Your diet has a major impact on your health, and when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you’re ingesting impact your little one as well. Babies need extra nutrients, and you may not be getting certain critical elements in sufficient amounts – even if you stick to a balanced diet and especially if you have dietary restrictions like vegans, vegetarians, and people who are intolerant of gluten or dairy. That’s where a prenatal vitamin enters the picture.

You know a prenatal vitamin is good for you (and the wee one!), and vitamins and minerals can be a powerful tool to combat some of the more unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, including nausea and fatigue. But that drug store aisle can look pretty daunting. How do you choose between the rows and rows of prenatal vitamins? Do you need to buy the most expensive one on the shelf? No one wants to skimp when it comes to a child’s health, but you don’t want to break your bank account, either. Here’s what you need to look for.

  • Folic Acid (at least 400 micrograms). Folic acid helps to prevent abnormalities in the brain, spine, and neural system. It’s especially important in the first trimester, so you may want to take a folic acid supplement even as soon as you start trying to conceive.
  • Iron (at least 17 milligrams). This encourages healthy growth and development of your baby. It also helps you to maintain an adequate number of red blood cells, which will keep your energy up during those exhausting first and third trimesters!
  • Vitamin D (at least 600 IU). Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, so your baby builds strong teeth and bones. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with numerous negative outcomes, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and infants with low birthweight. Recommendations on how much vitamin D you need during pregnancy vary from 600 to 6,000 IU per day, so the more, the better.
  • Calcium (at least 200 milligrams). Calcium will strengthen your baby’s teeth and bones and help your child grow a healthy nervous and circulatory system. If you don’t get enough calcium during pregnancy, the baby will draw it from your bones, which can increase your risk of osteoporosis later in life. Check if your prenatal vitamin contains calcium citrate or calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate is easily digestible at any time, but you’ll want to take calcium carbonate with a meal.
  • Vitamin C (at least 70 milligrams). Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, which is integral to the creation of cartilage, skin, bones, and tendons. It is especially beneficial for your baby’s bone and tissue growth.
  • Riboflavin/Vitamin B2 (at least 2 milligrams). This vitamin is a panacea for pregnant women. It will help with those flagging energy levels, and is essential for the health of your baby’s bones, muscles, and nerves. It also assists in developing good vision and healthy skin. Riboflavin deficiency may be a risk factor for preeclampsia.
  • Iodine (at least 150 micrograms). Iodine is found in every tissue and organ in the body, and it is essential for your baby’s brain development. Unfortunately, most foods are very low in iodine, so you should make sure that you’re buying iodized salt. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pregnant and lactating women look for supplements containing iodine.

What about Supplements?

While your prenatal vitamin should contain the proper amounts of most nutrients, you may want to use a supplement for an additional boost of something. Talk with your midwife about your diet before you start taking any supplements, herbal or otherwise.

Food-based vitamins are easier for your body to absorb than synthetic nutrients, so before you turn to supplements, make sure that you’re eating a proper diet. You may want to consider meeting with a nutritionist before you start taking supplements. Keep a diet diary and bring it to one of your prenatal appointments. This will help you and your midwife come up with a plan to ensure that all of your needs – and the needs of your sweet baby! – are being met.