Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Quest for the Perfect Prenatal Vitamin

It may seem odd to my readers that I invested my time in a prenatal-vitamin quest. After all, a prenatal vitamin is just a bunch chemicals, devoid of any synergy that naturally exists in food, and seriously lacking in the research arena with a few exceptions (such as folic acid). Proper nutrition must go beyond prenatals, and supplements in general. Hence the name of this blog. However, every pregnant woman should take prenatal vitamins in addition to eating well. Also, based on my first pregnancy, I was pretty sure I would I would be terribly nauseated and exhausted and just in case I was not eating all that well or all that much, I wanted to have a "back-up." I also wanted to have a good prenatal vitamin to recommend to pregnant women. During my last pregnancy, I took Freeda's Prenatal One a day and a separate DHA but I noticed some shortfalls and I wanted to see if there was a better option.

My search started much like any search for an item...a Google search, a discussion with a few colleagues, various trips to stores in NYC...and an Excel spreadsheet for comparison. I became frustrated when I found that some prenatals were ridiculously high in vitamin A, a known teratogen, or beta carotene, a possible cancer risk in supplement form; some contained herbs that have not been proven safe for pregnant women and are known to cross the placenta; some contained prescription-required doses of folic acid but lacked other essential nutrients and anyway might cause wheeze in babies if taken in excess; some contained parabens and food colorings; some contained algae-based DHA but not fish oil; few contained choline or iodine; and on and on.

I finally found one that I thought was almost perfect. Jarrow Preg-natal + DHA seemed to be pretty good. It has lots of vitamin D3, calcium and magnesium in a 2:1 ratio, plenty of iodine and choline and zinc, and DHA from fish. To its detriment, it contains 200% of certain nutrients but none that exceeded upper limits, and some beta carotene, which I prefer not to take at all. But I was willing to turn a blind eye because everything else seemed so good. Plus, I found a website that sold a one-month supply for only $12. $12 a month for the perfect prenatal? That is too good a deal to pass up. I did think it was slightly suspicious that the serving size listed "One packet" as the dose. How many pills contain all these precious chemicals? But I clicked "confirm order" anyway.

I impatiently waited for the package to arrive. When the box arrived, I could not wait to open it up. I got out the scissors and cut away the tape. I opened up the box...and I gagged. The smell was awful. Worse than awful. And it was strong - I smelled them even before I opened the massive cylinder container.

After I opened it, I discovered that each daily packet contained six smelly pills and one fish supplement. That's right, seven pills! There was no way that I could deal with seven smelly pills each day during the first trimester when I was feeling poorly, but I thought I would give the vitamins the benefit of the doubt and try them out after my nausea subsided. In the meantime, I continued to rely on the Freeda Prenatal and separate DHA.

Yesterday, I took them out again. Maybe the smell would not be so bad now that I was not nauseated all the time. I took the pills down from the cabinet and opened up the box. The smell was overwhelming. But I was not going to let a little obstacle ruin my perfect prenatal. I was going to see this through. I even took one of the packets - all seven pills - with me to work since the recommendation is to take the packet spread throughout the day.

Well, the day is over and I could not bring myself to try even one smelly pill. Not one. I just couldn't do it. I found the perfect prenatal, but it smelled so much that I just couldn't take it.

I'll continue to take my Freeda Prenatal one-a-day vitamin, which meets most of my requirements but not all, a DHA supplement on the days I don't eat fish, and some vitamin D3 on "indoor" days or days when I don't eat a lot of D-fortified foods (my blood levels showed a low-normal range). Certainly, not a perfect arrangement, but it will have to do. And as for my choline, iodine, and calcium, I'm going to have to go beyond prenatals, after all.


  1. Great post! Nothing better than hearing it from someone who is also living it out.

    What are some things you think we should avoid in a prenatal? If it contains vitamin A, how much do you think should be the limit?

  2. There are varying levels of quality in prenatals, as well as different dosage forms to serve the unique needs of expecting mothers.

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