I have a confession: I knew nothing about pregnancy before I was pregnant.
I know, shocking, right?
But I did find out while I was trying to conceive (thanks to Jean Twenge’s The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant) that I needed to take folic acid, which is called 葉酸 or yousan in Japanese.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps reduce the chance your baby will be born with a neural tube (brain and spinal cord) defect. Some examples of neural tube defects are spina bifida when the baby’s backbone and membranes around the spinal cord haven’t closed properly, and anencephaly, which is when the baby is missing parts of their brain and skull.
It’s most important to take folic acid daily for preventative purposes in early pregnancy, which is why women who are trying to conceive are also recommended to take the vitamin. The recommended daily dosage seems to vary online but tends to average around 400 μg for those who are not at high risk of possibly having a baby with a neural tube defect.
Thankfully, getting your hands on this essential prenatal vitamin is not difficult in Japan.
Here are some kinds available in Japan, some of which I have tried:
Folic Acid in Japan
BeanStalkmom 葉酸＋鉄 (yousan [folic acid]+tetsu [iron])
Out of all the folic acid supplements I’ve tried thus far, this is my favorite at the moment. It comes in 60 lemon-flavored chewable tablets that you take once a day, so it lasts about two months. It also contains not only folic acid and iron but also six different kinds of vitamin B minerals. Vitamin B is essential for your baby’s development. For instance, B6 and B12 help with the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. I found these chewable tablets to be really refreshing after dinner or when I was feeling sleepy (especially at work). The downside is that if you have a sensitive palate, particularly in your first trimester, you may want to avoid these.
Folic acid: 0.4 mg
Iron: 13 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.8 mg
Vitamin B12: 0.0004 mg
NatureMade is a brand that can be easily found in any drugstore in Japan. These come in 150 small tablets and the dosage is two per day and the price also makes it very affordable as it’ll last for a little more than two months. The drawback is that these do not contain iron, nor do they contain any kind of vitamin B.
Folic acid (per tablet): 0.2 mg
When I asked my doctor what kind of supplement I should be taking while pregnant, she gave me a sample for elevit. One thing that I liked about it was that along with folic acid, it contains calcium and iron. I found some downsides to this brand. It contains 90 tablets and you take three per day, making one bottle last only a month, and at its price, it’s quite expensive. However, each pill is packed with vitamins and minerals. The amount of folic acid you get is twice the amount as the Beanstalkmom brand, although the evidence is mixed on whether or not taking higher amounts of folic acid is safe for the baby.
Folic acid (three tables): 0.8 mg
Iron (three tablets): 21.5 mg
Calcium (three tablets): 125 mg
Pigeon folic acid plus 葉酸プラス
Pigeon is a very popular maternity and baby brand in Japan and this supplement has high reviews on Amazon Japan. One bottle contains 30 and you take one per day, so it will last about one month. It also contains iron and nine different kinds of vitamins and minerals.
Folic acid: 0.4 mg
Iron: 10 mg
I took these before I became pregnant and at the beginning of my first trimester. Similar to NatureMade, Dear-Natura is a common supplement brand that is available at all drugstores in Japan. It’s also probably the most affordable on this list (especially if you buy it online). You can buy 30 days worth of tablets or 60 days, although the 60 days one is way more bang for your buck. You also only need to take one tablet per day, which is nice for those of us who dislike swallowing supplements. These supplements contain folic acid as well as vitamins B6 and B12. B6 is supposed to be good for morning sickness (つわり) and relieving nausea during the first trimester, and as I only threw up once, I’m thinking maybe it helped.
Folic acid: 0.4 mg
Vitamin B6: 3 mg
Vitamin B12: 0.6 mg
ママのチカラ (“mama no chikara” – I’m not entirely sure how “chikara” became “tikara”) means “Mom’s Strength.”
I included this on the list because the packaging is adorable. The reviews are also quite high. One package contains 120 tablets and the dosage is four per day, which means it contains about a month’s worth of folic acid. These supplements also include iron, calcium, zinc, and various vitamins. Four tablets is a lot to take so personally I will pass on this but for those of you who are intrigued by the pretty packaging and high reviews, it can’t hurt to try.
Pigeon Chewable Tablets かんでおいしい葉酸タブレット
For those of you who prefer chewable tablets that are great for on-the-go, you may want to try these. One package has 60 tablets and you take two per day, so it contains about a month’s supply. Each tablet has folic acid, iron and vitamins B6 and B12. These come in two varieties: Apple, Grapefruit and Yogurt flavor (青りんご・グレープフルーツ・ヨーグルト), which won a “Best Award of Baby Goods” in 2020, and Strawberry, Blueberry and Yogurt flavor (ストロベリー・ブルーベリー・ヨーグルト). The reviews are mixed, though, regarding the taste of the various flavors.
Folic acid (two tablets): 0.4 mg
Iron (two tablets): 10 mg
Vitamin B6 (two tablets): 1.4 mg
Vitamin B12 (two tablets): 0.0028 mg
Other Prenatal Vitamins
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) helps with the development of your baby’s eyes, brain and central nervous system, which is especially important in the third trimester. You can get the benefits of this if you eat fish regularly, especially salmon, but if you don’t like seafood, you may want to invest in DHA capsules such as ones geared for pregnant women or just fish oil capsules. One package contains 90 capsules and the dosage is three per day.DHA: 350mg
These are geared towards women who are breastfeeding. Each package contains 40 strawberry-yogurt flavored tablets and you take two per day. These tablets also boast a variety of vitamins such as Vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and D, as well as magnesium and folic acid.Calcium (two tablets): 150 mg
Iron (two tablets): 2.5 mg
Everything listed above can be found online (you can click on the image or name of the product you’re interested in and buy it directly from Amazon, which is what I did), in various drugstores, or in stores that sell baby goods like Babies R Us, Nishimatsuya, and Akachan Honpo.
If you’re interested in more traditional prenatal vitamins that are packed with various vitamins and minerals, or popular western brands like One-A-Day, you may want to visit the website iHerb (use the code AZA5034 for 10% off your entire purchase). Some Western mothers in Japan who I know ordered their prenatal vitamins from this website, and I have also ordered items from there with no issues and my package arrives in less than a week.
Amazon Japan also sells the following prenatal vitamins by NatureMade, although it is quite pricey when you factor in shipping.
I hope this overview of prenatal vitamins available in Japan was helpful for you and wherever in Japan or the world you are, have a happy and healthy pregnancy!