Although it is always important to eat a nutritious diet and take your vitamins, it becomes even more necessary when you are eating for two. Your unborn baby receives all his nutrients from you through the placenta and is relying on you to send food his way that is rich with vitamins and nutrients. While many vitamins are readily available in the healthy foods you eat each day, some are harder to come by without supplementation. A great way to fill the gap of nutrients and ensure that you are getting exactly what you need for your baby is to take a daily prenatal vitamin and any other supplements your care provider recommends. Here’s a list of the most important vitamins and nutrients you need during pregnancy and how you can be sure you are getting them all.
How Much: 27 milligrams per day
Why: Iron is a mineral that is necessary to make the protein hemoglobin that is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is important for your baby because your body needs it to provide him oxygen and he needs it to make his own blood. When you are pregnant, you need two times the amount of iron that someone who is not pregnant does. Without sufficient iron, you may be more likely to get infections, feel tired and develop anemia during pregnancy. Your baby may also have a higher risk of low birth weight and prematurity.
Where: Foods that are great sources of iron include leafy greens, lean meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, raisins, beans, dried fruit and some fortified cereals, breads and pastas. Make sure your daily prenatal vitamin contains at least 17 milligrams of iron to account for what you are not able to get through your diet.
What: Folic Acid
How Much: 600 micrograms per day
Why: Folic acid is a B vitamin that is extremely important for the growth and development of your baby. When folic acid is taken before and during pregnancy, it can help protect baby from birth defects of the brain and spine, also known as neural tube defects. It may also prevent defects of the heart and mouth like cleft lip and cleft palate. Since neural tube defects happen in the first weeks of pregnancy, it is important to start taking iron even before you plan to conceive.
Where: When you get folic acid naturally through the foods you eat, it is called folate. The best sources of folate include leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, orange juice, beans and lentils. You may also find some breads, cereals and pastas that are fortified with folic acid. In order to meet your daily needs during pregnancy, be sure you prenatal vitamin contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.
What: Vitamin D
How Much: 600 IU per day
Why: Vitamin D does many good things for your body while you are pregnant. For mom, vitamin D helps your immune system, nerves and muscles and aids in the absorption of calcium in the body. Vitamin D also helps protect mom from infection as it strengthens the immune system. For baby, vitamin D is necessary for the development of his teeth and bones.
Where: The best food sources for vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon and milk that has it added. Sunlight is another source of vitamin D but should be limited due to the other harmful consequences of sun exposure. Choose a daily prenatal vitamin that contains 400 IU of vitamin D to supplement what you receive in your diet.
What: DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)
How Much: 200 milligrams per day
Why: DHA is a nutrient and an omega-3 fatty acid that aids in the growth and development of your baby. Specifically, DHA is integral in the creation of baby’s brain and eyes.
Where: Foods that are rich in DHA include low-mercury fish such as salmon, herring, anchovies, halibut and trout. Orange juice, eggs and milk can also be sold fortified with DHA. Because DHA is not included in all prenatal vitamins, you may have to take a separate DHA supplement. Pregnant and nursing women need approximately 100-200 milligrams more of DHA than the 250 milligram omega-3 intake recommended for all adults.
How Much: 1000 milligrams per day
Why: Calcium plays an important role in the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, muscles, heart, and nerves. For mom, calcium is important to prevent bone density loss.
Where: Dietary sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli and some orange juices. Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains 200-300 milligrams of calcium to ensure that you are getting your daily allotment.
How Much: 220 micrograms per day
Why: Iodine is a mineral that is necessary to make thyroid hormones. The thyroid is responsible for helping the body store energy from food intake. Your baby needs iodine for the development of his brain and central nervous system. A severe iodine deficiency can potentially lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, mental disability, deafness and physical abnormalities.
Where: Iodine can be found in fish, yogurt, milk, cheese, iodized salt and fortified bread and cereal. Prenatal vitamins don’t always contain iodine and it is important that you check yours to see if you need to take an additional supplement.
It is important to remember that prenatal vitamins are meant to be a supplement, not a substitute, to a healthy diet during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins provide an efficient way to bridge the nutritional gap left between what you consume and what your baby needs. They also fortunately contain all of the daily recommended vitamins that you would find in any normal adult multivitamin. Prenatal vitamins can be beneficial not only during pregnancy but before and after as well. Particularly, if you are a breastfeeding mom you will want to continue taking your vitamins after baby is born as your body will need the extra nutrients. Prenatal vitamins can be bought over the counter or can be prescribed by your obstetrical caregiver. They even offer liquid and chewable options for moms who struggle with nausea or other difficulties from taking pills during pregnancy.
Eating a healthy diet and taking a daily prenatal vitamin is one of the many ways you can begin to care for your baby before she is here. For questions about prenatal care and any and all other topics related to pregnancy and birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of our Birth Center.