During pregnancy, your body needs additional vitamins and minerals for you and your growing baby. A daily prenatal vitamin is your insurance against any deficiencies from conception through pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Prevent birth defects
Start prenatal vitamins before conception to support baby’s earliest development. Your prenatal should have at least 400 micrograms of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, which occur in the first 28 days of pregnancy–often before you even miss a period.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, which is found in leafy greens and other foods. Some prenatals have as much as 800 micrograms of folic acid, which is safe and helps prevent birth defects. If you’ve had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect as you may need even more folic acid.
Want to nourish a smarter baby? Many prenatal vitamins now include omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This healthy fat promotes baby’s brain and eye development. Coldwater fish such as salmon is a good sources of omega-3, as are walnuts and flax seeds. Experts recommend eating 8-12 ounces of seafood (1-2 meals) a week (low-mercury fish only) during pregnancy.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D during pregnancy is 600 IU/day. Most prenatals have 400 IU, so you’ll need to get extra elsewhere. But vitamin D can be too much of a good thing—safe upper daily limits are 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU during pregnancy.
Customize your vitamin
Does your throat close at the thought of swallowing a capsule? Look for a chewable, liquid or even gummy prenatal vitamin. Vitamin B6 can help ease nausea and morning sickness. Most experts advise 50 milligrams of B6 daily for morning sickness.
If you’re prone to iron deficiencies, look for a higher level of iron in your prenatal vitamin, but be aware that iron supplements can cause nausea and constipation. If you’re not anemic, pick a prenatal vitamin without iron.
Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal and because not all supplements have been tested for safety in pregnant women, so stick to meeting your basic needs. For example, too much vitamin A can be harmful to your baby so this vitamin is often reduced in prenatals, which is one reason why a regular multivitamin just won’t work during and after pregnancy.
Skip herbal supplements altogether – many are considered too risky for your baby; discuss any herbs or other supplements with your health care provider before you take them.
Lastly, a prenatal vitamin isn’t an excuse for poor eating – strive to get the nutrition you and your baby need each day through your food.
Choose a prenatal vitamin with at least the following:
• 400 mcg of folic acid
• 400 IU of vitamin D
• 70 mg of vitamin C
• 6 mcg of vitamin B12
• 10 mg of vitamin E
• 3 mg of thiamine
• 2 mg of riboflavin
• 20 mg of niacin
• 15 mg of zinc
• 200 to 300 mg of calcium
Tamera L. Young, RN, MS, is an obstetric clinical instructor in Newark, OH.