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Do You Know What’s in Your Prenatal Vitamins?

Pregnant and wondering what vitamins are safer? Here experts share tips for finding the proper prenatal vitamins and protecting yourself and your baby.

If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, your doctor will most likely recommend prenatal vitamins before, during and even after your pregnancy. But beware — not all over-the-counter vitamins and supplements are created equal, and it’s best to learn more about how they might affect you and your baby. In addition, marketers may target women trying to get pregnant with false claims that dietary supplements can treat, cure or prevent infertility and other reproductive health conditions.

“The dietary supplement industry is an ever-evolving, ever-growing industry,” says John Travis, technical leader for NSF’s Certified for Sport® program. “Dietary supplements are regulated more like food in many regions. In the United States, this means products are expected to be safe, and it is up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove they are unsafe to remove them from the market.”

Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA prior to sale, he adds. As a result, some unscrupulous brands may take shortcuts when making supplements, trying to skirt regulations in exchange for poor quality, lower manufacturing costs and greater profits. Products made by these brands may contain contaminants, like heavy metals, pesticides, toxic chemicals or pathogenic bacteria, which may pose risks for pregnancy. And some dishonest supplement brands may not have the amount of vitamins listed on their labels.

Confused? We asked Travis and experts from the FDA for tips on finding the proper prenatal vitamins and protecting yourself and your baby:

  • Understand the Health Risks

    While some elements ⁠— like iron, calcium and magnesium ⁠— are essential, others ⁠— like the heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium ⁠— are highly toxic to humans. Some supplements can contain unintended or unlisted ingredients that may be harmful to your health. Lead, the most well-known toxic heavy metal, can harm the brain development of infants and children (and babies in utero). Other toxins potentially found in supplements include pesticides, residual solvents and natural toxins.
  • Discover How They Get Into Supplements

    Heavy metals occur naturally in the soil as well as in rocks and minerals. They can be absorbed by plants from the soil or irrigation water. They are in the minerals we mine and use as food additives, such as table salt and calcium carbonate (think antacid tablets). It’s hard to get away from them in our daily lives, but we want to avoid levels that can have harmful effects on our health.
  • Ask Questions

    Always talk to your health care provider before you take any medicines, herbs or vitamins, and don’t stop taking your medication until your health care provider says it is okay. Ask about the benefits and risks for you and your baby.
  • Read the Label

    Check the label and any information that comes in the vitamin package to learn about the possible risks for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Beware of False Promises

    If any outrageous claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. Catchphrases such as “all natural,” “clinically tested/proven” and “pharmaceutical strength” are not regulated by the government and do not offer any guarantee of a supplement’s safety.
  • Make Sure the Vitamin Is Tested

    The best strategy is to make sure the vitamin has been tested. Knowing the product has been tested for contaminants, such as toxins or heavy metals, provides you with a safer choice. Seek out supplements that have independent certification. Certification by accredited third-party organizations, like NSF International, is the easiest and surest way to know that what is on the label is in the bottle. This helps you protect yourself against taking supplements with potentially harmful or undeclared ingredients. NSF-certified products have been made in facilities inspected by NSF, and they have been tested by NSF in NSF labs.

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