What Is the Difference Between Prenatal Vitamins and Multi-Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins and multi-vitamins are not the same thing

Credits: Vitamin Packaging
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

Multivitamins can support healthy skin and your overall health regimen. Not only do they provide essential micronutrient supplementation (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients), but they also can optimize health across the lifespan. In particular, prenatal vitamins are highly recommended for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant, or who are already pregnant. Read on for a better understanding of the difference between general multivitamins and prenatals.


Why The Need For Multivitamins?

Multivitamins vary by brand but usually constitute a daily capsule or tablet that consumers can take to supplement their diet. They typically include most of the recognized vitamins and minerals that are required in the daily diet. Depending on the individual, certain multivitamins may have more or less of a certain micronutrient. A variety of factors can influence multivitamin selection including age, gender, lifestyle, history of gastric surgery, gender, as well as life stage ie: pregnancy. 

Table 1. Comparison of Nutrient Support in Various Vitamins

Multivitamin Examples

Nutrient Support

Men’s One A Day

General recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals accounting for larger body size

Women’s One A Day

General recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals


Increased amounts of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, E, and D), vitamin B complex, iron, folic acid, iodine etc.


Smaller amounts of recognized vitamins and minerals accounting for smaller body size


Increased amounts of all vitamins and minerals, particularly nutrients such as B12, iron, folate, calcium and vitamins A and D due to limited digestion/absorption.

Note: Multivitamins are not intended to supply all micronutrient supplies, but support the intake of micronutrients found in foods. In a 2007 study, scientists Murphy et al postulated that multivitamins could be better formulated to reduce the risk of nutrient deficiency, as well as the risk of excessive intake. In short, it is important to find a multivitamin that fits the individual’s current health status. Allowing a health professional to evaluate the quality of a multivitamin can be a great method to purchasing the best individual supplement.


General Multivitamin Micronutrients

Table 2. Micronutrients Found in Multivitamins

Water Soluble Vitamins

Fat Soluble Vitamins


Thiamin (B1)

Riboflavin (B2)

Niacin (B3)

Pantothenic acid (B5)



Folate/folic acid (B9)


**Vitamin A

**Vitamin D

**Vitamin E

Vitamin K









**These micronutrients are essential for healthy skin function.

Note: Here is a list of micronutrient functions along with sources from foods, courtesy of the Linus Pauling Institute.


Prenatal Micronutrients

Prenatal vitamins are intended to support a healthy mother during pregnancy. Of particular importance are nutrients such as iron, folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, and iodine.Other common micronutrients required in larger amounts include vitamin A, E, B12, B6, and minerals copper and selenium. It should be highlighted that the period prior to conception as well as the first ten weeks of pregnancy is crucial for normal fetal organ development.

Iron = 27 milligrams/day

Iron deficiency anemia is a common issue for pregnant women. A lack of adequate iron in the diet has been associated with lower birth weights, premature births, as well as maternal mortality. Interestingly enough, scientists have indicated that an elevated iron status during pregnancy may also contribute to negative birth outcomes. This concern has been termed the U-risk of iron intake and remains a novel aspect of studying optimal maternal nutrition. 

Folic acid = 400 micrograms/day

All women of childbearing age are now recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued this statement due to the impact of folic acid deficiency on early brain development as well as increased risk for neural tube defects. It is also important to note that approximately ½ of US pregnancies are unplanned, thus further strengthening the support for optimal folic acid intake prior to knowledge of pregnancy. 

Zinc = 12 milligrams/day

Inadequate zinc intake has been linked to over 80% of all pregnancies worldwide. Although predominantly a larger factor in developing countries, low zinc status continues to be associated with premature birth, as well as greater risk for systemic and intra-uterine infections.

Iodine = 220 micrograms/day

Second to iron, iodine is another common deficiency found in pregnant women. Not only do requirements increase by over 45% when pregnant, but the risks of deficiency include impaired growth and development of offspring including a condition known as cretinism.

Vitamin D = 600 IU/day

Low vitamin D status in mothers has recently been linked to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth, small gestational age, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. The research is new, however, and scientists are continuing to advocate for more vigorous research due to variable outcomes and lack of continuity. Even with this continued debate, vitamin D levels have been demonstrated to be particularly low during pregnancy, and the current recommendation stands at 600 IU (international units) per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids = 650 milligrams/day

Last but not least, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has become more prevalent during pregnancy due to concerns of mercury toxicity when consuming omega-3 rich fish. Essential omega three fatty acids are required in the diet, and they also have been demonstrated to support the fetal development of both the brain and eyes beginning in the third trimester and extending to the first 18 months of life.

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