Vitamins and Minerals
What You Eat is Just as Important as How Much You Eat
Your body is growing a baby, and you need the right kind of fuel to do a good job. Vitamins and minerals help your body use the energy provided by foods. They also help repair and maintain cells and tissues. A prenatal supplement is a vitamin and mineral supplement you can take daily to make sure you're getting the right amount of certain important nutrients during pregnancy.
In general, you'll want to look for one that contains more of certain nutrients (such as folic acid and iron) that you may not be able to get enough of from your diet. Just as important is to find one that includes no more than the recommended amounts of other nutrients (particularly vitamin A) that can be harmful to your baby if you take too much.
This is one of the reasons that most prenatal supplements contain vitamin A at least partly in the form of beta-carotene, a nutrient that you get from fruits and vegetables that converts to vitamin A in the body. Unlike vitamin A from animal products, which has been known to cause birth defects when taken in high doses before conception or during pregnancy, beta-carotene is not considered to be toxic in high doses.
You may also want to take an omega-3 supplement. In addition to the many wonderful things omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to do, including improving the health of your heart, preventing cancer, reducing hypertension, and easing symptoms of lupus and other autoimmune diseases, it can also do some wonderful things for your baby. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help improve brain and eye development in the fetus and baby. Plus, extra amounts of omega-3 can help you ward off depression.
Variety is the Key to Health
What are some good choices? Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, milk products, and low-fat protein sources such as lean red meat, beans, tofu, poultry and some fish. (See Food to Avoid for a list of fish that are off-limits to pregnant women.)
If you eat well and have no specific risk factors, the experts do not agree about whether you need to take a prenatal supplement. So talk with your practitioner about what's right for you. But everyone does agree that you need to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day in addition to the folic acid you get from food.
Start taking folic acid at least a month before you start trying to get pregnant and during your first trimester. In fact, since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the U.S. Public Health Service recommends that ALL women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid a day. That's because research has shown that doing this can reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your baby by up to 70 percent.
If you do take a prenatal supplement, it's likely to contain between 600 and 1,000 mcg of folic acid. If you don't take one, make sure you still take a separate folic acid supplement. If you've previously had a baby with neural tube defects, you'll need to take 4,000 mcg, or 4 milligrams, of this vitamin each day starting at least a month before conception; see your practitioner about getting a prescription for pills that provide this larger dose.
Women with Certain Health Issues
Women with dietary restrictions or pregnancy complications need to take a prenatal supplement - and not just for the folic acid and iron. This includes vegetarians and vegans; women who are lactose-intolerant or have certain other food intolerances; smokers and women who abuse other substances; women who are having twins or higher multiples; and women with certain blood disorders and chronic diseases. If any of these situations apply to you, talk to your caregiver about what kind of supplement is best for you.
Important Vitamins and Minerals:
- Calcium (1,000mg) Where to get it: Dairy foods, dark leafy greens, calcium-fortified soy milk, calcium-fortified juices and cereals
- Folate (folic acid is the synthetic form, available in supplements)(600mcg) Where to get it: Dried beans, peas, lentils, orange juice, oranges, dark leafy greens, soy nuts, avocados, broccoli, asparagus
- Iron (27mg) Where to get it: Liver, meat, seafood, prune juice, dry beans, wheat germ, oatmeal, tofu, soy nuts, grains
- Protein (70g) Where to get it: Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy foods, beans and legumes, nuts
- Vitamin C (85mg) Where to get it: Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussel sprouts
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (200-300mg)Where to get it: Salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, leafy-green vegetables
What the Experts Say
Your health care provider will most likely recommend you take prenatal multivitamins containing the recommended amounts of vitamins, including folic acid. Your prenatal vitamin is crucial throughout pregnancy to support the growth of the baby, so be sure you take it every day. In fact, your need for iron doubles during pregnancy, and you may not be able to get enough from your diet.
Some pregnant women need to take a 30-milligram iron supplement during their second and third trimesters to help prevent anemia. Your health care provider will recommend one if you need it. Your provider also may recommend a calcium supplement if you are unable to consume dairy products. Never take a supplement that contains more than the Daily Value (DV) of vitamins and minerals without talking to your health care provider, because large doses of certain vitamins (such as vitamin A) may harm your baby.
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