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When it comes to supplementing your health and the health of your developing baby, we know for a fact that these six nutrients are crucial and we’ll discuss each one in more depth below.
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
A few thing to keep in mind when you are taking vitamins and supplements. If you overdo the dosages, in other words take in too much, you can actually do your baby harm. To avoid this, be careful of taking two or three products which may all contain, for instance, Vitamin D. Try to find one product that contains all the essential six nutrients listed above and if any are missing, try and buy these separately (in other words not as part of a multivitamin.
Your doctor may be able to advise you on choosing a nutrient supplement and if you are provided with free tablets from your local clinic for iron, calcium or folic acid, make sure you take the other nutrients as stand alone products and not part of a multivitamin.
Get it early. The first few weeks are a critical time for the development of your baby and ensuring you have enough folic acid in your system can help prevent a number of conditions that affect the developing fetus.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). Some studies show that taking folic acid may help prevent heart defects, birth defects and cleft lip and palate.
- Before pregnancy take a vitamin supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid each day.
- This is recommended each day for women, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant.
- During pregnancy, you’ll need to ensure you’re getting 600 mcg of folic acid on a daily basis.
Always check the supplement label to see how much folic acid is in it.
If you’re at high risk for having a baby with an NTD, talk to your doctor about how you can safely take 4,000 mcg of folic acid each day to help prevent an NTD. Start taking 4,000 mcg at least 3 months before you get pregnant and through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. You’re at high risk if:
- You’ve had a pregnancy with an NTD in the past.
- You or your partner has an NTD.
- Your partner has a child with an NTD.
Don’t take several multivitamins or prenatal vitamins. You can get too much of other nutrients, which may be harmful to your health. Your doctor will help you figure out the best and safest way for you to get the right amount of folic acid.
Folic acid can obviously also be obtained from food. Citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and beans are all excellent sources of folic acid. Some foods are also enriched with folic acid, such as cereals, bread, rice and pasta as we tend to suffer from a shortage of folic acid.
Iron is an essential mineral that your body uses to make hemoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. You need twice as much iron during pregnancy than you did before pregnancy. Your body needs this iron to make more blood so it can carry oxygen to your baby. Your baby also needs iron to make his own blood.
During pregnancy you need 27 milligrams of iron each day. Most prenatal vitamins have this amount. You also can get iron from food. Good sources of iron include:
- Lean meat, poultry and seafood
- Cereal, bread and pasta that has iron added to it (check the package label)
- Leafy green vegetables
- Beans, nuts, raisins and dried fruit
Foods containing vitamin C can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs. It’s a good idea to eat foods like orange juice, tomatoes, strawberries and grapefruit every day.
Calcium (in dairy products like milk) and coffee, tea, egg yolks, fiber and soybeans can block your body from absorbing iron. Try to avoid these when eating iron-rich foods.
If you don’t get enough iron during pregnancy, you may be more likely to experience:
- Anemia. This means you have too little iron in your blood.
- Fatigue. This means you feel really tired or exhausted.
- Premature birth. This means your baby is born too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- Low birthweight. This means your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
Calcium is a mineral that helps your baby’s bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves develop. During pregnancy, you need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. You can get this amount by taking your prenatal vitamin and eating food that has a lot of calcium in it. Good sources of calcium include:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Broccoli and kale
- Orange juice that has calcium added to it (check the package label)
If you don’t get enough calcium during pregnancy, your body takes it from your bones and gives it to your baby. This can cause health conditions, such as osteoporosis, later in life. Osteoporosis causes your bones to become thin and break easily (brittle).
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. It also helps your body’s nerves, muscles and immune system work. Your immune system protects your body from infection. Vitamin D helps your baby’s bones and teeth grow.
During pregnancy, you need 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day. You can get this amount from food or your prenatal vitamin. Good sources of vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish, like salmon
- Milk and cereal that has vitamin D added to it (check the package label)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a kind of fat (called omega-3 fatty acid) that helps with growth and development. During pregnancy, you need DHA to help your baby’s brain and eyes develop. Not all prenatal vitamins contain DHA, so ask your provider if you need to take a DHA supplement.
During pregnancy, it is recommended that women eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood low in mercury each week. Good sources of DHA include:
- Herring, salmon, trout, anchovies, halibut, catfish, shrimp and tilapia
- Orange juice, milk and eggs that have DHA added to them (check the package label)
Iodine is a mineral your body needs to make thyroid hormones, which help your body use and store energy from food. You need iodine during pregnancy to help your baby’s nervous system develop. The nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) helps your baby move, think and feel.
During pregnancy, you need 220 micrograms of iodine every day. Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine, so make sure you eat foods that have iodine in them. Ask your provider if you need to take an iodine supplement.
Good sources of iodine include:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Enriched or fortified cereal and bread (check the package label)
- Iodized salt (salt with iodine added to it; check the package label)