Vitamins You Need For a Safe Pregnancy
Getting a positive pregnancy test is exciting! But the information overload afterward can be overwhelming. One of the most important pieces of information is about nutrition during pregnancy.
You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat.” But now that you’re pregnant, your baby is also affected by your choices.
In this post, we’ll outline everything you need to know about the vitamins and minerals you must take.
Although these nutrients are important for everyone, they become even more essential if:
- You’re pregnant
- You’re trying to conceive
- You’re breastfeeding
This post covers the general guidelines for pregnant women. However, you should ask your doctor what he or she recommends. In some situations, such as a disorder, doctors recommend specific doses of specific vitamins or minerals. It’s important to remember that more isn’t always better. In some cases, taking high doses of a nutrient can cause health issues.
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Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, which is actually a B vitamin. It’s the most highly talked about nutrient for conception and pregnancy—and for a good reason! Folic acid is a key nutrient in preventing various birth defects.
How much you need: 400 mcg/day. Some studies have shown that taking up to 4,000 mcg a day at least one month before and during the first trimester may also help women. (Ask your doctor before increasing your dose).
Sources of folic acid: Beans, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and more. Many foods, such as cereals, are fortified with folic acid.
Folic acid has many benefits during pregnancy:
- Lowers risk of ovulatory failure. According to a 2006 study, women who took multivitamins, including a folic acid supplement, had a 40% lower risk
- Lowers risk of neural tube defects (serious spinal cord or brain defects). Since neural tube defects occur within the first 28 days of conception, even if you’re not pregnant yet, you should still get 400 mcg a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who get their daily value of folic acid reduce the risk of a neural tube defect by up to 70%.
- May lower risk of other defects. Some studies also show that folic acid may lower the risk of cleft lip, cleft palate and some heart defects.
- May lower risk of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure disorder.
Your body can only process 500 mg of calcium at one time. This means you may want to take it in smaller doses throughout the day. In the third trimester, your baby’s skeleton is developing and calcium becomes even more essential.
How much you need: 1,000 mg/day. Some people recommended as high as 1,200 mg/day. This requirement increases to 1,300 if you’re under 18.
Sources of calcium: Milk, calcium-fortified soy milk, yogurt and leafy green vegetables such as kale or bok choy.
Calcium has many benefits during pregnancy:
- Baby bones. Just like you, babies need calcium to grow strong bones and teeth.
- Helps development. Calcium is also essential for your baby to develop nerves, muscles and a healthy heart rhythm.
- Prevents loss in bone density. As your baby grows and uses your calcium to grow his or her own bones, you may lose some of yours unless you get the recommended calcium intake.
According to WebMD, about 50% of pregnant women don’t get enough of this important mineral. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, have your doctor monitor your iron levels closely. You’ll need to get the mineral from non-heme sources; but the body has a harder time absorbing those. Taking vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice, with iron can help with absorption. Coffee and tea reduce abortion. That means if you eat a fortified iron cereal, enjoy it with orange juice instead of a morning coffee.
How much you need: 17 mg/day
Sources of iron: Heme iron comes from animal sources and is easily absorbed. This includes meat, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron sources include dried beans, oatmeal, peas, lentils, spinach, broccoli, nuts and iron fortified products such as pasta, flour and cereals (bran cereals are a great choice).
Iron has many benefits during pregnancy:
- Allows your body to make extra blood for your baby. You need more iron during pregnancy because your body should be making about 50% more blood.
- Helps oxygen flow through your body and your baby’s developing body.
- Prevents iron deficiency anemia. Low iron can lead to anemia, which can make you even more tired during pregnancy. Worse, it makes your baby more likely to be born early or too small. In extreme cases, low iron can lead to infant mortality.
- Baby growth. During the second and third trimesters, you’ll need the mineral for your placenta and baby growth.
Vitamin D is essential during pregnancy, but it’s difficult to get it solely from food. There’s also probably not enough in your prenatal vitamin. If you’re shopping for vitamin D as opposed to an all-in-one supplement, look for the potent forms vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, look for ergocalciferol.
How much you need: 600 IU or 15 mcg/day, according to the Institute of Medicine. Other experts, say pregnant women need up to 4,000 IU or 100 mcg/day.
Sources of vitamin D: Pink salmon, mackerel, canned sardines, eggs and orange juice. Some yogurts, cheeses and cereals are fortified with Vitamin D.
Vitamin D has many benefits during pregnancy:
- Fewer pregnancy complications. Some studies show that Vitamin D deficiency may be linked to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, low birth weight and preterm birth. Taking the vitamin in high doses may significantly reduce complications, studies show.
- Calcium absorption. Taking vitamin D helps your body absorb and metabolize calcium and phosphorus.
- Healthy baby bones. Babies who are vitamin D deficient have an increased risk for soft bones and rickets.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Unfortunately, your body doesn’t naturally make Omega-3s, meaning you must get them from other sources. The Western diet is low in omega-3s and to further the problem, pregnant women have less of the nutrient because their baby uses it to develop. The best Omega-3s are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Many prenatal supplements don’t include DHA, so you’ll need to buy it separately. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, search for a Neuromins DHA supplement.
How much you need: 300 mg of DHA/day
Sources of Omega-3s: Eggs, salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies. If you’re worried about mercury during pregnancy, consider a purified fish oil instead. Note: Flaxseed oil contains ALA, another form of omega-3 that’s less beneficial.
Omega-3s have many benefits during pregnancy:
- Production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins regulate blood pressure and clotting and more. Balanced prostaglandins may also contribute to improved cognitive function, reduced inflammation and reduced chances of heart disease.
- Neurological development. Omega-3s are essential for your baby’s neurological and visual development.
- Baby cognitive development. Research has shown that EPA and DHA help a baby develop visually and cognitively.
- Allergy reduction. Consuming the nutrient may reduce a baby’s risk of growing up with allergies.
- Increases positive pregnancy outcomes. EPA and DHA has also been shown to prevent early labor and delivery, increase birth weight and lower the risk of preeclampsia.
- May help prevent postpartum depression. Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to mood disorders.
Prenatal vitamins don’t usually contain enough iodine. However, you should be able to get the remainder from your diet. Yet, about 67% of women don’t get enough iodine from just their diet, according to a study.
How much you need: 220 mcg/day
Sources of iodine: Milk, cod, iodized salt, baked potato with skin, navy beans and eggs.
Iodine has many benefits during pregnancy:
- Baby’s development. The mineral is essential for your baby to develop a healthy brain and nervous system.
- Increased baby IQ. A 2013 study showed that children age 8 had lower IQs if they were born to mildly iodine deficient mothers.
- Increased positive pregnancy outcomes. Women who are iodine deficient are at risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery and stillbirth.
Are you meeting your daily requirements for the above vitamins and minerals? Comment below your tips for sneaking nutrients into your diet. If you have any pregnant friends, be sure to share this post to improve their baby’s health, too!
P.S. Do you own a fetal doppler yet? These amazing at-home, handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while inside the womb. Hearing a heartbeat can help reassure mothers that their baby is healthy. Check out our fetal dopplers here.