If you are planning to conceive or are already on the family way, taking prenatal vitamins is a must. Prenatal vitamins provide important minerals and nutrients that help support a healthy pregnancy.
There are several prenatal vitamins being sold in the market today some can be bought over-the-counter and there are those that are specifically prescribed by your healthcare provider. Is there a difference between the two? In this article, we will show the basic difference between prescription and over-the-counter prenatal vitamins and why prescription does matter.
The biggest difference between over-the-counter drugs and prescription prenatal vitamins is the amount of folic acid they contain. Many prescription prenatal vitamins contain 1.0 mg folic acid (1000 mcg) while many over-the-counter prenatal vitamins contain less or approximately 800 mcg of folic acid. Folic acid is especially important during the first three months of pregnancy because it helps your body produce healthy blood cells. It also helps prevent brain and spinal or neural tube defects.
What are neural tube defects, you may ask. Neural tube defects typically occur during the first few weeks of pregnancy, which means expectant moms need to get enough folic acid every day. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance or RDA of folic acid during pregnancy is 0.6 mg with an upper intake of 1.0 mg per day.
In an informal comparison of four over-the-counter prenatal vitamins and nine prescription supplements reveals that the over-the-counter vitamins, though considerably higher in almost all the micronutrient levels, were usually lower in iron and folic acid. In this case alone, one can argue that prescription supplements really do outweigh over-the-counter prenatal vitamins.
Aside from being rich in folic acid, another advantage of prescription-based prenatal vitamins is the fact that it contains stool softeners. These ingredients (an example of which is docusate sodium) help prevent or relieve constipation. Most prenatal vitamins likewise contain higher doses of iron which helps women with iron-deficiency anemia cope with the disease during their respective pregnancies. There is also a growing trend among manufacturers of prescription prenatal vitamins to include omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
It is also worth noting that there are some over-the-counter prenatal supplements that contain extra ingredients such as herbs. These so-called extra materials are not usually found in prescription prenatal vitamins. However, many healthcare providers frown upon these kinds of supplements as many herbs have not been proven safe for pregnant women.
Another compelling argument for choosing prescription prenatal supplements as opposed to over-the-counter vitamins is the seal of approval from the FDA.When a vitamin, supplement, or drug is sold by prescription, it must meet FDA standards. This requirement is not in place for over the counter prenatal vitamins.
As in most things about pregnancy, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider which kind of prenatal supplements you need to take. This is a decision that is yours to make alone. Professional opinion, particularly that of your OB Gyne, is a must.