It’s a given that if you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or even just thinking about trying to conceive, then you’re already taking or starting your research on prenatal supplements. These nutrient-dense vitamin supplements have become a natural part of pregnancy and for good reason.
With that said, have you ever given much thought to exactly why prenatal vitamins are so essential for both a healthy baby and a healthy mom? Do you just take the first one prescribed to you, or have you done your research regarding what works best for your body type?
For instance, did you know certain prenatal vitamins have a higher risk of unwanted side effects such as nausea and digestive discomfort?
If you’ve done your homework, then you know various factors can cause prenatal supplement-caused nausea, yet one not-so-readily known causal factor is capsule ingredient. Many supplement capsules — that soft gelly-like casing that you can see through — are made from animal-based products, which can trigger unwanted nausea. With that said, plant-based capsules are here to lend a helping hand! Turns out plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan capsules can sometimes have a lower rate of nausea.
After watching a handful of friends and family experience pregnancy over the last couple of years, I decided these prenatal questions needed to be tackled and spelled out for expectant mommas or those trying to conceive.
Let’s take a look at why prenatal vitamins are so crucial for a healthy pregnancy, what should be included, the ingredients in the casing, and how to make up your mind about which prenatal is best for your body!
What are Prenatal Vitamins and Why are they Important?
Just in case you need a refresher, prenatal vitamins — mostly referred to as “vitamins” instead of “supplements” — are simply “multivitamins that include a variety of vitamins and minerals.” Pretty simple, right?
It’s a little more complicated than that. While the average human body requires a spectrum of vitamins and minerals to work efficiently, a growing fetus requires a few incredibly critical components that accomplish two feats: “nourish a pregnant woman’s body and Support the development of her growing baby.”
At this point, if you’re like me and were thinking that you eat an incredibly well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet, well, think again (as I had to do!).
Sara Twogood, M.D. an ob-gyn at the University of Southern California explains that “it’s estimated that 80 percent of people living in the U.S. do not eat a diet that fulfills their nutritional needs.” This is partially due to some people not having access to whole foods, as well as largely influenced by the processed food-rich Standard American Diet. Yet, even if you have access to whole foods and you’re not partaking in processed foods, it’s still difficult to get robust nutrient-dense raw foods. This is because the soil from which your fruits and veggies are grown is simply not as nutrient-dense as it once was thanks to mass agricultural farms and operations.
There are many factors against expectant mothers trying to get all the nutrients their body and their growing baby needs, which is why prenatal supplements are so important. It’s incredibly difficult to get the level of nutrients from your diet, and your prenatal vitamin guarantees that — no matter what — you and your baby are getting the proper nourishment to develop and grow.
The Ingredients in Prenatal Vitamins
There are two major components of a prenatal vitamin design that should be considered before ingesting them: the vitamin and mineral profile and the ingredients of the capsule. While the vitamins and minerals included in the supplement should follow standard guidelines — such as high in folate (folic acid) and iron — the capsule doesn’t necessarily follow those same strict guidelines. Soft gel capsule casings are made with various products, from bovine by-products to vegetable by-products.
The Goods on Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals
The major component that sets prenatal vitamins apart from other multivitamins is the folic acid and iron content. Besides these two compounds, prenatal vitamins are pretty much your average multivitamin. With that said, many companies will add extra flare ingredients such as “extra omega-3s or a stool softener called Colace or extra iron.” While these ingredients set brands apart on the shelf, and while omega-3s are important for a healthy pregnancy, the upped dosage may not be necessary.
This is where consulting your doctor is a great way to avoid additional ingredients you may not need and may even save a little money by avoiding expensive brands. Remember, everybody is different and your doctor can work with you to find the right prenatal vitamin match.
So, what should you be looking for as necessary in your prenatal vitamin? A well-rounded, balanced prenatal will contain:
Folic acid — is part of the B vitamin family that aids in neural tube development.
Calcium — helps your fetus “develop healthy bones and vascular and muscle functions” and avoids calcium depletion from momma’s bones.
Vitamins A, C, and D — all of which have specific roles to play including developing healthy eyesight, supporting momma’s immune system, preventing oxidative stress, and aiding in calcium absorption.
B Vitamins — outside of folic acid, the B vitamin family is “used for metabolism and maintenance of healthy cell function.”
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA) — are incredibly crucial components of your baby’s “brain growth and development,” as well as aiding in the reduction of inflammation. Increased omega-3 consumption during pregnancy has also been linked to a decrease in “preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.”
What’s in the Casing?
Prenatal vitamins come in either tablet or capsule form. Capsules are far more popular than tablets, mostly due to finicky pregnancy tummies that oftentimes won’t put up with the necessary step of dissolving.
Therefore, we’ll take a look at capsules.
If you’re like me, then you’re a little obsessed with what goes in your body. For every product that I purchase, I read the ingredients label thoroughly, research ingredients that I’m unfamiliar with, and ditch anything that has artificial ingredients. This is especially important when it comes to choosing your prenatal vitamin.
First off, it’s recommended to avoid “artificial extras, such as artificial colors, while [also] keeping an eye out for the important nutrients.”
After that step, take a look at what the capsule is made with.
When it comes to soft gel capsules, there are two major ingredients to know about: gelatin — a substance “derived from collagen, which is extracted from animal skin and bones” — and pullulan or hypromellose — “non-animal-derived sources that are used as gelatine alternatives.” Pullulan is a “water-soluble polysaccharide” and hypromellose is sourced from “raw cellulose.”
To make the capsule strong, the gelatin or pullulan/hypromellose is mixed with glycerin and plasticizers.
Glycerin — in particular, vegetable glycerin — is an odorless, syrup-like “clear liquid typically made from soybean, coconut or palm oils.” This is a safe option for vegetarian and vegan capsules. Plasticizers are “added to the polymers used as film forming agents” and are used to “make the shell [of the capsule] elastic and pliable and to minimize brittleness and cracking.” They have been extensively reviewed and approved by the FDA and are used in almost all softgel supplement capsules.
Where Does the Nausea Come From?
If you’ve ever taken a regular multivitamin and felt sick, then you may know what you’re in for with a prenatal. Yet, when you’re already feeling queasy regularly from morning sickness, avoiding that additional prenatal supplement queasiness is monumental.
So, why do prenatal supplements make your stomach do somersaults?
Several factors play into the upset stomach — taking your vitamin on an empty stomach, mixing your vitamins with other meds, or the timing of taking your vitamin — but two major contributing factors to nausea induced by a prenatal vitamin are the increased dosage of iron and capsule ingredients.
Iron is incredibly important for both an expectant mother as well as the developing fetus. With that said, it may be causing you to feel unwell after taking your prenatal vitamin. Per Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, iron is best absorbed by the body on an empty stomach, yet it’s one of the hardest minerals to take on an empty stomach due to nausea. The best tip for avoiding iron-caused nausea is to take your prenatal vitamin with food. Whether or not the prenatal vitamin recommends this or not (I’ve looked at a couple that says you don’t have to take them with food), your body knows best.
Why Plant-Based Capsules are Safer
If you’re debating between gelatin or plant-based capsules, there are some major pros to going the plant-based route. Not only are you doing your part in animal activism and decreasing the use of animal products, but there are some little-known side effects to consuming gelatin.
The most alarming, especially for pregnant women, is gelatin toxin exposure.
Gelatin capsules sometimes “may get combined with toxins due to their animal source” because “many cows receive antibiotics, or may eat foods that have been treated with pesticides.” The symptoms — stomach upset or gastrointestinal issues — are difficult to differentiate from other normal pregnancy symptoms, therefore knowing if you’ve been exposed to these toxins is almost impossible to deduce unless your doctor checks for them.
On top of that, gelatin-based capsules have been linked to kidney and liver function issues. A specific protein in gelatin may be difficult for your kidneys and liver to break down causing excess strain on your liver. Pair that with insufficient carbohydrate intake and you’ve got yourself a messy situation!
Vegan-Friendly Zero-Gelatin Prenatal Vitamins
Now that you know your options, it’s time to venture to find the brand and the mixture that works best for your body! While there are essential nutrients — iron, calcium, folate, omega-3s, and B vitamins — certain brands will include additional vitamins and minerals or components to help boost energy and fight nausea. Here are a few example brands that are also 100 percent vegan and artificial ingredient-free!
Garden of Life is a trusted brand providing high-quality, plant-based, vegan-friendly supplements. This Garden of Life Organic Prenatal Multivitamin Supplement with Folate is 100 percent vegan, certified organic, and uses whole foods to create a nutrient-dense multivitamin formula. This specific blend contains 21 essential vitamins and minerals to keep an expectant mother’s body strong and the fetus well-nourished.
Along with being a great supplement for prenatal nutrition, this multivitamin is also designed for pre-conception and lactation Support.
Like all Garden of Life supplement products, this prenatal multivitamin is gluten-free, non-GMO, and contains no synthetic binders and fillers. Plus, this blend targets those with sensitive stomachs and includes organic ginger and lemon peel to fight nausea and upset stomach.
Looking for something other than a capsule or tablet? Try out a gelatin-free gummy! A great option are these Premama Prenatal Organic Vegan Gummy Vitamins which are 100 percent vegan, gluten-free, organic, and kosher. If you’re over the capsules and tablets, these gummies will be a wave of relief and come in a mix of flavors, including strawberry-lime and peach. This formula contains 200 milligrams of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (one of those critical development components), 20 milligrams of DHA and ALA, folic acid, and choline. On top of that, this formula aims to help moms avoid supplement-caused nausea.
NATURELO is known for its broad range of vegan-friendly vitamin and mineral supplements, and its prenatal multivitamin option doesn’t disappoint! NATURELO Prenatal Multivitamin contains vitamins — A, B complex, C, D3, E, and K2 — essential minerals — calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, choline, and of course essential folate. This product is 100 percent vegan, as well as non-GMO, and free of soy, gluten, yeast, gelatin, dairy, and sugar.
On top of that, for those looking to avoid all artificial ingredients, this prenatal multivitamin is free of harmful chemicals, including preservatives, coloring, and flavoring. This is a premium food-based formula for expectant mommas and breastfeeding mommas!
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