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What’s in Your Prenatal Vitamin?

Eating healthy is always a good idea, especially when you are pregnant. It’s important that an expectant mother takes in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Doctors usually recommended prenatal vitamins because these supplements contain key nutrients that help fill in the gaps of a pregnant woman’s diet.

Multivitamins help a developing baby receive nutrients that are essential for healthy growth. But just because a pregnant woman is taking a prenatal vitamin, it doesn’t mean she can eat poorly. These pills are intended to complement a well-balanced diet, not replace it. They’re supplements, not substitutes.

Some pregnant women experience morning sickness and find it difficult to take prenatal vitamins. If you suspect that vitamins are making you nauseous, notify your doctor. Swallowing a full tablet may not work for you. In this case, liquid or chewable vitamins may be better alternatives.

It is possible to overdo vitamins, especially if you are taking individual supplements and eating fortified foods. Too many vitamins can be harmful to you and your baby. Always check with your medical practitioner before adding any supplements to your regimen.

Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in virtually every pharmacy. A specific brand might be recommended by your doctor, but sometimes the decision will be left to you. What’s important is that you take in specific nutrients. Check your prenatal vitamins to ensure that these 7 supplements are included.

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7 Folic Acid

The formula of a prenatal vitamin is different than a regular multivitamin, even if it is designed for women. Expectant mothers need nearly twice the amount of folic acid than the average woman. This nutrient is necessary to prevent specific complications.

Folic acid is a B vitamin. It supports every cell in your body needed for growth and development of the baby. Doctors recommend up to 600 micrograms of folic acid per day to prevent birth defects. Neural tube birth defects are serious deformities related to the brain and the spine. These abnormalities can occur in the first month of pregnancy. Because approximately 50% of all pregnancies are unexpected, prenatal vitamins are even recommended for women who are trying to conceive.

When folic acid occurs naturally in food, it’s labeled as ‘folate.’ There are many foods that are excellent sources of folate, including leafy green vegetables, nuts, lentils, beans, and citrus fruits. Even if you are consuming these foods in large quantities, pregnant women are recommended to take this vitamin as a backup.

6 Iron

Iron is a mineral. Your body utilizes iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen through the bloodstream. Since hemoglobin takes oxygen from the lungs to the entire body, it’s vital that both the expecting mother and her child take in an adequate supply of iron.

Expectant mothers need twice as much iron as they did pre-pregnancy. Iron is needed to supply more oxygen to the baby, and the baby needs iron to create his or her own supply of blood.

Without iron, expectant mothers are at risk of developing pregnancy-related anemia. This can leave women feeling tired. A pregnant woman with low iron is also more likely to have a premature baby or a baby with a low birth weight.

Experts recommend a daily dose of 27 milligrams of iron. Your prenatal vitamin should contain this amount. You can also receive iron through your diet. Lean meats, poultry, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit are all good sources of iron.

Because iron can contribute to constipation, it’s a good idea to increase your fluid and fiber intake to prevent irregularity. With your doctor’s consent, physical activity, and stool softeners are other alternatives to relieve constipation.

5 Calcium

Calcium is another essential mineral for pregnant women. Babies in the womb use calcium during key developmental stages. Calcium supports the development of strong bones, teeth, heart, and muscles.

It’s vital that an expectant mother receives enough calcium in her blood. If she doesn’t, she will deplete calcium from her own bones to provide it to her child. Without a proper supply of calcium, a pregnant woman will lose bone density. This could lead to a condition known as osteoporosis, where bones become thin and brittle, making them susceptible to fractures.

During pregnancy, the daily calcium requirement is 1,000 milligrams. By taking a prenatal vitamin and eating calcium-rich foods, you will take in the required amount. Calcium can be found in dairy foods, broccoli, and kale. Check label packaging to ensure your orange juice is fortified with calcium.

4 Iodine

Iodine is a mineral that supports a pregnant woman’s thyroid. The thyroid is a gland situated below your Adam’s apple in your neck. This gland makes hormones that control many activities in your body, including how you use and store energy from food. During pregnancy, iodine is needed to develop the baby’s brain and nervous system.

A lack of iodine can result in stunted growth, mental disabilities, and hearing loss. A severe iodine deficiency can lead to miscarriage and a stillborn birth.

The recommended daily amount of iodine is 220 micrograms. Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine. If your vitamin lacks iodine, ask your doctor if you need an iodine supplement. Either way, make sure to eat foods that are rich in iodine, such as fish, dairy foods, fortified cereals, and iodized salt.

3 Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin because our bodies make this vitamin when our skin comes in contact with the sun. Because overexposure to sunlight can cause skin aging and cancer, it’s a good idea to get your vitamin D through your diet and prenatal supplements.

Your body also needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium. This essential vitamin not only helps your nervous system but also your immune system, which protects your body from infection. Plus, vitamin D helps your baby develop strong teeth and bones.

Ensure your prenatal vitamin contains at least 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D in each dose. Vitamin D-rich foods will also fill this requirement. Make sure you’re eating plenty of salmon, and milk fortified with vitamin D.

2 DHA

Short for docosahexaenoic acid, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is necessary during pregnancy. DHA is a nutrient, not a vitamin nor a mineral. It helps the development of your baby’s brain and eyes.

During pregnancy, women should be taking in a daily dose of 300 and 600 milligrams. However, this nutrient is not in all prenatal vitamins. Ask your doctor if a supplement is needed if your multivitamin lacks DHA.

You can also include good sources of DHA in your diet. These foods include low-mercury fish, such as trout, salmon, and halibut. 8 to 12 ounces of DHA-rich fish is recommended every week. It is also found in orange juice, milk, and eggs that are fortified with DHA. Check packaging labels to ensure you’re receiving DHA in your foods.

1 Vitamin C

Vitamin C protects your cells and keeps them healthy. Also known as ascorbic acid, this vitamin acts as an antioxidant by repairing tissue and healing wounds.

You and your developing baby need a daily dose of vitamin C to promote healthy teeth and gums. This vitamin also helps your body absorb iron. Natural sources can be found in citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries.

When pregnant, the recommended daily allowance is 85 milligrams, which is a little higher than that of non-pregnant women. Again, all supplements need to be approved by an obstetrician. For example, very high doses of vitamin C can be dangerous for your pregnancy and your unborn baby.

Also, eating foods that are high in vitamin C have been known to cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. Dehydration due to diarrhea can pose a threat to a developing baby. Citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries are normally part of a healthy diet, but if these foods are causing gastrointestinal discomfort, your diet or your prenatal vitamin may need to be switched. Talk to your doctor if you experience stomach cramps, bloating, gas or diarrhea after taking your prenatal vitamin.

To make sure you are getting all of the nutrients you need during your pregnancy, talk to your doctor, midwife, or registered dietitian. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will help you get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients out of your food. But prenatal vitamins will further aid in your baby’s development and protect your health during pregnancy. 

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