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Over the counter vs Prescription Prenatal Vitamins –Is There Any Real Difference?

Pregnancy is a very important time to ensure you are getting ample supplies of vitamins and minerals. For many expectant moms, that could mean a recommendation for prescription prenatal vitamins, although generic alternatives may also be an option. The key, as it turns out, is not price but rather content. Prescription can run $60 or more per month compared to $30 or less for OTC formulas. One reason is that often, the prescription brands contain higher levels of nutrients then their OTC counterparts. According to Web MD, a good prenatal vitamin should contain the following:

  • 400 mcg of folic acid
  • 400 IU of vitamin D
  • 200 to 300 mg of calcium
  • 70 mg of vitamin C
  • 3 mg of thiamine
  • 2 mg of riboflavin
  • 20 mg of niacin
  • 6 mcg of vitamin B12
  • 10 mg of vitamin E
  • 15 mg of zinc
  • 17 mg of iron

The most notable difference between prescription vs. OTC vitamins is the amount of folate (folic acid). Generic versions typically contain 400 to 600mcg while the prescription formulas sometimes contain up to 1000mcg.

Studies indicate adequate folic acid decreases the chance of miscarriage and organ abnormalities such as neurotube defects like spina bifida. The minimum dosage recommended for expectant moms is 400 mcg per day, so if you want that extra insurance and peace of mind that you are getting more than the minimum recommended dose of folic acid, a prescription prenatal vitamin may be the way to go. Prescription formulas also tend to have more iron. From a safety standpoint, prescription vitamins require extra FDA scrutiny, a potential benefit for you and your developing baby.

One downside with prescription formulas is that due to their higher concentration of nutrients, some women have difficulty tolerating them. Unpleasant side effects may include nausea and constipation. If you have a reaction to potent prescription prenatal vitamins, talk with your doctor. You can ask your OB/GYN to prescribe a different formula since not all brands are the same. With trial and error, you should be able to find one that works for you.

For women who do opt for an OTC formula, be sure to carefully check the label and confirm it contains the requisite 400 micrograms of folate plus some iron. To stay on the safe side, opt for tried and tested name brands and watch for things like excessive Vitamin A or high doses of iron, which can be detrimental to you and your child’s health. Many brands are available online, making it easy to compare labels and ingredients before you buy.


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