Basics:
- Drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water per day
- Consuming at a minimum of 80 grams of protein per day
- Balancing your meals with complex carbs and healthy fats
- Eating a colorful array of fresh produce daily
…There is likely not a ton more you would need to round out your nutritional needs while growing a human. However, there are handy ways to up your intake if needed.
When You Need, Like, a Really Good Supplement…
In some cases, even the best diet for pregnancy isn’t enough.
DIY Adrenal Cocktail Recipe for balancing micro-nutrients
If you notice yourself feeling sluggish, you can get plenty of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C from adrenal cocktails.
Here’s my favorite adrenal cocktail “recipe”
- Fruit juice [I use orange juice]
- Coconut water [my fav is pineapple flavor]
- a pinch of Himalayan pink salt
- a sprinkle of cream of tartar
- and a heavy splash of cream
The best way to boost your iron stores during pregnancy
The cool thing about supplements: You CAN find ones from wholefood sources that will ensure the iron is perfectly balanced with copper and vitamin A, like desiccated liver capsules (unless you’re a badass and you love to eat liver and organs straight and if that’s you, then color me and my Standard American Diet (SAD) childhood upbringing impressed.)
Magnesium supplements for pregnancy
Use topical magnesium in the form of lotion or salt baths. You can even make your own magnesium drink combining milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide [please don’t drink this on its own and less you want raging diarrhea] mixed with sparkling water. There are some great YouTube videos on how to do this.
We use Natural Calm in my house (it’s great for kiddos with growing pains) partly because it is easily accessible at most stores but also mostly because my kids will not tolerate any other brand (as much as I have tried). Other brands and magnesium types actually offer more bio-availability like magnesium bisglycinate or magnesium bicarbonate.
Absent from standard prenatal nutrition conversations is the ultra-important nutrient CHOLINE.
The thing about choline is that it is basically the Lego of brain-building for Baby, so like, why aren’t we talking about this, guys? Up that egg intake not just for the protein, but for choline. Three eggs a day gets you close to the estimated daily value of choline.
You’ve probably heard about avoiding certain types of fish during pregnancy, but oysters, shrimp, crab, and other shellfish are super high in zinc, which reduces the risk of preterm birth and prolonged labor.
I mean, I wouldn’t eat shrimp cocktail off an appetizer tray at the company holiday party, but there are safe ways to ensure you consume enough fish and shellfish to reap the benefits of all those omega-3s and zinc.
Get outside every single day and get in the sun!
You only need about 10 minutes of direct sun a day. But please ditch the sunglasses between 10 am and 2 pm (yes, every time) and use your body’s solar panels (your thighs and lovely belly) to soak up that vitamin D goodness.
No, you won’t get as much vitamin D in the winter as in the summer but remember how your body is amazing?! It only uses the vitamin D it needs and then stores the rest for winter. Plus, you can always invest in a vitamin D desk light to boost you through those dreary months.
Even if I can’t get outside, it’s nice just to open the curtains and sit in the sunlight, especially during your morning routine or while meditating.
Doing this will also improve your sleep by setting your circadian rhythm as well. Just remember, don’t negate all that sunbathing you did in the morning by drowning yourself in blue light, and scrolling social media before bedtime. Girl, turn off your phone and practice your relaxation tracks instead.
Gut-healthy foods and supplements for your pregnancy diet that benefit you AND Baby
Lastly, support the baby’s microbiome by consuming fermented foods (ahem, that amazing sourdough bread we were just discussing…) and/or probiotics.
Plus, you’ll save so much money on supplements that you’ll be able to invest in higher quality foods that will only give you more nutrients and a healthier pregnancy overall.
My Daily REAL-FOOD Pregnancy Diet Staples
- Proper hydration (At least ½ your body weight in ounces per day)
- Protein (minimum 80 g per day, aiming for 1.1 gram per lb of body weight, increasing in 3rd trimester as Baby’s needs, body, and brain grow)
- Daily adrenal cocktails made with coconut water (trace minerals)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (eat the rainbow)
- Bone broth (vitamins, collagen)
- Whole Eggs (choline)
- Whole fats (primarily from animal sources)
- Raw carrots + ACV (estrogen balancing)
- Sourdough, fermented foods, and raw dairy (pre and probiotics)
- Nettle and red raspberry Leaf tea, unless contraindicated by your provider (Uterine tonic)
- Fish at least once per week including oysters and shrimp (zinc) and salmon and tuna (omega 3s). (Bonus iodine points for adding some crunchy seaweed for an iodine boost…of course this is all starting to sound a lot like sushi…)
You’ll get an in-depth overview of prenatal nutrition in literally every module of The Birth of a Mother.
The Best Prenatal Vitamins in My Book
- Proper hydration (So important, I gotta say it twice)
- Liver (fresh or desiccated) (I’ll take mine in pill form, thanks) (iron)
- Topical magnesium (treat yo’self to salt baths at least once per week, Childbirth Educator’s orders)
- Fermented cod liver oil/Butter blend
- Iron, especially for plant-based diets
- Vitamin C (especially during the winter months for a solid immunity boost-you can take a whole-foods based capsule or just add tart cherry powder to your morning smoothie or afternoon adrenal cocktails
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D3/K2, if indicated by testing (If you can find them together, great. If not try this whole-foods based D3 with algae for K2 but make sure you consume them simultaneously to increase bioavailability.)
When you get your nutrients from whole food sources, you can trust that nature knows what she’s doing. It will never be too much of this and not enough of that as long as you keep balance in your diet.
Preparing Your Body for Pregnancy Goes Beyond the Best Prenatal
Prenatals are designed to help you have a healthy pregnancy. They’re not all bad. But there is so much more you can do for yourself that is safer and easier than filling a medicine cabinet full of supplements.
Getting plenty of nutrient-dense food in your diet, exercising, and spending time in the sun will set you up for your MotherJourney.
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Blog summary: Pregnancy Diet Staples & Supplements
I summarized all the best parts of this blog post in a printer-friendly format so you can DOWNLOAD IT FOR FREE in my free pregnancy resource library. Print it and hang it on your fridge (and think of my voice saying “HEY YOU DRINK SOME WATER” every time you walk by. You’re welcome!)
Or check out my IG live replay from 1/12/2023 that I saved just for you!
Birth Professionals: What are your favorite supplements to recommend to your clients?
If you find yourself often repeating all the information I put together in this blog post, now you can order my Pregnancy Diet Staples & Supplements hand-outs customized with your brand, font, colors and logo and professionally printed on double-sided matte touch postcards for easy reference. Customize your very own Pregnancy Diet Staples & Supplements for Midwives, Doulas, Childbirth Educators and other birth and baby professionals.