How to Choose a Vegan Prenatal Vitamin
When you follow a vegan diet, you already know that there are certain nutrients that you just can’t get from plants. In pregnancy, supplementing with a vegan prenatal vitamin becomes especially important to nurture your baby’s growth and development and to support your own body’s nutritional needs.
By: Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C
Medically Reviewed By: Cara Everett, MS, RDN, LDN
Publication Date: December 5th, 2023
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
Plant-based vegan diets offer a number of health benefits, including lower blood pressure, better control of blood sugar and cholesterol, a lower body mass index, and a lower incidence of chronic disease. (1) When pregnant, you’re likely highly motivated to continue with a plant-based diet if it is already a part of your routine. If you’re not following a vegan diet, you may be interested in starting afresh with a plant-based routine during your pregnancy journey.
While a vegan diet can meet most of your nutritional needs, it’s important to know which critical nutrients cannot be derived from plant sources—and how to incorporate these into your pregnancy nutrition plan using a vegan prenatal supplement.
Our guide to a well-rounded pregnancy diet is a great place to start, but prenatal vitamins are vital for ensuring you don’t miss anything for your baby. Read on to learn more about how to choose the best vegan prenatal vitamin for you.
What Is a Vegan Prenatal Supplement?
A vegan prenatal supplement contains all the essential vitamins and minerals you would expect in a traditional prenatal vitamin. However, the sources of these ingredients and the makeup of the vitamin itself are certified vegan and devoid of animal-derived ingredients.
A few of the more common ingredients in prenatal vitamins that are typically derived from animal-based foods include vitamin B12, DHA, vitamin D, and iron. These nutrients can be obtained from plant, animal, or synthetic sources, but the capsule of a typical prenatal vitamin may be made of gelatin, which is from an animal source.
When searching for a vegan prenatal supplement, you will want to find one that includes the key nutrients essential for pregnancy and is guaranteed to be composed of ingredients from non-animal sources.
Key Things to Look for in a Vegan Prenatal
Research indicates that people who consume vegan diets often have low intake of the following nutrients: (2)
- Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
When choosing a vegan prenatal vitamin, look for one that provides all of the above nutrients to support your baby’s development. Any supplement with a vegan certification will meet the following requirements:
- Derive all its nutrients and other ingredients from non-animal sources
- Not use animal testing in the production of the supplement or its ingredients
- Meet cruelty-free standards
- Come from a facility that uses controls to prevent cross-contamination with animal products
We also recommend looking for vegan prenatals that include folate, choline, magnesium, and vitamin K. Choline in particular is vital for babies’ cognitive development; you can learn more about choline’s importance for your baby’s development on our blog.
Vegan Sources of B12 in Prenatal Vitamins
Vitamin B12 is essential for the development of DNA, red blood cells, and the nervous system in a growing fetus. Because it can only be made by animals, you won’t find any B12 in plant foods.
Animal sources of B12, such as liver, salmon, and beef, contain a form called methylcobalamin. However, it’s also possible to synthesize a form of vitamin B12 known as cyanocobalamin for inclusion in vegan prenatal vitamins. (4)
You can add B12 to a vegan diet in the following ways:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Some soy products
- Plant-based milks
Always check the label to make sure you’re getting the right vitamins for you.
Vegan Sources of DHA in Prenatal Vitamins
DHA is an omega-3 fat essential for proper development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. (5) It is found in highest amounts from marine sources such as salmon and mackerel. In supplement form, DHA is usually derived from fish, but it can also be extracted from marine algae.
Finding vegan prenatal vitamins with DHA can be a challenge. You’ll want to look for options that are derived from microalgae. Some vegetarians and pescetarians may want to choose vegetarian prenatal vitamins with DHA derived from fish oil. To choose the best vegan prenatal vitamins with DHA for you, look for a balance of the right vitamins and minerals your current diet might lack.
You can add DHA to a vegan diet by taking a DHA supplement. You can also slightly bolster your DHA levels with flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts, which are high in alpha-linoleic and linolenic acid (precursors to DHA). But keep in mind that the body only converts about 10% of dietary linoleic and linolenic acid to DHA, so taking a DHA supplement will ensure you’re getting what you need.
Vegan Sources of Folate in Prenatal Vitamins
Some nutrients that come from both plant and animal sources, such as folate, are so crucial during pregnancy that it’s important to supplement them rather than rely on plant-based sources alone. When you consume folic acid, the synthetic form of folate found in most supplements, your body must transform it into the active form known as methylfolate. It does this via the use of several enzymes which are coded for by genes. One of these is the MTHFR gene, but multiple genes play key roles in folate metabolism.
Research shows that many women have one or more single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in these genes which impair the function of folate-processing enzymes, making it difficult for them to transform folic acid to methylfolate. (6) While studies are still inconclusive, these women may be better off taking a prenatal vitamin with the active form of folate, known as L-methyltetrahydrofolate.
This is one example of why it’s important to understand how your genetic makeup affects your metabolic pathways. It is also why genetic screening can be a powerful way to choose the most effective prenatal vitamin.
Wondering if you should choose vegan prenatal vitamins with folic acid or folate? Learn the difference between folate vs folic acid for your pregnancy.
Folate is abundant in various plant-based sources, making it accessible to those following a vegan diet. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are excellent folate-rich options, providing a significant portion of the recommended daily intake.
Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans are also good sources. Additionally, avocados, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus contribute to a diverse range of folate-rich choices for vegans.
Vegan Sources of Iron in Prenatal Vitamins
Iron is found in animal products that contain hemoglobin (found in red blood cells), such as red meat, fish, and poultry. However, as a vegan, you are likely aware that non-heme iron can be found in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
A prenatal vitamin does not have to use an animal source for its iron supplementation, since effective non-animal sources are available. Iron sources found in vegan prenatal vitamins include ferrous bisglycinate, which is highly bioavailable and generally tolerated better than other forms of iron.
Fortified breakfast cereals and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans are excellent sources of iron. Additionally, tofu and tempeh, both derived from soybeans, are rich in iron.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard also contain iron. Seeds like pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds are good sources, as are certain nuts like cashews and almonds.
Is a Vegan Diet Safe During Pregnancy?
A well-planned vegan diet during pregnancy can be safe by focusing on diverse plant-based sources of protein, iron, calcium, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, iodine, and folate. Consulting a healthcare professional or dietitian knowledgeable in vegan nutrition helps ensure a balanced meal plan that provides excellent nutrition for both you and your baby. (3)
The Bottom Line
Finding a vegan prenatal vitamin is crucial for supporting your nutritional needs and the needs of your growing baby during pregnancy. Fortunately, there are vegan prenatal vitamins available that source their nutrients from non-animal sources to ensure that you are sticking to a plant-based regimen that will nurture your entire pregnancy journey.
Genate specializes in genetic nutritional counseling with our team of experienced registered dietitians. We’re equipped to help guide you through personalized dietary plans that take your unique genetic profile into account.
To learn more about how to support your baby’s nutrition during pregnancy, make sure to check out the Precision-Nutrition Package from SNP Therapeutics.
This article is not intended as medical advice to treat or diagnose any health condition, but rather as educational health information for the general public. It should not be used as a substitute for individualized medical care from your healthcare provider.
About the Author
Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C, is a professionally trained journalist and physician assistant. She has worked in numerous healthcare settings, including the rural United States, an inner-city Level I trauma center, and several suburban acute care centers. It was during her time at a functional medicine clinic in Southeast Asia that she developed an interest in the role of SNPs in personalized genetic evaluation and discovered how gene-guided nutritional counseling can enhance individual health outcomes.
Libby graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and her medical writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including WebMD, RxSaver, KevinMD, NPHIC, and Men’s Health.
- Tuso PJ. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61-66. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/12-085
- Neufingerl N, Eilander A. Nutrient intake and status in adults consuming plant-based diets compared to meat-eaters: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2022;14(1):29. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14010029
- Fischer JAJ, Cherian AM, Bone JN, Karakochuk CD. The effects of oral ferrous bisglycinate on hemoglobin and ferritin concentrations in adults and children: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Rev. 2023;81(8):904-920. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuac106
- Vitamin B12. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-b12/ Reviewed March 2023. Accessed October 15, 2023.
- Lauritzen L, Brambilla P, Mazzocchi M, Harsløf LBS, Ciappolino V, Agostini C. DHA effects in brain development and function. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):6. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8010006
- Hiraoka M, Kagawa Y. Genetic polymorphisms and folate status. Congenit Anom (Kyoto). 2017;57(5):142-149. https://doi.org/10.1111/cga.12232