When It Comes to Prenatal Vitamins, Over-the-Counter May Be the Way to Go

Think you need a fancy prescription-strength prenatal vitamin? Maybe not, if this study's findings are any indication. 

over-the-counter prenatal vitamins Antonio Gravante/Shutterstock
If you're trying to conceive or are currently pregnant, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the variety of prenatal vitamins on the market—and you may even feel like the stuff you can get your hands on won't hold a candle to a vitamin that requires a prescription. 

But according to new research, that might not be the case—in fact, you may even be better off with the over-the-counter variety. The study appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and it suggests that prescription prenatal vitamins actually contain lower amounts of certain vitamins and minerals than the easily accessible, over-the-counter formulations. On the flipside, prescription vitamins did appear to contain higher amounts of folic acid, which is essential for pregnant women—thought both prescription and over-the-counter vitamins contain similar amounts of iron, zinc and DHA.

It appears that both options carry pros and cons, but the bottom line is this: Even if you don't have access to a prescription for prenatal vitamins, you should be taking something over-the-counter before you get pregnant in order to get your body in the best state possible. “Just because a vitamin is a prescription, doesn’t mean that it is superior—over the counter vitamins may very well be cheaper and better,”  Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics & gynecology at Yale University, said in an emailed statement. 

While you may want to discuss these findings with your doctor, this study suggests that over-the-counter options may provide higher concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin D and calcium. Every woman's body and diet are different, and if you're looking to choose the absolute best prenatal vitamin for your own pregnancy, your OB/GYN can likely point you in the right direction. But if this news is any indication, that direction may not necessarily involve a prescription.