Healthy, Natural Pregnancy: Prenatal Vitamins

Sweet smiling newborn girl 

I’m interested to know which, if any, prenatals you would take or recommend. In all my past pregnancies, I’ve taken Opti-natals (aka Vita-natals), made by the Eclectic Institute, but they’re unavailable to me now, so I’d like some other suggestions.


About a week before delivering my first child, I had a sudden panic attack. What if there was something wrong with her? What if she hadn’t developed properly because of that one month when I didn’t take any prenatal vitamins, or because I enjoyed a few ice creams during the hot, Japanese summer afternoons? Did I eat enough green and orange veggies? Did I get all my protein? Had I always remembered to drink my 8-10 glasses of water a day?

Thankfully, the big day came, and she was not only beautiful, but just perfect and incredibly healthy. Phew!Although I am a big proponent of health and good nutrition and I believe that a healthier mom and diet makes for a much healthier baby, it may surprise you to know that I actually don’t take a typical prenatal supplement. I do, however, pay even closer attention to my diet than usual, and focus on supplementing my whole foods diet with a few specifics that I think are especially important.

Quite a while back, I wrote a series called “Isn’t Good Food Good Enough?” and explored the idea of whether supplements are even necessary, when eating an excellent diet. Overall, I don’t believe that many should be necessary if you are eating optimally, although I do believe they are especially helpful for overcoming specific ailments or issues, and also for seasons of life (such as pregnancy and nursing) that require significantly more from our bodies.

I personally choose to opt out of a standard prenatal vitamin for the simple reason that the ones on the cheaper side are full of synthetic vitamins and minerals (not taken from whole food sources), often have undesirables in them (dyes, preservatives, corn or soy products, etc.) and are not well-absorbed by most bodies in general. The ones that I believe are high quality (made entirely from whole food sources, at lower temperatures, in a digestible format, with pure ingredients) are also very high cost.

I prefer instead to spend my money on excellent quality foods, also including superfoods (raw colostrum, spirulina and other greens, butter oil, etc.) whenever I can, and then purchase quality supplements that provide me with specific nutrients that I or my midwife or naturopath think that I specifically need at that time.

With that in mind, and reminding you that I am not a doctor, midwife or certified nutritionist or naturopath (ie. I’m not qualified to give you medical advice), I’ll just let you know what works for me during pregnancy.

Cod Liver Oil

Twinlab cod liver oil This is a regular supplement for me, pregnant or not, but I feel it’s especially important during pregnancy. It provides me with an excellent source of essential fatty acids (omega 3s, in particular DHA and EPA, which we know to be crucial for good health and development of children, especially brain development), as well as Vitamin D (difficult to get enough of in the winter months) and Vitamin A.

Note that the Vitamin A is NOT synthetic, and there is no associated risk of birth defects with naturally occurring, fat-soluble Vitamin A. Read this article to understand it’s importance and safety during pregnancy. As well, true Vitamin A is different from carotene. In optimal conditions, carotene (such as beta-carotene, found in orange colored veggies) can be converted to Vitamin A in the upper intestinal tract, however, most of us do not have bodies in optimal conditions, nor do we eat enough fruits and vegetables to ensure a high enough conversion rate and therefore adequate Vitamin A. If you’re really interested, you can check out this looong (but helpful) article on Vitamin A.

I usually use TwinLab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil (my preferred flavor is mint and I do not recommend cherry!), because it is very affordable and I notice a real difference when I take it. I am currently trying out Super Cod Liver Oil softgels, but am so far unconvinced (their liquid is wonderful, though). Personally, I feel that the liquid is more effective, or else I need to go well above the recommend serving size of the softgels.

**Update- I now take and recommend Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil**

Floradix Liquid Iron

This is one of my all-time favorite supplements, simply because it is easy to take and it really, truly works! The problem with most iron supplements is usually three-fold:

  1. They cause nausea
  2. They cause constipation
  3. The iron isn’t well absorbed, so the nausea and constipation are a waste

Floradix iron Not so with Floradix Liquid Iron! It has never once made me either nauseas or constipated (gosh, that’s just such an unpleasant word, isn’t it?). Even better, I have always felt a difference in my energy level within days of starting to take it. Quite often, one bottle is enough to bring me back from borderline anemia, provided I maintain the iron intake in my diet afterwords.

Although I don’t take this throughout my entire pregnancy (as it is fairly expensive), I do use at least a couple of bottles over the course of each pregnancy, and then take one after the birth as well, to help with my recovery and replenish my iron stores once again.

B Vitamins

My midwife is also not big on prescribing many supplements, but her main concern is adequate B vitamins during first trimester. Not only are B vitamins crucial for babies early development (think folic acid, among others), but getting enough B6 and B12 also helps to reduce nausea and fatigue, so it’s important for mamas, too.

This pregnancy, I was thrilled to find a liquid B vitamin, rather than try to choke down the pills which make me gag during morning sickness. Problem was, within a week of the nausea hitting, I knew that I was going to struggle with it’s strong cherry flavor. Ugh. I did my very best, but next time I will try something different.

Regardless of the form that you prefer to take it in, this is a very important supplement for when you’re trying to conceive and throughout the entirety of 1st trimester. Feel free to continue taking it afterwords, though it may not be necessary if you eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, eggs, raw milk products, fish, butter, green leafies and legumes, which are all excellent sources of B vitamins.


Liquid calcium

This is one that is important on a number of levels. First of all, a growing baby needs much calcium to develop strong bones as well as healthy hearth, nerves and muscles. Secondly, if this calcium is not available through mom’s diet, it will be leached from her bones in order to make sure baby isn’t severely lacking in it- yikes! This means we need to be on guard both for our babies, and for ourselves, to prevent weak bones and osteoporosis down the road.

As well, a lack of calcium and magnesium can lead to some discomforts and difficulties for mama, such as painful leg cramps, sore muscles in general, and insomnia. Magnesium also plays a role in developing strong bones and teeth, as well as helping to regulate blood-sugar levels. It may also help to prevent pre-term labor because of it’s ability to help relax muscles, and research suggests that low levels may be associated with early contractions.

Personally, I prefer a liquid source, and my supplement of choice is Lifetime Liquid Calcium Magnesium. If you’d prefer a pill, ask a reputable health food store for their recommendation. Calcium is best taken in the evening, before bed, as this is when it will be most readily absorbed, and will also help to calm and prepare your body for a restful sleep.

Prenatal Vitamins

Innate vitamins If you’re really keen on taking a prenatal vitamin and looking for a recommendation, the one that has come most highly recommended to me by my midwife and naturopath is Innate Response Formulas Prenatal.

Though I haven’t taken them myself, my sister-in-law did for a couple of months when she was struggling to get enough food in due to strong aversions. She felt that they really helped her to feel better and more energetic, even though she wasn’t eating enough.

Innate Prenatal Vitamins are taken from whole foods and botanical sources, are more digestible and absorbable than most, and do not contain any of the usual fillers, preservatives, coloring, etc.

In Conclusion

There are some wonderful options available to us, for those times when we need the additional support of a supplement, and I’m thankful for that!

In general, though, I would suggest making a nourishing, whole foods diet the focus of your efforts and money, as this is where truly optimal nutrition will come from!

Do you use a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy? Or do you do as I do, taking individual supplements as needed? Which brands have you found to be particularly effective?

Top image by tiarescott

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  1. Thanks for this informative post, Stephanie. I’m having a hard time finding the liquid iron… any suggestions? Alexis

  2. I did not use prenatal vitamins due to them making me more nauseous than I already was just being pregnant. My doctor said I probably had all the nutrients I needed from my diet, so my body was rejecting the extra from the vitamins. I guess he was right because I had three healthy, happy, and strong little boys!

  3. I also take the Rainbow Light Prenatal (complete system) You have to take 6 a day b/c they come from whole foods, but they work for me. I wondered if you give your kids Cod liver oil (and if you do what age you started). I’ve heard it helps with attention and brain development and some even think it “cures” adhd symptoms in some kids. Just wondered what you give your kids, if anything.

  4. I take (and recommend) the Vitanica Maternal Symmetry prenatals :

    They’re designed by a local naturopath. I definitely notice a difference if I skip taking them for awhile. I like that they come in small dosage capsules, so you can tailor the amount you take, depending on what your food intake has been for that day. However, with my celiac, I often have problems with absorbing nutrients from food, so these really help!

    Michele 🙂

  5. My midwife suggested the Isotonix brand as a better alternative to vitamins and supplements in tablet form. I take a prenatal vitamin even though I am no longer pregnant because I have noticed (and so has my older sister) that when I take a daily vitamin, my moods are much more even. The Isotonix calcium-magnesium I take as needed when my legs cramp or I can’t get to sleep … and my husband takes it, too, when he has trouble sleeping, and he doesn’t like to take even an aspirin.

  6. I’ve also had a lot of success with Floravit (although its almost double here what I can get it for in the city…) its a great product. I took the Floravit one since at the time I was too sensitive to a few things in the floradix.

  7. Opti-Natals from Eclectic institute are still available online! And they’re wonderful! Their name is now Vita-Natal (which has always been their retail name, they’re the same as the Opti-Natal which were only sold through doctors). All natural, full of herbs and such. I just bought a case from, and was impressed with their fast shipping and great price. Here’s a code for $5 off your first order: HES027

  8. I had such terrible morning sickness for my entire pregnancy (only mildly alleviated by thrice-weekly acupuncture sessions)and couldn’t stomach prenatals or any supplements at all. But I ate whole foods and all was well.

  9. It’s important to get a good balance of natural, healthy foods, but it’s not always easy or cost effective. Or, like me, maybe you’re just not good at eating veggies! The supplements that are most important to me during pregnancy are Wheat Grass Tablets, Bee Pollen and Black Strap Molasses. The Wheat Grass Tablets I order from and they supplement for the lack of veggies in my diet. Bee Pollen is awesome and has great proteins and all the B-vits in it. The Black Strap Molasses is an excellent source of calcium, iron and magnesium. I can just drink it because I enjoy the taste but if you can’t, you can mix it with oatmeal or lots of other things.

  10. Toni, I agree that taking greens is a great idea! I do eat lots of veggies, but I still try to add in extra greens in powder or liquid whenever I can. Blackstrap molasses is also great for calcium, though I find I need more than it can give me sometimes. Personally, I react to Bee Pollen, but it’s excellent for some people who don’t have any sensitivity to pollen!

  11. I didn’t take a prenatal mixed vitamin in my three pregnancies.
    For my first two I just took the standard folate.
    With my 3rd pregnancy I took the high strength folate (because my mum was finally diagnosed with spina bifida). I also took some floradix later in the pregnancy as my iron was a bit borderline and I wanted to avoid regular iron supplements.
    I just tried to eat well and take care of myself. Vitamin D isn’t a big deal here in Australia.

  12. Thanks for the information about fish oil — I have been taking the gel caps and was unconvinced, but I had tried the cherry flavor of the liquid and decided against the liquid. I’ll give the mint flavor a try. Thanks!

  13. Pregnant with my third, I am thinking about this stuff often lately. I like your approach, and I totally agree that taking a cheap (bad) supplement is worse than taking none at all! Just curious- have you investigated Beeyoutiful supplements? I started taking the women’s multivitamin recently, and I feel that it might be the best quality for a reasonable price out there. Also, their cod liver oil capsules are downright cheap, but meat all the “requirements” of the Weston A Price foundation for vitamin A & D. If you check it out, I’d love to hear your opinion!

  14. This post could not of come at a better time in my life! We are prayerfully hopeful that we will become pregnant in the next year. I am taking steps to be more health conscious before conceiving this time and appreciate all the information!

  15. What great info on the liquid iron supplements! I tend to run a little anemic whether pregnant or not and the best I had discovered so far is the time-release iron, but I’m excited to try the liquid.

    On the liquid vitamin B, years ago my mom and I discovered the World Organics brand (available through Azure Standard) which is in a raisin juice base. It’s not “flavored” but the raisin juice has a strong enough overtone that it’s palatable. After years of use I find that I actually enjoy the blend of bitter B and sweet raisin.

    Thanks for sharing such great vitamin info!!

  16. Thanks for the post. Now I know that these vitamins is also for pregnant women. I heard these first that it’s a supplement for autistic children. Thanks again.

  17. Hi! I was going to buy the Innate PreNatal vitamins through your site so you get rewarded but your link does not work. You might want to reset it 🙂

  18. Both my midwife and my naturopathic doctor recommend New Chapter Perfect Prenatal…I began taking it during my third pregnancy mid- first trimester and it immediately made a dramatic difference in my energy level and general mood, I felt balanced and never exhausted as one often feels in the first trimester. Both of them suggest full dose during first trimester, 2/3 dose for second trimester and 1/3 dose for third trimester/nursing…this works well with these since the recommended dose is 3 capsules per day, so you can easily take what you need. When I was taking my cod liver oil and this prenatal, I was getting too much vitamin A, so my doctors recommended I switch to omega 3s (which they also suggest that you switch between these two fish oils every 6 months to get the most benefits). Also, both doctors recommend a good probiotic which has recently been associated with excellent immune health in newborns…I take Kyo-Dopholis. Another great thing to drink regularly is Nettle Leaf tea…it is great for your thyroid/hormonal health and boosts your platelets…two things you want to have in order for a safe/healthy birth.

    1. Hi Lesley,

      I just found out I am 6 weeks pregnant. I can’t get in to Dr. for another week and a half but did just start the New Chapter pre-natals thanks to your recommendation. How did you know you were getting too much Vitamin A? Is there a test the doc can do?

  19. I can’t go without Garden of Life prenatal and their Raw Calcium…we’ve always found a way to buy them when I am pregnant. They are both RAW and organic.

  20. Hi, I was wondering what the liquid B vitamin was that you liked. I don’t think I saw it above. =) Thank you

  21. I have used the Angstrom Liquid Supplements – Iron included, which work amazingly well because of the fact they are cell-ready and 99.9% efficient, withOUT the side effect of constipation. I will forever use the Angstrom Liquid Supplements for all my minerals. I am currently using Magnesium as well.

  22. We’re currently TTC baby #3 and this time around I’m taking Liquid Health’s new liquid prenatal vitamin. It’s whole food based, sugar-free and contains 800mcg of Folate per serving. Right now they have a $5 off code on the website!

  23. HI, I am taking a prenatal vitamin – (New Chapter) , Fish Oil 2000mg, Vit C 1500 mg, Co Q10. I would like to know is it safe to also take a Cod liver oil and if so how much?

    Supplement Facts Prenatal:
    VITAMIN A (100% AS BETA-CAROTENE) 5000 IU 100%
    VITAMIN C 60 Mg 100%
    VITAMIN D3 1000 IU 250%
    VITAMIN E 30 IU 100%
    Vitamin K1 70 Mg 88%
    VITAMIN K2 (MK-7)(FROM MENAQ7) 10 Mcg 12%
    Niacin 20 Mg 100%
    Vitamin B6 5 Mg 250%

    Folate 600 Mcg 500%
    Vitamin B12 30 Mcg 500%
    Biotin 300 Mcg 100%
    Pantothenic Acid 10 Mg 100%
    CALCIUM (FROM ALGAE) 7.5 Mg 50%
    IRON 18 Mg 100%
    IODINE 90 Mcg 60%
    MAGNESIUM 15 Mg 3%
    ZINC 7.5 Mg 50%
    SELENIUM 50 Mcg 71%
    COPPER 750 Mcg 38%
    MANGANESE 2 Mg 100%
    CHROMIUM 100 Mcg 83%
    MOLYBDENUM 20 Mcg 27%


    Thanks Michelle P

  24. I just came across this post and am currently trying to add vitamins in everyday. I was wondering, do you have a certain way you take these vitamins. With meals, after meals, divide them up throughout the day, or all at once? When is the best time of day to take the different supplements?

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