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The Difference Between Prescription and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Prenatal Vitamins

What is the difference between prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) prenatal vitamins? That’s the question many women who are planning a pregnancy, or who are already are pregnant, ask themselves and their doctors every day!

When choosing prescription or OTC prenatal vitamins, consider:

How much folic acid does a prescription vs. OTC prenatal vitamin contain?

Folic acid is an important B vitamin that supports the healthy development of your baby while you are pregnant. It helps lessen the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly.1*

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking folic acid daily for at least one month before conception, and daily while you are pregnant. The CDC also suggests that women of childbearing age take folic acid daily, whether planning a pregnancy or not. This is an especially important statement since nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

Women who can get pregnant (whether planning to or not) need just 400 mcg/day of folic acid, and they can get this amount from vitamins or fortified foods. This is in addition to eating foods rich in folate. But, your doctor might ask you to take more for certain reasons.

Many prescription prenatal vitamins contain 1,000 micrograms (1 milligram) or more, while on the average; most OTCs contain
800 micrograms (0.008 mg) or less.2

Learn more about FOLMAX, our proprietary immediate and modified release folic acid used in vitaMedMD’s vitaPearl.


Does your prenatal vitamin contain iron in the right form, so it does not cause stomach upset, nausea, or constipation? Iron in your prenatal vitamin is important since it is estimated that 52% of all pregnant women experience iron deficiency anemia3*, notably during the third trimester–a particularly important time to maintain healthy iron levels as it is when the fetus begins to store iron for use during the first six months of life.

A quality prescription prenatal contains chelated iron. Chelation, the process of binding iron molecules to an amino acid, stabilizes iron so it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream while being gentle on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Learn more about FePlus, our proprietary blended chelate-containing iron used in vitaPearl.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) that serves as a primary building block for the healthy development of the brain, eyes, cells, and nervous system.4* There is concern, however, that DHA derived from large fish including shark and swordfish, contains contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.

Learn more about the highly purified pur-DHA used in vitaPearl.

Convenience and Lifestyle

Choosing whether to take a prescription or OTC prenatal vitamin also comes down to convenience and lifestyle.  Click here to learn more about vitaMedMD’s convenient ways to save.  

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


1. Folic Acid & Birth Defects. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2018.

2. Data on file. TherapeuticsMD, Inc.  

3. Abu-Ouf N, Jan M. The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health. National Institutes of Health. Published 2019.

4. James A Greenberg, W. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy. PubMed Central (PMC). Published 2019.

The information included in this article and on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation.

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