The Benefits of Prenatal Vitamins for Your Pregnancy

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Taking a daily prenatal vitamin is one of the easiest things you can do to help encourage a healthy pregnancy. When combined with a well-balanced diet, prenatal vitamins help ensure
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Taking a daily prenatal vitamin is one of the easiest things you can do to help encourage a healthy pregnancy. When combined with a well-balanced diet, prenatal vitamins help ensure that you and your baby are receiving the vital nutrition that is necessary throughout every stage of pregnancy.  

Why Prenatal Vitamins Are Important

During your pregnancy, your body’s nutritional requirements are different than at other times, and prenatal vitamins are designed for the specific needs of pregnant women. For example, prenatal vitamins have more iron, calcium, and folic acid than regular multivitamins. Folic acid, in particular, is an important part of any diet, but it is imperative for the pregnant woman. Folic acid is proven to be a crucial factor in preventing neural tube birth defects, which is why it is recommended that all women of child bearing age take a folic acid supplement, and also why pregnant women need to take more than the general population.

Prenatal Vitamins Supplement, Not Replace a Balanced Diet

Any balanced diet will contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, but you should still take a prenatal vitamin to make sure that you are getting enough of the nutrients your body and your baby needs. Additionally, since prenatal vitamins are formulated with the idea that the person taking them is eating a healthy diet, there is no need to seek out additional vitamin supplements in any form, be it a pill, diet drink, or fortified smoothie. Be sure to let your doctor know if you use any of these products so you can be certain you are not getting too much of a good thing.

Over-the-Counter vs. Prescription Prenatal Vitamins

Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter or through a doctor’s prescription. Some people prefer to get their prenatal vitamins from a prescription because it increases the likelihood that the prenatal vitamins are high quality and, if you have particular dietary needs, a vitamin can be prescribed specifically for you.

If you choose to purchase your prenatal vitamins over-the-counter, it is very important to read labels so you know how much of which vitamins and minerals you are taking. As general rule, look for a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, iron, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA). Other key nutrients to look out for are vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc. However, be aware that it is possible to have too much of some vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, so make sure you know the appropriate dosages for you. Have the conversation with your obstetrician if you’re not sure.

Many diet and vitamin supplements that are sold at grocery and health food stores are not subject to the same kind of regulation and scrutiny as prescription prenatal vitamins. If you opt to buy yours over-the-counter, make sure you know what you are taking. It is always best to buy well known brands from reputable stores.

Some organizations also independently rate supplements, so if you want extra assurance that your prenatal vitamins meet a high quality standard, look for labels marked with seals of approval from organizations such as NSF International or the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention and always discuss your choice with your doctor.  

Don’t Stop Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins

Sometimes people experience discomfort when taking prenatal vitamins. Queasiness and constipation are common complaints, and some people struggle with swallowing large pills. It might be tempting to quit but it is very important that you keep taking a daily prenatal vitamin as advised through your pregnancy. Tell your doctor about any difficulties you are experiencing and they will help devise solutions for taking your prenatal vitamins without the unpleasant side effects.

Prenatal Vitamins Not Just for Women Who Are Already Pregnant

Prenatal vitamins are not exclusive to the nine months of pregnancy. It is prudent to begin taking prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant so that you and your baby receive maximum nutrition during the first few weeks of pregnancy when fetal development is at its most active, which is often before many women are even aware that they are pregnant. Your health care provider may also recommend that you continue taking prenatal vitamins for several months after the baby is born, especially if you are breastfeeding.

How to Choose a Prenatal Vitamin

Choosing which prenatal vitamin to take can feel like an overwhelming task, but the most important thing to remember is simply that you should take one. Prenatals are an essential part of a healthy pregnancy and there are lots of options to discuss with your doctor are having trouble deciding which is best for you.

Below are the recommended guidelines for key vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

Calcium

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
1,300 milligrams for ages 14–18 years; 1,000 milligrams for ages 19–50 years

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Builds strong bones and teeth

Best Sources
Pasteurized milk, cheese, and yogurt; sardines; dark, leafy greens

Iron

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
27 milligrams

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your baby

Best Sources
Lean red meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereals, prune juice

Vitamin A

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
770 micrograms

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Forms healthy skin and eyesight; helps with bone growth

Best Sources
Carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes

Vitamin C

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
85 milligrams

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Promotes healthy gums, teeth, and bones; helps your body absorb iron

Best Sources
Citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries

Vitamin D

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
600 international units

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Builds your baby’s bones and teeth; helps promote healthy eyesight and skin

Best Sources
Sunlight, fortified milk, fatty fish such as salmon

Vitamin B6

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
1.9 milligrams

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Helps form red blood cells; helps body use protein, fat, and carbohydrates

Best Sources
Beef, liver, pork, ham, wholegrain cereals, bananas

Vitamin B12

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
2.6 micrograms

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Maintains nervous system; needed to form red blood cells

Best Sources
Meat, fish, poultry, milk (vegetarians should take a supplement)

Folic Acid

Daily Recommended Dietary Amount
600 micrograms

Why You and Your Baby Need It
Helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine

Best Sources
Dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice, beans, fortified cereals, enriched bread and pasta, nuts

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Nutrition During Pregnancy. Patient Education Pamphlet AP001. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2015.

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