Walk through the vitamin aisle at any major retail or vitamin store and you are likely to see a prenatal vitamin. When I was pregnant with my children just 10 years ago prenatal vitamins were prescribed, not taken as over-the-counter supplements. The supplement market is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like the drug industry. is So, are those over-the-counter prenatal vitamins the same as prescription prenatal vitamins?

Over-the-Counter Prenatal Vitamins
In large stores you can find more than 10 brands of prenatal vitamins over the counter. Most contain the recommended daily intake of folic acid, zinc and iron based on recommendations for pregnant women. You’ll also find vitamin C and calcium in many over-the-counter prenatal vitamins. Some brands offer the lowest recommended amount and others offer slightly more. DHA may or may not be present in some brands. 

Prescription Prenatal Vitamins
The most popular prescription prenatal vitamins tend to supply more than the base amount of vitamins like folic acid. It is suggested that pregnant women take 400 mcg of folic acid daily during pregnancy, but prescription prenatal vitamins often supply as much as 1,000 mcg. Higher doses of calcium and iron are also common. Prescription prenatal vitamins are also more likely to include a DHA supplement with the basic prenatal vitamin. DHA is a source of omega 3 fatty acids. 

Choosing between an over-the-counter and prescription prenatal vitamin is ultimately a conversation all pregnant women need to have with their physician. In some cases, medical insurance covers most or all of the cost of prescription prenatal vitamins, so there is no real discussion, but women who have no insurance or who have insurance that does not cover the cost of prescription prenatal vitamins may want to talk with their physician about over-the-counter alternatives.