Pregnancy is an exciting time for everyone involved, but maintaining good health is essential for both mother and baby. Even if you are eating a properly balanced diet that includes a wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and unprocessed grains, getting all of the nutrients that you and your baby need can be difficult.
What are Prenatal Vitamins?
That’s where prenatal vitamins come into the picture. Prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements offer a wide range of nutrients, some of which are not easily found in your regular diet. This ensures that you and your developing baby get the right amount crucial nutrients for good health. However, it’s important to remember that prenatal vitamins are a complement to a regular healthy diet, not a replacement.
Many mothers may not know the exact type of prenatal vitamins to take, so here are some tips to help you figure out what to look for in the best prenatal vitamin.
When to Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins?
Prenatal Vitamins Before Pregnancy
Ideally, women of reproductive age who want to have children should begin taking prenatal vitamins before they even get pregnant. You should start taking a prenatal vitamin three months before you start trying to get pregnant. Your egg starts to mature within those three months before it is released, so providing prenatal vitamins early ensures that you and baby get the right nutrients during the earliest stages. For example, the neural tube, which develops into the brain and spinal cord, begin to develop in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy, potentially before you even know you are pregnant. Starting your prenatal vitamins early can increase the chances that these organ structures develop properly.1
You should then continue taking prenatal vitamins throughout your pregnancy. Some doctors may also recommend that you continue taking prenatal vitamins even after the baby’s birth, particularly if you are breastfeeding.2 This ensures that your baby gets enough nutrients, but also can help you fight against postpartum depression, postnatal depletion, and general nutritional deficiencies after birth.
However, if you have not been taking prenatal vitamins early, don’t worry. Just begin prenatal vitamins as soon as you can confirm that you are pregnant.
What are the Recommended Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals?
Prenatal vitamins and minerals are available over the counter and come in a wide variety of different formulations with different concentrations of nutrients. While it doesn’t hurt to get a diverse range of vitamins and minerals in your system during pregnancy, the main vitamins and minerals recommended by doctors include:
Calcium – At least 1000 mg daily9
Known as the building block for your bones, make sure your prenatal vitamin includes plenty of calcium. Remember that your child is developing an entire skeleton and bone structure, which often means taking a great deal of your own calcium. This can potentially weaken your bones and lead to pregnancy-associated osteoporosis (literally, more porous bones). Pregnant women need up to 1,000 milligrams of calcium, but most prenatal supplements contain just 150 to 200 milligrams. Some women may need to take a separate calcium supplement in addition to a prenatal vitamin.
Vitamin D – At least 600 IUs daily9
Vitamin D goes hand in hand with calcium as it helps your body better absorb calcium. Vitamin D also promotes bone growth and bone remodeling, preventing thin, brittle, or misshapen bones, all of which is important for you and your developing fetus.3 It can help regulate levels of calcium and phosphorous and plays a key role in building your baby’s teeth and bones. You should get up to 600 IUs of vitamin D. Most prenatal vitamins contain about 400 IUs, which, combined with a healthy diet, should provide adequate amounts.
Folic Acid – At least 600 mcg daily9
Folic acid is a synthetic form of a B vitamin known as folate. It is best known for its role in creating red blood cells, which help to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout your entire body. Getting enough of this vitamin before and during your pregnancy (particularly in earlier stages) can help to promote the proper development of your baby’s neural tube and heart. Even if you do get enough of this B vitamin in the form of folate, your body can generally absorb folic acid much better.4 You should get any amount between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid.5
Iron – at least 27 mg daily9
Iron plays an essential role in creating blood, particularly the protein hemoglobin, which is responsible for essentially holding oxygen within blood and transporting it throughout your body and to your baby’s. Pregnant women need almost twice the amount of iron than usual as your body needs that extra iron to help create your developing baby. Getting enough iron equates to having plenty of red blood cells and ensuring that your baby is born at a healthy size and time. You should aim for a daily intake of about 30 milligrams of iron.6
Vitamin C plays an essential role in the creation of collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up human skin, cartilage, bones, joints, and tendons. It is also essential to repairing bones and tissue, healing wounds, and promoting healthy skin. Vitamin C also supports a healthy immune system and helps the absorption of iron. You should take about 80 to 85 milligrams of vitamin C per day.7
Fish and seafood can be an excellent addition to your prenatal diet as they are packed with all kinds of nutrients that may be beneficial to you and your baby, including protein, iron, and zinc. Perhaps the greatest reason to consume fish and seafood when you are pregnant is DHA.
DHA, which stands for docosahexaenoic acid, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. It is found mainly in fish, though it can also be found in smaller amounts in some plant-based foods, including flaxseed, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. DHA can positively support your baby’s visual and cognitive development.
As beneficial as fish and seafood can be to mother and child, one thing to be aware of is mercury content.
|Best choices (eat two to three servings a week)
|Good choices (eat one serving a week)
|Choices to avoid (highest mercury levels)
Certain types of fish are high in mercury. Although mercury isn’t of any concern to adults, too much of it when you are pregnant could potentially prevent proper cognitive and nervous development in your baby. To avoid this, stick with low-mercury fish, including salmon, trout, herring, and sardines. Stick with properly cooked seafood (no sushi or raw oysters) and stay away from large, predatory fish, like swordfish or king mackerel.8
Aim for a dose of at least 200 milligrams of DHA to support your child’s health.
Probiotic use during pregnancy may have beneficial maternal effects, such as reduced risk of inflammatory events and preeclampsia, and improved maternal glucose metabolism.11,12 Combinations of certain Lactobacillus and Bifdobacterium strains along with a longer duration of treatment may be most beneficial.
It can’t be emphasized enough: a prenatal vitamin should be complementary to an existing healthy diet to properly promote the health of the mother and the developing baby. Certain vitamins, like folic acid and vitamin C, can be easily consumed via a healthy diet, while other vitamins, particularly iron and calcium, often require a mix of diet and supplementation. On top of a prenatal vitamin, aim to eat a balanced diet that is rich with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.
DrFormulas® Prenatal Vitamins offer a specially formulated combination of DHA, folic acid, iron, and more to promote your baby’s healthy development. Each of our supplements has been thoroughly tested, ensuring safe and effective use. Contact us to learn more about our prenatal vitamin supplements.
- Karimi R, Fitzgerald TP, Fisher NS. A quantitative synthesis of mercury in commercial seafood and implications for exposure in the United States. Environ Health Perspect 2012; 120:1512.
Reproduced from: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food: Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm (Accessed January 26, 2017).